It’s Mother’s Day 2020. I awoke at 3:45 am. Couldn’t go back to sleep, so I choose to write. Each Mother’s Day lands on me totally different. Today I honor my Mom Yvonne and my grandmother Rosetta. I am working on a book project to honor their memories, and this is my first public post about the project. I’m not on a deadline. This is a passion project. For those who don’t know, both of these amazing women died tragically when I was 14 years old – one to suicide and the other to alcoholism.
After carrying so much grief and shame over the years, I have decided to shift into the good stuff… that Strong-Black-Woman-Way-Outta-No-Way Juice… that Ride-or-Die-for-Family Love – both of which are deeply imbedded in my DNA and make me the woman I am today. I am finally UNAPOLOGETIC – embracing all parts of me, even the tough stuff that I tried to bury. I am no longer ashamed – embracing the complexity of what it means to be a Black woman in America.
Because – truth be told – we all have stuff. We have baggage. We have skeletons in our closets. I wore myself out trying to deny that stuff – but NO MORE. And in doing so I have dishonored the memory of these two beautiful women. Again I say – NO MORE.
It took me a long, long time to get to this place, and I am so grateful. I am so blessed, and though I’ve now lived for 40 years without these amazing women, their memories and their spirits are with me always. Since I decided to move away from the grief and shame, to embrace the amazing complexity of these women, today I am feeling more empowered. This is the first step in owning my truth in a whole new way.
My prayer is that someone who is struggling with mental illness or alcoholism, or supporting a family member who is battling the same – for you to find the support you need. You don’t have to bear the pain alone. You don’t have to be ashamed – for part of the human condition includes pain, brokenness, struggle and sadness. Part of the human condition also includes joy, triumph, love, beauty and grace.
I want people to be freed from what I was doing to myself. Isolating out of fear of being judged less than, not worthy, not good enough. In the end I realized, like Dorothy with the ruby slippers, that I had what I needed all along. That I was already worthy – just by being a child of God! That I am already enough – and SO ARE YOU.
I hope you will enjoy these memories. There is more to come – it’s the very beginning of my journey.
By all accounts, my mother was Brilliant, with a capital B. Upon graduating from high school and passing the civil servants’ exam, she earned a coveted spot in the Johnson administration. She moved to Washington DC, where she met and fell in love with my father, which is why I was born in DC. Although things didn’t work out between them, she kept persevering, eventually marrying my step father Murrell and giving birth to my twin sisters Annie and Deanna. Our childhood was clearly one of disadvantage. We lived in the projects of Johnstown – originally built for working class families. We had no car. We had no phone. We lived very modestly.
AND…. We had so much love! Though my mother battled bi-polar depression and schizophrenia for years, despite the various episodes, there was never a question of whether she loved us. She loved puzzles, brain teasers and board games. She taught us the brainy ones like mastermind, Clue, Othello, chess and Tri-ominos. She also loved spades and was a wicked competitor. She was building in us curiosity, problem-solving and a drive to succeed.
Eventually, she lost the battle, and succumbed to the dark thoughts that plagued her. After several attempts, she committed suicide at the age of 35. I was 14 and my twin sisters were 7. Though I only had 14 years with her, I am grateful for the memories. I know that I am a better person having learned about determination, grit, tenacity, and the legacy of love and finding joy in the midst of the pain that is a foundational value throughout my family. These things have created a strong foundation that I cherish.
My grandmother was a force of nature. She was the one who stood in the gap when my mother was sick and not able to be there for us. She was a domestic worker, and I remember her wearing support hose over legs that swollen with lesions. She survived spousal abuse, and even managed to find love again after escaping her abuser. Mr. Jerry seemed to be the real love of her life. I remember the two of them sitting together watching TV in the evenings, and he had a fun sense of humor. Sadly, he passed on before she did.
As my mother became more ill, my grandmother’s home became our home. We squeezed into a tiny one-bedroom apartment. She found a way to make warm and loving routines for us, despite the challenging conditions. She found ways to bring levity into the home even as she was battling her own demons and the drinking became more and more a part of her daily life. It used to embarrass me, and is what ultimately killed her – just 4 months after my mother’s death. Now that I am older, I see how she was self-medicating – using the alcohol to dull the pain of such a hard life. And she never took it out on us. Instead she just drank herself to death.
There is no way to describe the impact of losing the two most important women in your life just months apart. It ripped away the tenuous foundation of the life that we had known, despite all the dysfunction and pain. But thanks be to God for a strong extended family! Our entire family surrounded us. In particular, our guardian angels, Aunt Annie and cousins Annette, Ednita and her husband Bruce took us into their homes, provided financial support, stable households and were amazingly resourceful in setting up educational opportunities that helped us to rebuild, grow and prosper.
Thank you for reading this far. I have more to share – will be back from time to time.
Are you struggling with depression or thoughts of hurting yourself? Know someone who is! You don’t have to bear it alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255