I’ve spent some time these past days crying and in agony over the death of my mother. I spent every weekend for the past year and a half at her house and lived with her for 2 years before that and 6 months from July 2009 and again Feb/Mar 2010. After years apart living elsewhere, I got to know my mother again. I have great memories of my mother.
First and foremost, she was a strong person. The strongest willed person I knew. Others didn’t always appreciate her personality, but I knew where she was coming from. She embodied independent thinking, strong determination through all circumstances, and was blunt in the most thorough and genuine way possible. She suffered no fools and no foolishness. Her mix of qualities all combined to see life realistically and clearly. I learned a lot from her and her wisdom about life and life situations.
She had been through a lot. I was raised as her oldest son. Three or 4 weeks ago her true oldest biological son came by. She hadn’t seen him in decades. I was too stunned to say a word, but I remember her alluding to his existence years ago. I realized I met him when I was real young. My mother was compromised by a relative as a teenager and had to turn her son over to relatives for adoption. That arrangement was common in the old days and it was one of the hardships she had to endure.
Growing up, she spent time in physically challenging conditions. No toilets, air conditioning, or other conveniences, she learned to make use of what she had. Under the tutelage of Aunt Cali Mae, half Native American, my mother learned the field arts of survival such as canning vegetables, knowing earth remedies, and awareness of various risks in nature as well as the characteristics of seasons.
Some mornings, she’d have to get up by or before 4am to go pick cotton. No, she didn’t grow up in slavery times but it was still the segregated South and demand was high for field workers. She grew up with a deeply cultivated work ethic under physically and psychologically demanding conditions. She had no resentment, only the resolve to go forward.
Later, she graduated from Lane College with a degree in Liberal Arts. She was quite knowledgeable about philosophy and various works of literature. Her favorite author was Jane Austen and her work, Pride and Prejudice. My mother read less as the years went on but her sharp mind never faltered.
Her favorite saying always was, “What is a man, what has he got, if not himself he has not, to say the words he truly feels and not the words of one who lives.”
I kind of know what that means written out, but when she said it, she said it with tempo and fluid expression. She was keen about matters of truth, success, and an aspiration. She was down many times, but in the final years of her life, she overcame. She got the money, she got, the car, she kept the house and while her struggles saw declining health, while she didn’t always have supporters, she was defiant to the end.
As an aside, she worked in Military Intelligence. She wasn’t a spy as far as I know, but she provided admin support. Her military journey took her to the Pentagon in the Nation’s Capitol. Unfortunately, political issues of which I am not fully clear about resulted in her getting blackballed and sent back to her home town. I remember that part. Living in a car, going down to the welfare office, food stamps, and later living with grandma. My mother cried one day in an apartment she was renting. Things did not work out for her. I was 5 years old but I remember. It was also the last place I saw my father. I remember our last meal together in that place. She moved on from disappointment.
While she was tough on the outside, she had the biggest heart. When her children had tough times she bailed us out. Sometimes she gave us tough love, but she was preparing us for the future. She was always there for us and we had a home with her when she had the means (and even when not). She cared about all her children, had hopes, saw some succeed, saw some of us fall several times, but by her guidance and example, get back up. She held it all together, and her love is forever.
I love my mother. I didn’t always say the words but I tried to show it in other ways. She knew I cared and I was pleased to be in her presence. True, there were times she got on me about screwing up my life. The truth can be tough to bear when it come from those who want to see you prevail but her words were always true. I am glad she brought me into this life and I am glad that she was my mother and I am glad that I travelled with her the final years of her journey in life.
I’ve felt guilty being alive while she is gone. I wish my phone was on last Friday evening. I wish, as I had done on occasion, simply showed up at the VA to check in on matters. I have regrets. I will have to spend part of my life dealing with that and as I do so, I can vividly see my mother tell me to get up and live.
Many people think highly of their parents and I am no different. My mother was not perfect and I accepted all her flaws. What I am proud to have seen is that she came closer to God and her embrace of the Most High God was genuine and true. I know she is in a better place.
I am angry at her treatment at the VA. My trust of that system is eradicated. I will have to deal with those feelings but my mind is fixed on not letting that situation to take priority over the positive result of her life. She is bigger that than the VA, bigger than any detractors. To me, she was the greatest mom in the world.
Honoring Our Parents After They’re Gone