Rita Henderson, a devout churchgoer, lost her faith for more than a decade after her only child died of a fatal heart murmur in 2008.
“I hated God,” said Henderson.
She said she had no reason to believe the God she had devoutly worshiped for her entire life would take her 24-year-old daughter’s life while rapists and murderers continued to live long lives. The church had failed her, she recalls thinking.
So did her health. Henderson’s all-consuming grief led to insomnia, weight loss, unhealthy eating habits, hair loss, and depression. She could function, but with severe mental and physical pain.
When she heard the news of her daughter’s passing, “I felt nothing,” said Henderson. When she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the cause was obvious to her.
“It wasn’t even about eating the wrong thing, it was about eating,” said Henderson.
At the time of the interview, she hadn’t eaten for three days, but asked us not to tell “Dr. O.,” her longtime primary care doctor, who became an unofficial bereavement counselor. Henderson believes the combination of age and grief has made food more undesirable. However, her main theory is the “blue fog” she’s had since Leslie passed.
This depressive fog is especially present during one of the happiest times of the year, which is also the same time Leslie had passed.
“Around that whole month of December, right around Christmas, I go into a blue fog.”
“I was not taking the time to properly grieve,” said Henderson.
She tried therapy, but felt it did not help her. “I knew no matter how much I sat on a couch and told someone something and they regurgitated it back it didn’t put a plan, or no thoughts, or no wishes into action,” said Henderson.
Leslie was eulogized at her family’s megachurch, Bible Way Church, in Washington, D.C., which held 500. The same church that used to be a safe haven for her daughter and grandson, suddenly became to her a reminder of death and an unfair God.
Without God, she lost gospel music. She sings in and directs her church’s choir. But her love of church music and hate for God were at odds. At first, everything was painful and she was alone.
“I abandoned the physical building, and my faith, but I started to do gospel in nature, but not necessarily God-focused; ya know performing at different things and church functions,” she said. “Little by little, I started to rejoin the human race.”
Life slowly became bearable again because of her community.
Henderson raised Demetrii, Leslie’s son, who is now 17 and following in his mother’s footsteps. Leslie won a tennis championship while in high school. He won scholarships for swimming from Maret Private School, including separate scholarships for lacrosse, basketball, and soccer.
Henderson now works through her grief by continuing her daughter’s work by teaching GED and cosmetology classes at the Washington, D.C., jail. Leslie “loved causes that gave people choices. She always tried to serve in undeveloped areas. That’s what Leslie was all about. The premise is to honor her.”