Mother’s Day Special

During this special weekend, I will be sharing a few stories. I have a few friends who have shared their stories with me. My friends and I have a lot in common, most importantly, we all had spectacular relationships with our respective mothers.

                                                                                 * Peter

I was born into a big family. The last of eight children. I have very little recollection of my father. He never came back from Vietnam. My maternal grandmother was our matriarch. For a woman who stood barely four feet five inches tall, she commanded such awe and respect. My mother with the assistance of her mother raised five daughters and three sons. She was a school teacher and her finances were spread thin catering for our household. We didn’t have much material wise but our home was awash with love. I excelled in athletics, especially in wrestling and was able to clinch a full scholarship to college. My mother was ecstatic. My two older brothers had both joined the army-our ‘mothers’ were not happy with their choices. My sisters had gone on to college and were all experiencing great things in their chosen careers. I had dabbled into the wrong company in high school and had made some wrong choices. Back in those days, in the late seventies-drugs had become a common feature in the social circuits. We were the generation sprung in the shadow of Woodstock. There was so much decadence…so much indulgence.

With my choosing to go to college, I had effectually turned my back on all the negative influences my mother worried had the potential to destroy my future. My choice was a small liberal arts college that had a vibrant African American community. I took long walks, wrote long letters to my grandma and mama. I spent my days fully engaged in my academics and athletics. My mother was my compass and I kept my eyes fully fixed on the prize. I left school within record time and was able to secure an appointment as a teacher in an elementary school. My feet were firmly planted in the direction of my beloved compass! I moved back home into my old room-across the corridor from Mama’s bedroom. I was enjoying the warmth of my mother and grandma’s constant love. Mama had retired but was a part time volunteer in the high school she had spent thirty five years of her forty years of public service. Many of her students had gone on to do great things, in fact, the current principal at my return was one of them.

Two years into my return home, my mother fell ill. In hindsight, I felt a nagging heaviness I could not shake. The constant hospital stays, the tests and the shadow that fell upon Mama’s face were a constant reminder a storm was gathering. My siblings and I kept a roaster. We all did our part: constantly encouraging, echoing bible scriptures our mother had taught us as children. My grandma seemed to shrink within herself…almost like she was fading away. I remember I woke up one night and found my Grandma sitting alone in the kitchen, staring into an empty tea cup. I pulled up a chair and sat beside her. My mother had undergone a procedure the day before, the prognosis wasn’t good. “I will not bury your mother”. She spoke in a raspy whisper, I almost didn’t hear. She died a week later, in her sleep. Grandma’s death crushed us but in light of Mama’s health we couldn’t fall apart.

My mother passed exactly a month after the surgery. I don’t think there are exact words to describe my life after my compass was broken. I took a couple of months off work. I remember the wake, the burial and weeks after that. I spent my days in my bedroom, blinds closed and completely turned my back on the world. My brothers went back to their posts, ,my sisters all lived out of state. We all grieved for our loss but in retrospect I think my loss was the most devastating. My brothers had their commissions, my sisters apart from their chosen carriers had spouses and children. I was the only one whose family, whose center had been completely obliterated. Remember the choices I had turned my back on when I said yes to college? Well, I fell head first down that dark hole. I was in so much pain, I snorted everything that took the pain away, even though they were temporary fixes. It seemed I stumbled into a dark room and some how, couldn’t find the door. Teaching during the day, shooting up or snorting cocaine at night.

I can’t remember exactly when it dawned on me, I was going to die. If I continued to make the wrong choices, these choices my Mama prayed against. These choices I promised my Grandma I would never make-I would eventually die. Alone. I couldn’t remember when last I slept properly in three years. I had lost almost forty pounds. And so, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and enrolled in a rehabilitation program. Failing was not an option for me. I went cold turkey. My body was racked in so much pain, my head felt like it was going to explode. My nights were plagued with dreams. I would find myself running down a dark corridor, ahead of me I could make out the familiar posture of my Grandma. And even though, I was running I never caught up with her. I would find myself getting tired and would slowly come to a stop. At times, I would hear my Mama’s voice calling from far away and would wake up drenched in sweat.

When I came out of rehab, I moved to another town and went back to school. My siblings and I sold the house and I was able to have a soft landing from my share of the proceeds. I eventually went back to teaching after a stint in the public relations industry. I found my compass again, it was etched in my heart. Though I went through fire, I came out singed but not destroyed. My Mother and Grandma were my center, my voice of reason, my compass. It’s been over twenty years and from time to time I still catch myself feeling deep sorrow. I don’t think one ever fully recovers from some losses.


A tribute to my mother.

It was a routine procedure. The doctor had assured me, the night before. He told me not to worry.”Your mum will be out of surgery in no time”. That day was anything but routine.

The last quarter of that year had been blighted by series of hospital stays, health challenges you tried to shrug off; challenges that hung over us like a dark curtain. I didn’t see it coming, none of us did. You were our oak. The strong beautiful tree that cast her branches for our shelter. The one whose strong roots gave us stability, our quiet place of abode. And so, when my oak began to quake, in denial-I refused to see the signs.

The night before the surgery, I arrived late…..visiting time was almost over. We exchanged kisses and I started to tell you about my day. You seemed strangely disconnected, pensive, as if your mind was else where. After a bit of small talk, you handed me your bible and told me to read to you Psalm 109. My stomach started to knot with fear. The contents disturbed me. Funny thing though, when I was done you seemed more cheerful, more connected. When I bent over to kiss you goodnight, the strange disconnect had descended, again.

The following day, I had an important board meeting but all I thought about was getting to the hospital. Hoping I could shake the feeling of unease that had enveloped me from the night before. It was a miracle I made it there in one piece considering I drove like a bat out of hell. You were already in surgery, and so I stayed with Daddy; both of us not speaking. I was speaking to God, making deals attached to your safe and full recovery. ‘I will be a better person, I will……I will……’As if a person’s destiny cannot be truncated by vows. With each promise that left my lips, I felt a deeper sense of despondency. It’s been over a decade and I still remember that day like a disturbing sequence of events I have tried to banish from thought but still replays itself, in slow motion.Then, I saw two of my father’s colleagues in LUTH, neither meeting our eyes. They led him away, I followed closely behind, knowing but not accepting. I heard a deep, curling  scream and wondered who was yelling-then- realizing, it was me.

I have read stories of people describing their days in color: yellow depicts a sunny day; blue relating to visiting a body of water; white connotes a wintry horizon. A couple of people have asked me how I felt when my mum was taken. Black would be my color of choice. For until you have walked that path of loss, the deepest loss- where your heart feels like its been ripped from your chest , where tears stop and all that’s left is maddening screams; it’s indescribable. Pitch blackness, absolute blackness. I remember the following days in shades of grey: Receiving visitors; I was in auto pilot. I spoke, but have no recollection of what I said, or to whom. Rarely eating. Hardly sleeping.

I would lock myself in your closet, cramped in a corner immersing myself in the fading scent of your perfume. As your scent faded, I was reminded you were gone. My mind would drift back in time and I would remember snap shots of memories; vibrant colors that came to the fore, as the darkness threatened to engulf me. Our relationship, a beautiful tapestry woven by a strong bond of love and trust. As a child, you were a disciplinarian, never faltering in your responsibilities. As I hit my teens and the flash flood of friends hit the horizon, our relationship transitioned into one of friendship- a great friendship. A friendship that enriched me with a fountain of wisdom, one I still drink from. You were my confidante. There was nothing I didn’t and couldn’t tell you. You were my compass.

Over the years, l make myself anxious when I make a decision, second guessing myself, not having my compass has not been easy. However, when I get to a cross road I remember your words: A decision made from a place of love can never be wrong, irrespective of the outcome. Love is the litmus test.

As another year rolls around, another anniversary of your transition, I remember the last two verses of Psalm 109: With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the throng of worshipers I will praise Him. For He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them.



I remember her like yesterday. The soft curve of her cheek, her quirky smile. Her resilient spirit. The strange way she used to feel our minds for our thoughts on a matter and then  take a decision in the opposite direction. Her sweet musky deodorizer. Her gentle disposition and quick wit.

All my feelings came rushing out like the genie from the bottle because I spent the weekend with you. I saw her in your smile. I heard her in your voice. I closed my eyes when you folded me in your arms and I swear it was her.

I bit my lip to silence the tears when I curled up to sleep last night. I felt a plethora of emotions. I had finally come home after running a marathon, and yet I felt a little lost. Thinking about her keeps hurting, when will I have respite? The pain snuck up on me again when I came back from my visit with you. I wanted to stay. I wanted to leave. I couldn’t handle the way I felt. I felt haunted and yet happy I saw her, happy I saw you.

The Stranger

Preload 14I followed her off the train. I was supposed to get off two stops before her, but I stayed because I saw her. She looked just like Anika. I knew it wasn’t my old friend. How could it be her anyway? Anika had gone into continuum.
Then, why did I follow a total stranger off the train? Why did I trail behind her? I watched her enter a coffee shop. She ordered a latte and sat by the window. Her phone rang, she reached in her jacket, answered her phone with a smile. That smile. My friend’s smile. The smile that exposed her lower gap.And because of that smile, I decided to go into the coffee shop.
I introduced myself to her. She listened to me,a total stranger talk about you,Anika. I told her how we met. How you were a gift who kept on giving….even now….over a decade after your passing.
She told me she was Jamaican. A doctorate student of Psychology. I guess that was why she was more receptive to my intrusion. Most likely thinking: maybe this woman is suffering from a late onset psychosis brought on by grief. She told me, she had recently lost her mother, the culprit: cancer. I listened to her, a total stranger upheaval her precious thoughts on the emotional roller-coaster she couldn’t get off. The effect her loss was having on her relationships: the tensions between herself and her boyfriend, the loneliness she felt because her family was so far away. She started to cry…I didn’t feel awkward handing her my tissues and buying her more coffee. That was the least I could do after helping her come undone with the imposition of my person.
Finally, I stood to leave. What possessed me to follow a stranger….I thought to myself. She wanted to exchange phone numbers. I politely declined. “You will be fine”. I assured her.
As I caught my train to continue my commute, I felt so much better.
Grief makes us do crazy things. Grief helps us appreciate our relationships more. It helps us love more deeply. It builds a ladder to forgiveness. It throws a light on what you would otherwise have kept hidden. Words spoken by your departed loved one carries more weight. It gives us wings to fly.
And hopefully helps you adjust your lenses to focus on what really matters.