There are no words to express the love between a mother and their child. And definitely harder to express the loss of a parent. My mother’s name was Margareth Joseph, we called her Maggie for short. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death. She passed away at 4:08AM, May 10, 2004…..on Mother’s Day. As if losing your mom is not cruel enough.
My mother battled with breast cancer for five years…I was 28 when she passed – she had just turned 50 years old….twelve days before her death. I had a 50th birthday dinner party for her at one of her favorite restaurants in Miami…the Rusty Pelican. I surprised her with her sisters and brothers who flew in town. She was quiet most of the dinner…she spent the time looking closely at everyone as if she knew it would be our last time all together. For her 50th birthday, I presented her with a book of notes that I had people in the family write to her – letting them know how much she meant to them and their favorite memories of her. It was something she wanted to know…I remember a few weeks earlier, laying on her in bed and she asked me what was one of my favorite memories of her. I told her it was when she would take me to her office after school and I would sit back and admire how busy she looked on her desk. She had so many piles of paper and she seemed to multi-task so easily. I remember saying to myself…”One day – I wanna be that! I wanna be a SECRETARY!!!!” When I told her that story, she laughed so hard, she had tears in her eyes. She loved that story and I knew the gift of favorite memories would be a perfect gift for her.
My mother was a woman of God and a woman of faith…following in her footsteps – I put everything I had in my own faith believing that she would be ok – that she would survive. I’ve since learned that it’s not God’s ability to heal – its according to his will. And that was a hard pill to swallow.
I had big plans on how I was going to react to my mother’s death. First, I would cut off all of my hair. (what a statement to make to show my anger!) Second, I was going to run away. Yea….at 28 years old, I had plans to disappear for at least 3 weeks. I had NO idea where I was gonna go or how I was gonna get there – but I planned to disappear. Brilliant. Then I planned on living in depression the rest of my life because life would never be the same without Mom….and how was I gonna ever be happy enough to smile again??? Yes, I was planning to self-destruct.
But here’s what really happened the moment I saw her took her last breath…in the early hours of Mother’s Day…in our home….in the comfort of her room – surrounded by my Dad, my sister, her sisters and my two nieces. I heard my aunt say – “She is gone.” I jumped up, fell on her body, yelled, screamed, cried – for about a good 5-10 minutes. Then I grabbed my journal, ran to the bathroom, sat on the toilet….wrote the date and time – and wrote – “Mom died. We are here.” That was all I could get out – I could not find any other words but I needed to write down something. My hands were shaking and my stomach was in knots.
After my journal entry, I went to her computer desk and went online to start looking for funeral homes and began planning her funeral. Her body had to be removed. A casket had to be picked out. Family had to fly in town. How I switched from grieving to event planner in a matter of 15 minutes was pretty funny now that I think back on it. But I had hotel rooms to block, a funeral to plan and people to notify. So that’s how I spent my week. The night of my mother’s viewing service, I left early to work on a video tribute that I wanted played at her service. I missed out on the time with family and friends – but I had work to do. And if nothing else, my mom was going out with the most beautiful celebration service and nothing less. With the help of family and friends…she got that. So much so – many people jokingly came up to request that I plan their funeral services for them because it was exactly the type of service they would want. And then…life after Mom kicked in.
At 28 years old, I was faced in a world feeling alone and with no direction on how to live without my Mom. My mother had me in her early twenties, so we had a very close relationship. It was just my sister and I – so growing up, it was the four of us as a close family unit. My sister had gotten married and moved to Tampa a few years before. So from the time I was 23 years old and found out about her diagnosis, til I was 28 years old – I was there for every step of her journey. I spent countless nights in the hospital with her asleep on those comfy hospital chairs….I had long conversations with her and even had to bathe her from time to time when she was too weak. But even before her illness, we were always close. Growing up, we spent summers traveling, she taught me the basics of cooking and even taught me about the business world. My sis and I spent spring breaks and days off working under her guidance. The managerial and planning side of me definitely came from her. She managed the business of a prominent African-American doctor and she owned her own business consulting for several clinical practices…most of them still exist and are successful to this day. When I broke out in rashes and severe itching after having Miss Bobbi, I called on one doctor that I hadn’t spoken to in years…I fully expected to have to wait weeks for an appointment and go thru drama just to get seen. Not only did he immediately return my call – he prescribed me meds that cleared my skin and had me in his office within the hour I called….I sent a silent thank you to my mom – it was because of her that he took care of me.
So how did I survive the last 10 years without her? Life went on. God granted comfort and peace. Being surrounded by love. I wish it were as easy as it sounded, but the reality is – its been a day-to-day journey. A 3,650 day journey to be exact. I went thru moments where I was angry with God. I mean, if he is able to heal – why didn’t he just do it??? It took me a long time to sit thru a church service – especially having to hear about God’s love for us, healing powers or how we should believe and have faith. I was not trying to hear any of that – for a couple of years! There were times I would just walk out of service because it hurt too much to hear the message. Funny thing tho…it doesn’t matter how often we turn our back on God – he will never leave us. And despite how I felt about him and his decision – he still gave me peace and the strength to get thru to the next day.
In the words of the late Tupac – LIFE GOES ON. And we can choose to be part of life or sit on the sideline watching it past us by. One day, a few weeks after my Mom passed, something funny happened…and I laughed. Then I caught myself laughing and thought – how dare I?? But over time I learned it was ok to laugh…my mother loved to laugh – and hell, was I supposed to just sit there and stifle laughter just because I thought I should forever be sad? At that point – I gave myself that permission to laugh – and live – without feeling bad about it.
It was a hard transition. The one area I struggled with was grieving. I didn’t allow myself to do it. I felt guilty for crying and being in pain – so whenever those feelings would come up – I shut them down. Because I was 28 years old and had a beautiful life with my mom. So why should I cry when so many others never even knew their mom? Or their mom passed when they were much younger…or they lost both parents??? I literally guilted myself out of feeling sadness because I thought I was being selfish. And that was so wrong of me to do because I took out that sadness in other ways that weren’t healthy. I didn’t give myself a chance to go thru the process. I remember setting up an appointment with a therapist because I felt the need to talk to someone. I cancelled the day of my appointment because I convinced myself that I didn’t have the right to complain about losing my mom. It took me a long time, but now – I don’t feel guilty about having meltdown moments or feeling sad. I allow myself to go thru that process because its healthier for me, and everyone else around me.
Today, at 38 years old – I miss my Mom even more. I can’t believe how fast 10 years have gone by – it feels like yesterday. My greatest fear ten years ago was the memory of my mom slowly fading away…and thankfully, that has not happened yet. I remember every life lesson she taught, her words resonate in my mind and spirit all of the time. I regret that she will never meet my husband, I feel sad that she will never meet my kids and enjoy being their grandma. But that also motivates me to be the best mom to them as she was to me. I literally think at times – what would make my mom proud at this moment? And I do it.
So many of us face dark days because of the lost of a parent. Go thru it. Be in that moment…just don’t stay there. We should use their lives as motivation to live ours even better than they did their own. That’s what would make them proud. And every step of the way, they really are there with us – even though we can’t see. I know that I get small reminders from my mom that she is around and sees all. When Miss Bobbi was younger, she would look off in the distance and just have giggling fits…laughing with someone – but it wasn’t me. I always knew at that moment, she was spending time with her angel. She makes her presence felt.
Yesterday, I took a group of girls to a baking class…its something my Mom loved to do and I remember being small and going with my dad to pick her up from baking school. So I thought it was fitting to do that on her 10th anniversary. My sister and my two nieces were part of the class. When it was time to introduce ourselves to the instructor, we all said our names. And when it was time to introduce herself, she said – “Hi. My name is Maggie.”
Happy Mother’s Day to my angel and hero. Thank you for your shining light.