Grief is a journey all of us must travel at some point. There’s no one path to take. This is the story of a Charlottean who has taken a creative path, inviting others to join him for connection over coffee.
John Mejia lost his wife on August 30, 2018. The Charlotte community has helped him to heal. He believes community-care is just as important as self-care and his mission extends well beyond himself.
Each Coffee with John leaves someone else with more compassion, a sense of belonging, feeling noticed and with an understanding that we are all truly connected. Now, let’s get to know John’s story. At the end, you find out how you can have coffee with John.
Q: How long have you been in Charlotte?
13 years this summer!
Q: When did you move to the United States?
At the age of 12, I moved from Colombia to finally join my mother who came three years prior. During our time apart, I lived with my older sister. My father passed away when I was six-years-old, which was the impetus to move to the US. I am grateful for my mother’s decision and courage. My mom was a doer — she always did what she had to do.
Q: You became a single parent almost a year ago when your wife passed away. How have you grieved, healed and been able to look forward?
I owe a lot to the Charlotte community. I would not be where I am today without the support we have received. For a homebody, [my wife] certainly knew a lot of people who would become a part of my life. My wife, Larissa Estrella, met others while leading Zumba classes at the YMCA and while a member of Las Maris de Charlotte, a club for Latinas with over 200+members. Larissa’s network easily grew as she had a sparkling personality that allowed her to easily connect to others.
While Larissa was in treatment for breast cancer, her friends drove her to appointments, organized meal plans, created GoFundMe campaigns and provided incredible emotional support.
I am honestly humbled by the support we have received. It’s my belief that you receive what you put out there.
Lari, as I called her, was just that kind of person. She was radiant, positive, and kind.
My wife’s friends organized a 600 person Zumba event at the Forest Hill Church to support her during her second year of treatment. Getting on that stage and seeing all those people smiling and showing their support, that was one of the many moments. Larissa never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her. Instead, she wanted a big party.
This event looked like a concert with an engaged, enthusiastic audience dancing and smiling. And, it was all made possible through the efforts of friends, strangers, acquaintances. It was a beautiful and humbling experience. Part of Lari’s legacy is a network of people for my kid and myself.
Q: What has been your male perspective on this journey?
My drive to share is greater than ever, especially with men. It’s difficult for men to be emotional or find the space to be emotional but it’s so important for me to be open and encourage others to do the same. We have to honor our emotions.
Q: Connecting to others and sharing our story is healing. How are you connecting to other people in the Charlotte community?
In the beginning, I started meeting people for coffee. Some people I knew, some were just acquaintances and some were complete strangers. Since I started meeting with people fairly often, I decided to call it “Coffee with John.”
Q: What do you typically discuss during Coffee with John?
There is no pressure to talk about anything. I have no planned agenda. We just talk, put ourselves out there and get to know one another. The result is therapeutic and healing. If people need a more structured, ongoing group, I would suggest joining a grieving group. The important takeaway is not to go through anything alone. There are so many stories out there, stories that need connection.
Q: How many “Coffee with John” meetings have you had to date?
43. If we count this one, then 44.
Q: Our heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your story with others who are hurting. What else did you learn from her cancer journey?
It’s vital for women to do routine breast exams and to be in tune with their bodies.
Q: How do you practice self-care and stay in tune with yourself?
Yoga at the Y helps. I love feeling the energy in the room during a hot yoga class. I have also pushed myself to say yes to opportunities I might have turned away from before, like taking an improv class.
Give yourself permission to try new things!
Q: How can the people of Charlotte connect with you?
I welcome talking and getting to know people from all walks of life.
People can email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If people want to read about my Coffee with John, they can check out my blog, at coffeewithjohn.home.blog.
People may also connect with me through Instagram – @jmml2.
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