A lesson from my mother

My biological mother died from lung cancer. When I first started my blog, I mention her as my inspiration to start writing, with this being a process of my grief and hopefully finding out new things about myself. I use to write when I was much younger. I wrote plays and songs, but I stopped because, well, I thought I wasn’t good enough. I am learning I can be my own worse critic, so I’m working through that and getting better. This thought brought back to my memory a question my mother asked before she died on her death bed, in a hospice center in the Bronx. She asked, looking up at the ceiling, with tubes in her hand and the oxygen tubes stuck in her nostrils, breathing as best she can, “What have I done?” Can I tell you that this hurt me to my core. For a woman, who struggled in her life, not totally because of her own doing; living at a time when Jim Crow was the order of the day, getting pregnant at age 15, running away from home, getting addicted to alcohol. “What have I done?”

Her question made me see that she was still wanting to be whatever her dream was as a little girl. Her question made me see that she was still dreaming a dream she had as a young woman. Her question made me see that she was still even dreaming that dream as a woman now in her seventies. But the question was one of guilt. She was angry with herself. She was angry as she laid in that bed, looking over her life and thinking about the things that she had not accomplished, thinking about the things she would never get to do because her time to leave was near. I felt her anger. I hated that she still felt she needed to ask this question even in the midst of her dying! Her question, unfortunately, became her main thought while in hospice. She could not respond to family members loving on her or being by her bedside. She became defensive, and to me, the child who was born to her at 15 years old, she saw only what she believed to be where her dreams started to end. I understood fully her pain, I understood her will to live and fight, I understood her wanting to prove everyone wrong. I understood her wanting everyone to see her as she saw herself in her dreams; a great captain on her basketball team; a great singer, orator, friend, woman, person. So on those days in her anger, I stood by her bedside so she could have a right to her anger and offered myself to the mental punches and throws that she was unable to dish out to the world that would not see her, the world that harmed her for being 15, pregnant, addicted and deemed unworthy. For this, the remaining of her life would be proving the world wrong. What a horrible struggle for a teenage girl! What a horrible journey that her one moment of mistakes would be what she focused on and would dictate the majority of her life.

My mother’s question stays in my head as a reminder that I am enough. Even in my struggles, my failures, I am enough. And it is unfortunate, that most women will have the question my mother had because somewhere along the line when a woman slips and fails, she immediately turns it into her own guilt. I hear this question when my daughter questions her abilities. I hear this question when I listen to the stories of women I work with whose children are in a foster care system and they are struggling with substance abuse. “What have I done?” is internalize that there has to be something wrong with me, something I did wrong to deny my dreams to live. Please take it from me, you have done nothing wrong. For a moment, you failed, you made a mistake, it was only a moment. Don’t allow that moment to be a lifetime of disappointment in yourself. You are more worthy than a moment. There is no shame in mistakes, we learn from them and we journey on.

My mother had over 20 years of sobriety before she died. I’m grateful for that. I know she was too. Loving yourself means loving all of you, your perfections and imperfections; your flaws, your missteps, your journey. Be kind to yourself. I love you!

Rev. JacquiP

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