Individuating After Maia
“Individuation. It’s the process required for self-actualizing. Whether you’re talking about friends or family, people you admire or despise—you have to individuate your wants from theirs, in order to honor your true self. It can be a thrilling and painful process…but who wants to see or be a black orchid that never fully opens?”
I vividly remember the therapist (played by Estelle!) saying this at the conclusion of an episode of one my favorite Netflix series, Spike Lee’s, She’s Got to Have It.
The idea of the permission to individuate truly struck me.
On March 15, 2021, Maia, my daughter passed onto Glory, she was 25.
I was an 18-year-old freshman at USC when her dad and I realized we were pregnant. I gave I birth to Maia on December 16, 1995, I was 19.
At around 2:40PM my mom burst into my house in a panic. With my car keys in hand, heading out to pick up Monique, our 11-year-old daughter from school around the corner by 2:45PM, I was on the phone with Keyshawn Jr., my 23-year-old son. Our Berkeley home is within my parent’s property and Maia also lived in a separate unit within the property.
“Maia is not responding!” she screamed. I didn’t quite understand what she was saying but her face and tone said it all. Maia was in trouble. I hung up with Keyshawn Jr. and rushed to Maia. When I got to her, her face was warm, but her hands were cold and stiff.
“Maia, wake up,” I screamed repeatedly. She did not. Then my mom and I picked Maia up and brought her to the yard. The paramedics arrived. They tried to resuscitate her. “Code blue,” I heard one say. I ran to my dad, “what does code blue mean?” I asked. “I don’t think she is going to make it,” he responded. At about 3PM Maia passed on to Glory.
Then my church showed up. Not church in the traditional since, but my covenant of family and friends.
The first call I made was to my husband, Bela. Then Maia’s dad, Keyshawn. Both were devastated. Bela immediately left work and picked up our 11-year-old. Keyshawn asked if he could release a statement, at 4:07PM he tweeted:
I trust and believe that it was only for good that Keyshawn tweeted that out, but the reality was that Maia’s physical body was still in the yard, she was pronounced dead less than an hour before.
I hadn’t thought to call anyone else until my niece Kayla called to find out if the tweet, she just read was true. Everything was happening so fast, and now it was public!
I couldn’t continue to let the people that I love to find out about this in that way. I called Bela, to find and pick up Maya Denise our 17-year-old daughter. I called Keonnis and group text my Bible Study Group. It seemed like within minutes Keonnis appeared, then Ana. My parents, Keonnis and Ana were with me when the corner picked up Maia’s body around 7PM.
The next day Rona, my other bestie showed up from LA in her Tessie. Keyshawn arrived from New York. Keyshawn’s brother, Michael Sr. and cousin Lynn arrived to accompany me to every memorial appointment.
At my weakest, when my faith was depleted, the strength of my church showed up.
Michael Eric Dyson, a longtime friend, scholar and pastor, reached out after Keyshawn’s tweet. He delivered Maia’s eulogy. THANK YOU!!!
Keonnis wrote her obituary and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, my alma mater published it. Rona, Ana and my mom exquisitely organized every detail of Maia’s service. And it truly was beautiful. THANK YOU!!!
On a day’s notice, Candace beautifully sang, “I’m Going Up Yonder.” When I thought we had no photographer Steve, my longtime friend was already on the road from LA to the memorial and took priceless photos and videos. THANK YOU!!!
In true New Orleans’ style, the service included a brass band second line. The celebration of Maia’s life continued at her favorite restaurant, my aunt’s Bacco in San Francisco. THANK YOU!!!
My church showed up. It didn’t stop there. I was gifted cards, flowers, visits, food, money from so many. I want to THANK YOU ALL!!!
Spearheaded by Jennifer, my Los Angeles “In The Meantime,” book club sisters gifted me a Fairmont Gift card that I used as a week of healing at the Fairmont in San Juan. THANK YOU!!!
My husband Bela extended that trip for a month of healing throughout Puerto Rico. THANK YOU!!!
And although this became a public matter, literally reported all over the world, this People article found the words and photos I wrote. THANK YOU for finding this post I wrote to my Maia. Those words still resonate.
Maia, 22 years ago, your dad and I proudly brought you into this world. I was 19, a sophomore at USC, your dad was 22, like you are today. We were so young, wanting nothing more than to be your parents. Four months later, your dad became the number one draft pick, our lives were forever changed. We went from inconspicuously driving you around campus in a beat up used Honda to life in a fishbowl, all eyes on us, without us truly understanding what that meant…My fearless, beautiful, intelligent, well-traveled, resourceful daughter, my mini-me, throughout our journey, we literally have been growing up, figuring life out, together. Have we made mistakes? Absolutely, but I believe God allows us to make mistakes, for us to learn, to understand how to win…Continue to follow your light. You are destined for greatness. Happy 22nd birthday Maia!!! I love you, Mom.
On a road trip about four years ago with Maia, from Los Angeles to Denver to New Orleans, I began listening to the Audiobook, “Maybe It’s You. Cut The Crap. Face Your Fears. Love Your Life,” by Lauren Zandler, an executive life coach, author, and creator of The Handel Method. The book has been lifechanging. I often go back to it and in fact, my Bible Study Group decided that it will be our Winter read.
The book is a step-by-step process that is transforming my life. She explains how anyone can get what they want if we keep the promises we make to ourselves.
The first assignment is to DREAM! Yes, dream in 12 areas of your life—body, career, money, relationship to self, love, spirituality, time, home, family, friend, community & contribution and fun & adventure. After you dream, you rate yourself with where you actually are in comparison to your dream. Then, either on your own, with help from the book or with an actual coach, you focus on three of those 12 areas that you really want to focus on making a reality. The book and coaching enables me to identify, articulate, and account for my own setbacks to transform them into strengths.
For me, understanding this has been game changing. Before I ALWAYS blamed my circumstance on everything but ME! I hired a Zander trained coach Casey. We chose to focus on creating my dream family, my dream career and my dream home.
To me the biggest blessing from the book and coaching was writing and sharing my dream relationship with Maia. She knew my true intention, she knew what I was striving for in our relationship. Here was my dream relationship with Maia:
Maia is my best friend. We plan, figure out life together, we strategize how to reach our goals. We are there for each other, we depend on each other for support and advice. We check in with each other daily, with at least a text and always say goodnight, knowing that we are both safe and at home. I love to travel and dream with Maia. We go on fun weekend excursions (at least 2 times a year) and look forward to our annual international trip. Maia continues to pursue her academic and career dreams, while working on sobriety of prescription pills and her mental health. I love and appreciate the gift of being in my smart, innovative, passionate daughter’s presence. I love the love like ours!
After Maia’s passing, Casey, my coach encouraged me to create a new dream relationship with Maia. I felt really good about the suggestion as setting that intention allows me to know that her presence is still here and necessary. This is my new dream relationship with Maia:
My Beauty Queen,
I love you so much and even though I feel your spirit all around, I really miss talking to you, seeing you, taking care of you, I miss your radiance, your #CarefreeBlackGirl ways. I am confident that while you were here, that you understood my true intention, our dream relationship. Because you have passed onto Glory, I have created a new intention, a new dream for our relationship.
“You are me and I am you. Don’t you forget it,” says the tattoo on Maia’s rib, “You are me and I am you. Don’t you forget it,” is also tattooed on my shoulder. Maia and I got the matching phrase in Brooklyn, December 16, 2013, to celebrate our bond and her 18th birthday. “You are me and I am you. Don’t you forget it,” is from a poem Maia wrote. Although she is not physically here, Maia is my best friend and most trusted confidant. Through prayer, meditation, yoga, running, music, sound bath readings, in my dreams and in my secret place I communicate with Maia. We plan, strategize, figure out life together, how to reach our goals. We are there for each other, we rely on each other for support, advice and check in daily—in the morning when I set my intentions and to say goodnight. I will honor Maia through traveling and dreaming, spreading the gift of Maia (her ashes), on our twice a year weekend excursions and on our annual international trip. Acknowledging that Maia and I were dealt a very similar set of life cards; I will also honor her by learning and building from her experiences, by living an unapologetic yet graceful, true to myself lifestyle, like Maia did, and through taking steps, doing the necessary work, towards living the life of our dreams. I love and appreciate the gift of being in my smart, innovative, passionate daughter’s presence. I love the love like ours, Hallelujah!
Initially, I felt like time stopped. And I was mad. Mad at myself, mad at the world, mad at God. This exercise helped a lot.
I’m getting to know myself without Maia. My entire adult life, it’s been us, Maia has been there. And although, I trust and believe that Maia is at peace, in a better place and her spirit visits me often, I find myself not at peace with her physical presence not being here. That is what brought me here, to shikiri.com. This is my way of trying to gain peace, gain strength, have a voice, show my art, tell my story.
This is my storytelling—an online magazine where we research attaining our best life, no matter the circumstances, no matter the age. Focused on exploring individuation—honoring true self, to attempt to heal, to thrive and to continue honoring Maia, that is what shikiri.com is.
I decided to begin this journey in my hometown, Berkeley. It’s so interesting, in all of the places I have lived, New York, Calabasas, Beverly Hills, Tampa, Dallas, New Orleans, St. Thomas—Maia’s list of adopted homes was just as long—but when she passed, we were both in Berkeley.
We visit and explore places that shaped me, like my elementary school, named after the great Malcolm X. I also invite you all to bask and explore the beautiful Lake Anza, my favorite adolescent summertime playground.
Every piece of clothing worn is available on the site or at my other favorite place to play dress up, renttherunway.com.
By losing one of my most valuable gifts, life has taught me to cherish, celebrate and share the gifts I have left.