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OPINION

I believe in difficult conversations, but this has been too painful

‘You feel like you’re reliving the trauma even by talking about it.’

Daniela Wiggins.
Daniela Wiggins.Daniela Wiggins

I'm not sleeping. My brother, who happens to be a 40-year-old white man from Colorado, called me yesterday and told me he's not sleeping. I didn't really have anything to say to him other than, “Well, neither am I.”

I read somewhere that someone wrote, “I just want to be happy and be able to live in peace as a Black woman.” And that’s really all I want. I sent one of my kids to an Ivy League school, my daughter goes to the number one HBCU, I have a great career and so does my husband, and I just want to live in peace. Having to worry about the safety of my immediate family when they’re moving around and doing the basic activities of daily living, it makes it hard to sleep.

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But talking to my children about this has been the hardest part. After the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, I was speechless. It’s so horrific that you feel like you’re reliving the trauma even by talking about it.

And it just so happened that my son Christopher entered this running challenge for the month of May where he had to jog 40 or 50 miles. So he was running a lot, and it was too much for me to even think about. Finally, a day or two after we learned about the death, I finally said something to the kids. And Christopher said, “I can’t talk about it. I die a little bit inside every time.”

But we have to talk about it. I’m a firm believer in tackling difficult conversations head-on, but starting with Arbery, it just became too painful. It took me days, and really all I said to the kids was, “I love you. I’m here. We can talk about this.” I didn’t know — and I still don’t know — what more there is to say.

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There’s a separate conversation that we’ve been having about the PTSD that we walk around with, particularly Black men, the level of anxiety that they must have walking around in this world. I want my kids to be informed and make good decisions, but I don’t want to contribute to that anxiety either. “No, you can’t run.” “No, you can’t go down to the protest.” I’d love to keep them in my little cocoon and keep them safe, but they need to live their lives. Having these conversations is important, but knowing what’s at the forefront of these issues without re-traumatizing ourselves is a fine line.

I still remember going to the supermarket when I was pregnant with Christopher — this had to be 1997 or ’98. I was showing at that point, and a woman came up to me and asked if I was pregnant. I said yes, and she asked what I was having. I replied that it would be a boy, and she said “Oh. You’re having an endangered species.” That’s always stayed with me, the fact that we have animals in this country — rare birds and four-legged creatures — with more protection than our children have. My husband and I bought a house on a lot of acres with a long driveway, and that was a conscious choice we made for the security and safety of our children, but it still might not be enough. So as a parent, I’ve always thought of myself as the mother of an endangered species.

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Dr. Daniela Wiggins, 48, is an anesthesiologist in Silver Spring, Md.