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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Sitting in discomfort and knowing that this too shall pass

“Truly, we know that we cannot really subsist on little sips of life. The wild force in a woman’s soul demands that she have access to it all.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Several years ago, my eldest child was settling into adulthood and as a parent it was hard on me. As parents, we always want the best for our children and having had him early in life at 19, I wanted him to have everything that I didn’t have as a young adult. I wanted him to be ecstatic with joy and, when that reality didn’t materialize in the way I wanted it to, I perceived it to be a problem. The truth was and is that my son knew himself and the problem wasn’t him but rather my expectations and unwillingness to accept that we must walk our path and that our path is ours. Sometimes the internal and external don’t line up.

I have been thinking about that time in life as several friends and others have recently reached out to me asking if I am okay. The truth is I am okay but sometimes life throws us curveballs and sometimes it throws many curveballs at us at once. Sometimes our days are less about the joyful hours and more about eking out just one perfect minute that gives us the strength to keep on keepin’ on.

Ours is a culture that thrives on the happy and joyful spaces yet gives little space for the the very real moments that, while painful and sometimes even uncomfortable, are the moments where we learn who we really are in the midst of discomfort. Rarely do we talk openly about the trials and tribulations of life and yet as I dive deeper into this middle space, I am learning that to be fully human, I must give space and honor the uncomfortable moments.

Yoga and meditation have in recent years served as the tools that moved me beyond the almost crippling anxiety that once consumed me. This year they have been the tools that have allowed me to sit in the flames of midlife as I realize that this thing we call life doesn’t always deal us the hand we desire or believe is rightfully ours. Life sometimes deals the shittiest cards from the bottom of the deck and our job is to stay in the game long enough to get some better cards. It isn’t always pretty but the longer we spend on what I lovingly refer to as this dusty rock, we realize that these moments do pass though not always on our schedule.

There is no manual to this life game, in many ways we are all winging it and doing the best that we can. Yet for me, I choose to acknowledge the uncomfortable; not to revel in it but to recognize that being fully human is to experience the full spectrum of human emotions and not to run from the uncomfortable moments. Rather, to stare back at them with steely eyes and let them know that the better times will come again. In this moment, the seas are rough but calmer seas are ahead…I can feel it in my bones as I prepare for the next stage of the journey where I embrace the wildness and fullness of both myself and my journey. May you find joy in your own journey and keep passing the open windows until the day in which the body and spirit take flight in the next realm.
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A glimpse of midlife and setting fire to my life…musings at 42

Even a dedicated racial justice professional needs a break from a steady diet of racial injustice. My recent birthday has provided me with the opportunity to step back and reflect on my life. This post is a result of some of my reflections, so if you prefer the race talks, you may want to skip this post. Sadly, the world remains a cruel and unjust place so almost certainly, I will have something to weigh in on soon.

When you run off at 18 and get married, have your first kid at 19 and are on the road to divorce court before you can legally even buy a cold brew, it’s easy to slip down a rabbit hole where you feel you are always playing catch up in life. It becomes far too easy to lose contact with one’s inner guide and instead plug into the world’s vision of who you should be. Sure, you occasionally visit your real self but for the most part your real self becomes a visitor who drops in for special occasions. Even for those who don’t start the adulthood journey with appendages known as kids and spouses, getting to one’s real self can be difficult. In part, we spend 18 years being fed someone else’s view of the world and those views shape us no matter how much we fight against it and then we spend the next 18 years uncovering what’s real for us.

The only thing is that, for most of us, the first decade or so of our adult lives are spent fitting into society’s pre-designed boxes (college, careers, love, family) so even if we are actively rebelling against what we learned in the first 18 years of life, we are often still part of the system we are struggling with. We literally at times have two halves of our lives but the second half of life doesn’t reveal itself until we have a few decades on this dusty rock. In my case, the late 30s signaled an internal shift but one that didn’t ramp up until the past year, when it started to become clear that change was underfoot.

I have openly joked about the physical shifts…those damn hot flashes are no joke and let’s not even talk about that nasty Flo broad and her changes. If I ever meet Aunt Flo face to face, why I’m gonna….

No, the soul searching, the painful picking up and putting down of what works and what doesn’t work. That’s what I’m talking about right now. Digging around in my psychic closet and exploring myself in my 40s now; asking the questions that in my 20s and even my 30s I could not find the courage to even utter except in the occasional moment of clarity. But that clarity would disappear as suddenly as it appeared. The moments of wondering “Is this it?” Ours is a culture where to admit these moments is looked at as a problem to be solved, but not all “problems” require a medical professional, treatment plan or a drug. Sometimes our problems just require the moment that pushes us to our edge and when we gather the bones, heed the whispering of those who have journeyed before us and run to embrace that all knowing wild being who is healthy, free and unencumbered, we find peace.

Yet the quest to the true self that often starts at midlife is not without risk; in fact, the risks are proportional to the potential of joy and peace that is possible. The larger the piece of the joy, the greater potential that you may just end up blowing up your life, just setting it on fire and saying “Fuck it all!” In many ways, it is fitting that I recently celebrated my 42nd birthday by gathering the materials to make the biggest blaze to blow up all that held me back. I am a creature of habit. I am often methodical and rarely do I make decisions without calculating the odds of success in any venture that I undertake. However, my gift to myself in this new year of life is to truly live joyously and take risks. It’s too soon to say and the odds for failure are high but my joy at the moment cannot be contained. I am not afraid to fail anymore and that alone is a gift; I look forward to the other gifts that this journey will unwrap as I go further along.

So welcome to 42, where the woo got stronger and I remembered to laugh again.