Interview by Lauren Ash. Photography by Anita Cheung.
When my Grandmother transitioned in the fall of 2017, I had very little tools with which to navigate. As someone whose life is so dedicated to my work, I kept myself engaged with that while simultaneously expanding into the role of nurturer and caretaker for my Mother whose loss was more tremendous in a different way. My Grandmother was one of my best friends. Biggest allies. She encouraged the best in me, and encouraged me to laugh at the worst in me and accept that, too. While my people certainly showed up for me during my initial loss and during the subsequent steps of grief afterwards (and still do), I wish I would have known Rachel (who I, and many, affectionately call RayRay) right when my journey with loss began.
Through her platform loss&found, she provides wellness and grief coaching to support people through life's challenges and manifest more by connecting with Self + Spirit. Especially for black women, since we already tend to take on so much emotional labor, the burdens of the world, and additionally burden ourselves by convincing ourselves that we're unworthy of care and self-love, RayRay's work is deeply important.
Lauren Ash: Who are you?
Rachel Ricketts: I am Rachel “RayRay” Ricketts and I am a sur-thriver, friend, sister, partner, a lover and a fighter. I am the divine essence of my late mother and soulful spirit of my departed grandmother. I am a descendant of slaves and slave-owners, gurus and goddesses.
I am a writer, speaker, intuitive wellness coach, spiritual activist, certified grief and loss professional + death doula, diversity + anti-racism facilitator, Reiki healer, breathworker, yin yoga teacher and founder of loss&found, an organization I founded after helping my chronically ill mother starve herself to death as it was the only means to finding the peace, freedom and respite she so desperately deserved.
I am my pain, my joy, my grace, my beauty, a culmination of all I’ve experienced in this life and all the lives that came before.
I am Source. I am Spirit. I am the Divine. I am life, I am love, I am me, I am you, I am the Universe.
Lauren Ash: For some reading about your personal story, that transition you supported your mother through may sound harsh. Our notions of death, dying, and loss are often so limited because we don't talk about death within our Western culture at large. Can you shed more light on your personal story and why assisting your mother through her transition was, for you both, a necessary step toward peace and freedom, as you note.
Rachel Ricketts: Yes, the transition I supported my mother through was extremely harsh. And heartbreaking and devastating. But it was also beautiful, heart-opening and life-affirming. My mother did her best to sur-thrive through a debilitating chronic illness for nearly two decades. Twenty years of unfathomable pain, of losing her identity, freedom, friendships, independence, purpose, dignity and respect. By 2015 she was unable to move anything aside from her neck and eyelids. Her bones pierced through her skin, nerve endings screamed merely at the touch yet her mind remained razor sharp. She was a prisoner in her own body. A body that had utterly shutdown and was subjected to ongoing abuse at the hands of poorly funded government programs, ill-equipped caretakers and apathetic social workers. My mother wanted to find solace —mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, but unfortunately our social systems weren't able to provide the respite she needed and deserved. There are simply no spaces for people like my mother, a quadriplegic mentally astute woman of colour with a lifetime of trauma, to find peace. She could live, as in keep breathing, but she couldn't have any kind of life. And as such, she had an unwavering desire to die. I would have too.
Our culture is deathphobic and we often deem death and dying as the worse possible outcome but for my mother, it was salvation. Her quality of life was deplorable and death was the least awful of the slew of awful options before her. And for me, living in a state of anticipatory grief and bearing witness to the person I loved the most writhing in unspeakable pain from the age of 13 years old shattered my spirit in a way I can't fully put into words. I gave up much of my young life to care for my mom, but I am an only child of a single parent and there was only so much I could do. She's no longer with me in physical form but now she is finally free from the depressing shackles of a decaying physical form. Her happiness, not her physical existence, was most important and I believe we are souls, not mere skin and bone, so I have no doubt that my mother's spirit is now with me wherever I go. I miss her every day with every ounce of my being, but helping her find her freedom and transition back home to Source is and shall remain the single most important achievement of my life.
Lauren Ash: Thank you for your vulnerability and transparency. You shed light on an experience that we all will eventually face, death, and invite us to consider the nuances of it within the context of a deeply complex and difficult (to say the least) experience. May your Mother continue to rest in peace and in power. The way that you honor her through your life's work is nothing short of proof that her Spirit lives through you.
What does Black Girl In Om mean to you?
Rachel Ricketts: BGIO is incredibly meaningful to me. As a black woman born, raised and residing in a predominantly white city, BGIO has served as a source of community, representation and inspiration that I wouldn’t receive otherwise. To see women of colour on a platform owning their glow is so important and something I hadn’t really seen before in any relatable way.
As a deeply spiritual and ever-evolving woman of colour it can be extremely hard to find your people, let alone people who also look like you and can relate to your specific experiences of navigating a world that often makes you feel “other” or less than. BGIO is a space for us to find our wholeness and it is through witnessing women like yourself and Deun really standing in your power and purpose that I’ve felt more empowered and enabled to stand in mine. And standing in your power is exactly what a Black Girl in Om is all about. She is a woman who has done the hard and necessary work of getting comfortable with her discomfort, she stands fully in her strength, vulnerability and truth so she can manifest more joy for herself and the collective as a whole.
It’s also incredible to me the way in which BGIO wholeheartedly supports and uplifts other women of colour, both on and off the platform, which is a testament to the power women of colour have when we come together. Women of colour move mountains y’all! Scarce mentality is so rampant in our culture, and women are often portrayed as competing with one another, but BGIO comes to the table with love, grace and generosity for your fellow sisters and it is seen and felt in all that you do. I bow in deep, deep gratitude for all the ways you help to encourage and inspire so many hue-mans in so many ways. Thank you!
Lauren Ash: Thank you. It's always incredible when those within our tribe really understand and experience the breadth of how we express our mission. It was so lovely to spend time with you at SXSW for Wellness Expo. I'm so happy you came and were a part of our BGIO tribe experience. How do you personally identify with our Black Girl In Om mission?
Rachel Ricketts: I resonate with promoting holistic wellness inside and out for women of colour in every possible way. True beauty comes from within and in a society that is constantly telling us the opposite, this mission is a much needed reminder. I also strongly believe that it is through self-love and self-care that we learn to empower ourselves, to fill up our cups so that we have the energy and capacity to give back to our communities and commit to creating necessary and lasting change. Women of colour carry a lot—there is loss and pain and trauma, from our lives and those of our ancestors. But there is also so much joy and resilience, community and celebration, and I love that BGIO is a space where we can feel seen and heard in sharing all of our experiences as the dynamic beings that we are.
Lauren Ash: Absolutely. We are both soft and strong, as we highlighted last month. I see this every month at BGIO Self-Care Sunday. This past Self-Care Sunday, our sisterfriend Dr. Crystal Jones guest led our Chicago community through a beautiful yin yoga practice focused on wholeness and vulnerability, breathwork focused on release, and a sisterhood ritual where we all held each other deeply. It reminded me of the importance of acknowledging our pain, and celebrating our beauty in its purest, rawest form.
What are your self-care & self-love practices?
Rachel Ricketts: First of all—yessssss self-care! For. Da. Win! I cannot say enough about how important it is to take care of ourselves, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I learned the true value of self-care and self-love after my mother, and only close family member, died in 2015. I found myself in a deep and dark depression that nearly killed me and I only survived it by learning how to love myself back to life and partaking in the activities that supported me in best supporting myself. I also realized that it was my mother’s inability to truly care for herself—her needs, her desires, her values—that manifested as a chronic and debilitating dis-ease. So, ladies, please do prioritize, care for and love on yourselves!
I have a ton of self-care practices but my favourite right now is a hot bath with Epsom salts and baking soda, the combination helps cut any negative attachments or cords that may be lingering and serves as a full energetic reset for the system. I notice a difference in my flow pretty much immediately. If you’re going through a tough time, need help detaching from a person or situation or live/work/play around a lot of people and energies, I highly recommend giving this a go.
Lauren Ash: RayRay, I live for epsom salt baths. It's also a beautiful ritual for me to connect with my Grandmother as it was her favorite way to unwind and it's also where she transitioned.
RayRay: I’m also obsessed with essential oils and their potent healing properties. I put tea tree oil on the bottom of my feet to help me stay grounded, rose oil on my wrists and third-eye to help protect my energy before seeing clients and to foster more love and compassion, and jasmine on my neck or in the bath for a boost of happy. I personally love Saje or doTerra but there are tons of options, just make sure you use a quality grade (there are some bunk oils out there)! There are so many scents to choose from and you can really play with which ones speak to you most and learn about how they can help you live your best life.
Lauren Ash: Haha, bunk oils! I hear you. We should always give ourselves the absolute best. I'm going to try to more intentionally research and apply particular essential oils to particular points on my body that relate to internal points of energy like you do. Wow! What’s one ritual you recommend more women of color adopt to cultivate inner beauty and wellness?
Rachel Ricketts: Saying “no”. Without a question. No is a complete sentence. Healthy boundaries have been an absolute game changer for me and I want more women of to foster the loving art of saying no to the things that aren’t for their best and highest good, whether it’s people, places or things. Of course, we all need to keep a roof over our head and food on the table, so we can’t necessarily say “no” to every little thing that doesn’t fully light us up, but I find when I take a breath and check in with my heart before making a decision, I can do so from a place of mindfulness and abundance rather than fear and lack. And when we vibrate from the plane of abundance we can call in more of what best serves us.
Lauren Ash: You're speaking my language.
Rachel Ricketts: This is particularly important for women of colour because we have to work a hell of a lot harder than everyone else and many of us have overworking in our ancestral lineage. The majority of women of colour I know (myself included) are in some stage of adrenal fatigue and burn out and we need to remember that we can do anything but not everything. Saying “no” and prioritizing ourselves can often fall by the wayside, but here’s the thing—every time we say no to the things that are out of alignment we are simultaneously creating space for all that is. The money, the opportunity, the love, the dreams, all of it. But we first have to get clear on what our “yes” is, and stand firm in that without apology. And unapologetically standing in our truth, of being bold and brave enough to say “no”, of tending to and prioritizing our needs, that is a divinely spiritual act.
Lauren Ash: Absolutely. And when the "yes" is hazy, I always encourage that women of color take time to deeply reflect on our core values and desires and from that place identify precisely what we want to see in our lives. So many of us get used to living on autopilot. It's amazing how much our lives transform once we root ourselves deeply in intentional lifestyling.
What’s one wellness product you cannot live without?
Rachel Ricketts: I am absolutely obsessed with matcha tea lattes. I add adaptogenic herbs like mucuna and ashwaganda to mine and mix with coconut oil and honey. The herbal tea blend boosts my energy, supports brain functioning and generally helps keep me healthy and happy from the inside out. It’s also just a lovely act of self-care I partake in every morning, mindfully making the tea and then taking the time to sit and sip my hot cup of liquid nourishment has become a morning ritual that helps set me up for the day by taking time to slow down, meditate and focus on myself and my inner glow.
Lauren Ash: Can't wait to sip matcha with you when we kiki next! You're a gem and a light. Thank you for your contributions to this planet, RayRay!
– Originally published on Black Girl In Om on April 15, 2018