personal growth

Two sides of the same coin with a different value: a son’s perspective of Mother’s Day

Yesterday I wrote a post reflecting on what it means to be motherless as I grow older. My brother wrote his own reflections on being a motherless son and man and asked if he could share them in this space. Often we hear women discuss their feelings but far too often we don’t hear from men, so I am honored to share this space with him on a days that heavily weighted for both of us.
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First off I would like to thank Shay Stewart-Bouley for allowing me to write in her space. For those that don’t know I’m her brother.  She normally calls me “little” brother, and she doesn’t know i seriously abhor the title but today I will let her have it because i am in her space.

The reason for writing today…Mothers Day.

If you follow her…you know how the loss of Marilyn has been a dramatic impact on her. I can only imagine the impact of what that is like of losing the parent of the same sex. My vantage point is that of the brother…

14 years ago, life was moving for me…just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree…on my way to grad school in another country, engaged…and it was like the last episode of the Cosby show…as when Theo was headed out to school…then the nightmare came…the details I wont bore you with but lets say there were moments were Guantanamo Bay would have been welcomed.

In her passing, in my sister’s case at 31 in my case 23, there was a forced maturity that I wouldn’t wished on anyone. The first year of everything was brutal, so much so in my case that in the first 18 months, after her passing I couldn’t eat a home cooked meal without literally breaking down into tears (To this day I don’t eat macaroni and cheese because it can stir those emotions.  Don’t judge me, if you had her mac and cheese, you’d cry too lol)

As well 18 months later, Granny aka my mom’s mom passed. So what did that mean for me as “Lil brother?” Well if death wasn’t enough, it came with learning lessons about a deceased love one you couldn’t elaborate on. Also in death as a young man it was realization that there was no fall back. At the time I was engaged (of which that situation didn’t work out) and there was no “going back home to mom”. Our father, was dealing with things that well we can NEVER imagine himself in losing his life partner, partner in crime, helpmate and every other term of 32 years and learning to live in a world that frankly, my sister and I were versed in already.

Over the years, unbeknownst to her, this moment in time destroyed my optimism and brought about some serious darkness in my life. Not just the obvious in the form of depression (which I was diagnosed with in 2007, the mild kind), but a certain lack of emotion that has played well for me professionally but not so much personally. The loss of our mom, has created three perspectives that now exist in three different sections of the country as we live in different places and has created a different impact. (Father, sister, and brother respectively)

14 years later, as the son of Marilyn, the youngest I reflect and it is in these moments the sting comes back anew. Why now? Life changes…my evolution as a man, as an artist and more is traced to that moment in time. In many moments i miss her wit and insight.  My sister valiantly attempts to be the matriarch, but in many ways that’s not fair to her, as the researcher in me observes her struggle, yet I empathize with her attempts to be better. Truth is, if you have not been made a motherless child, you can only imagine how it rewires you as a person. In my travels, since her transition, I myself have done things that she would be proud of and some well, not so much. Over the years i have sought counseling, positive and negative replacements and well nothing compares to the original O.G. I have had the pleasure of watching her impact and her legacy grown through my nephew and now his family, my niece, the work of our father who can bring tears to your eyes, when he says I am STILL married. (Fighting tears at the thought just writing that) and well if you know Marilyn’s kids, you know her.

If you wanted to know Marilyn Stewart, look in her kids eyes.  Its a fire to us…if your wanted to know her, watch our tenacity. We are both super stubborn lol.  Our  mom was a fighter to the end, and a person that would make things happen out of nothing. I learned more about her in death than in life. I learned why family was important to her so much as someone instrumental to her discarded her. I learned of the decisions she made that as her youngest i definitely didn’t agree with, but I empathize and understand. If you want to he know her, look at her children’s accomplishments. 2 kids, with a total of 5 degrees (3 master’s and one working on a PhD, because education was important to her). But if you REALLY want to know Marilyn’s kids, watch our smiles.. She had a way of disarming people even in the midst of the darkest situations and could make a true friend out of an enemy in a way that diplomats would envy.

So year 14, and we are at Mother’s Day. When folks sit in church all day, take mom’s to get cheddar biscuits and get cards…I am in the distant, pursuing my goals in one part of the country, my sister being a mom and now Grandmother in another, and Pops in the homeland in yet another, probably listening to Kenny Roger’s Lady (You’d have to know him to get that one)

Truth is, as a member of the motherless child clan, these moments provide a sting, and yet we know she lives on in us, and generations to follow. We grieve at painful and happy moments because she doesnt inhabit this space, yet inside she is with us. Somewhere in heaven she is sipping some good champagne, with her legs crossed shaking her food listening to Maurice White from EWF or having the angels play some steppers music.

To those with a mother….be thankful,…if you she is on this plane, and you don’t talk, kill the bs…because there are those that would give every accolade back to have a convo with her…I’m one of em… to those that share in the grief of the day, you are not alone. We cry and we laugh together in the memories of our mothers. To my sister, life has come full circle from a daughter who lost her mother to a grandmother with generations that seek your wisdom and guidance. I pray that their wisdom is with you as much as their ability to cook (you still owe me that recipe book too I AIN’T FORGOT WOMAN lol)

Respectfully submitted
“Lil” brother
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The evolution of loss, or Thoughts on Mother’s Day

It’s been 14 years since I lost my mother to a valiant but brief (and ultimately futile) battle with cancer. The loss of my mother remains, even after all these years, one of the single most defining events in my life. She passed away six weeks after I turned 31 and four days after she turned 50. To say I was unprepared for her death would be an understatement. I spent the early years after her passing in a dark space that was only worsened by the death of my grandmother (my mother’s mom), just 18 months after my mother’s passing. In less than two years, I lost the women who had mothered, nourished and raised me. I lost my moral compass and foundation at a time when I still needed them.

As a Black woman, my very essence sits on the foundation of my mother. The deaths of both my mother and grandmother left me adrift in a family of men and, as I wrote many years ago, my father in the early years tried his best to mother me. But despite his attempts, the loss of my mother was always with me.

Over the years, I have gone through many stages of grief and growth. The birth of my daughter, for example, served as a reminder that at a young age, I had become the eldest woman in our family. For better or worse, I was the matriarch of our little clan. It isn’t exactly how one expects to spend their 30s.

Since my mother’s death, my relationship to Mother’s Day has been very complex. On the one hand, as a mother myself, my children and others have wanted to honor me as such; yet, all around me. I see generations of mothers who serve as reminders of what I lost.

My son’s marriage last year and entry into parenthood have combined to once again redefine the very role of mothering (and by extension Mother’s Day) as I settle into my newest role as mother-in-law and grandmother. The newest editions to our family have forced me to realize that with loss comes evolution but that it’s often a slow-moving process.

Several days ago, I found myself in the card aisle trying to search for a card for my beloved daughter-in-law as I wanted to acknowledge her own entry and transformation into the mothering club. I have not stepped foot in the aisle selling anything related to Mother’s Day since 2005, the year my grandmother died. To say it was a jarring experience would be putting it mildly as I searched frantically for a card appropriate for my daughter-in-law and instead was surrounded by cards to our own mothers. Halfway through the card search, I felt my eyes well up as I realized I was surrounded by people looking for the right cards to give to their own mothers. A simple and maybe even at times onerous task that I will never again do in this lifetime.

I eventually found a card and my way to the counter and held it together long enough to pay for the card and to exit the store. It was upon leaving the store that the shifts that I have been feeling in the past year around my own mother really made sense. I will never not miss my mother but there are certain milestones that loom so large that you need the presence of an elder.

The past year has definitely been one of those milestones as my son’s marriage and his wife’s pregnancy felt very much like uncharted waters. After all, how exactly does one support their adult child after they get married? The parenting manuals don’t include these tidbits and Lord knows, everyone has a story about “that” mother-in-law and the one thing that I have committed myself to is not becoming that kind of person.

My mother’s absence was acute for me not only during my son’s transitions but in the past several years as I have re-started my life after 20 years of marriage. Truthfully, as the decision was being made to separate, it was my mother’s words and wisdom that I craved most of all, as no one in my circle could understand the decision to part ways with my husband.

Gone are the daily longings for her, but in the big moments…in the moments of indecision…I miss home; I miss my mother. Yet as the years pass by, I see her reflected in the habits that I have picked up over the years. I see her in the way that my daughter jiggles her foot and in her build which looks like it will be as slight as my mother’s. I see her in my son; unlike his sister, my son knew my mother and was close with her until her death. I even see her in my grandson’s eyes. The same dark eyes that we all have: her eyes.

No one can ever replace her and as long as I am of sound mind, I will never forget her. But after all these years, I have come to realize that in giving me life and loving me, she bequeathed something far greater. A spirit that lives on in not just her children but her grandchildren and now her great-grandchild. The day my grandson was born, I had a somber talk with my father as I was feeling her loss on that day and wondering what she would make of becoming a great-grandmother. My father reminded me that she was with me and knew and indeed she is. So on this Mother’s Day weekend, I thank you Mom. Until we meet again and until that time, may your spirit rest over our clan and may I be half the woman you were.
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Feelings as self care in a hectic world, a peek into my life

I have a confession to make. The month of November kicked my ass. It twisted me in knots and took me to highest points of joy and it also laid me low and, while I was in the street trying to crawl away, the city bus came and rolled over me and then backed up over my broken body. Then like a phoenix, I rose again from the ashes (I sure am mixing metaphors today, right?) and now, like an imperfect human, I am crashing and counting days.

My public and professional personae have been immersed in trying to make sense of the world in the wake of Trump’s win, the rise of the white nationalist movement and the surge in harassment nationwide, which has resulted in an increased amount of work as head of an anti-racism organization. Meanwhile, my private self has grappled with riding a wave of joy that has softened me. To be frank, it has tenderized me. But extreme emotions competing for validation in one body that gets little downtime are hard to reconcile over time.

Which is why today’s post is a bit of a detour from what has become standard in this space. I need to reclaim my own humanity as a woman and not as an anti-racism educator, activist, or nonprofit manager but as a mother, a sibling, a daughter, friend, lover and my newest role, grandmother.

While the world has been spinning off its axis, my son and his wife welcomed their first child into the world, a beautiful baby boy.  My workload has prevented me from flying out to see my first grandchild; however, that problem will be resolved shortly. But already I am smitten. I can stare at pictures of my grandson for hours on end and I am sitting on my hands to prevent myself from becoming the pesky mother-in-law who dispenses advice or suggestions.  My grandson’s arrival has reminded me just how open the heart is to love and how love manifests in many different forms. I haven’t even held my namesake in my arms yet, but I know that I love him as completely as I love his father, his aunt (my  tween) and his mother. They are all three my babies. Even if two of them are adults.

The month of November has also brought a deepening of feelings for a non-related grown-up. A man. A man who has made me realize that vulnerability can be sexy and that I am far more open to new possibilities than I realized.

A lot of importance is put on the role of self-care in our lives, especially in activist spaces, so much so that at times it frankly sounds trite. In the ideal world, when life is stressing us out, we would have the resources and time to take care of ourselves and maybe even unplug from the world. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and sometimes you have to do the job because there is no one else to do the work. You have to show up because if you don’t, no one else will and that small problem really becomes a larger one. Sometimes you can’t have the vacation or the trip to the day spa because doing so will leave you and your kids in the dark with a lonely pot of unseasoned beans to eat all week.

Sometimes self-care is just knowing that you are doing the best that you can while praying/hoping for the strength to keep on keepin’ on, which has been my life for far longer than I like to admit. In those moments, I am learning that the greatest self-care is to immerse myself in the people whom I care deeply about. It is to allow for the transmission of human emotions that strengthen me and somehow give me the strength to keep going one more day.

The next several years are going to be a test for many of us who are based in the United States. Now more than ever, we need all hands on deck as we fight against policies that almost certainly will make life harder for our most vulnerable and marginalized communities. We all have a role to play whether we are longtime activists or new to organizing and educating. Trump may not have a mandate, but for half of the country, we do have a mandate and that is to activate now.

None of us knows what lies ahead as we shift to a Trump presidency but given the president-elect’s hijinks already, it is safe to say there will be no shortage of emotions and outrage and our best defense aside from direct action will be to protect our own emotional, physical and mental well-being. As for me, I am counting down the days until the adult man in my life returns home as well as the days until I fly out to see that newly arrived little guy. I am taking joy in sharing laughs with my daughter and conversation and drinks with friends. On days like this, I take joy in just writing these words and remembering that I wear many hats and while some create headaches, some create joy.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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