05/28/2014 03:07 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

And We Rise Along With Her


I was claiming my life and beginning by making this my story to tell. I had been made stronger by the words of Maya Angelou, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you, " and I knew that it was for me that she had written them. And so, on a cold, wet day in February, I took one of the biggest risks of my life. I never thought it would turn into one of the biggest turning points in my life.

Growing up in a home where things were kept secret, I had been trained without words to accept "Don't talk about it, don't tell about it, don't think about it," as a way of life. I never questioned why, I simply lived by this unspoken rule; but by middle age, the weight of the secrets inside of me were breaking me. I could feel the suffocating enormity of a story kept to myself, sealed inside for 40 years, pounding through every minute of my day.

I could never stop the mental chatter, the undercurrent of not being truly known, by anyone in my life. The need to tell my story pulsed through me as if they were screams themselves. I had to take steps to begin my life over, and not as a person who watched what she said and continuing to keep things under cover. I wanted the weight of the unspoken lifted off of me and sent out into the universe so that I would be free to walk the light steps of someone who no longer looks over her shoulder in case too many questions are asked.

On February 25, I was going to read publicly for the first time about the biggest secret my family kept. One we were never told to not speak about, yet it was implied that we understood, no one was to know. I would be reading about my father's suicide. And as I gathered up the courage to stand on stage, I thought of how I was free to own my words, and that I had agreed to no promise of silence. I had inherited a familial code since childhood and was now disowning it. As much as it pains my family to talk of my father taking his life, it pains me even more to treat it as something shameful, never to be acknowledged.

After I spoke that day, telling of my father's life, I became even more determined to keep writing, speaking, and sharing about his life, my life, and claiming who I was. Because it is my story to tell.

Maya Angelou passed away today, and I am overcome with emotion. I hear her voice, I see her proud chin lifted up, as she soars with her words, "And still, I rise... " and I smile through tears. Bless you on your journey, Maya Angelou, and I honor your spirit. I have spent the most important years of my life reading your words and hearing you speak. I imagine the heights you will be carried to on waves of love and gratitude of so many, for the tremendous passion you had for all in the human condition on this small, lonely planet.

Thank you for being the inspiration behind life, fully lived... and rising above.