Some people have a tree in the yard connected with special memories. I have one, a Red Dogwood tree, I nicknamed the Lollipop Tree many years ago. Yeah, it sounds silly. My mother bought it for us not long after we moved into our house. This gift has rewarded me every year with beauty; its dusty rose pedals dancing in the breeze in the spring and leaves that turn burgundy in the fall. As it grew, it formed a round shape; its limbs meeting at a point on the trunk, like the candy on a stick of a lollipop, spreading in an almost perfect circle. It has lost some of the roundness over the years, but its beauty remains.
Sometimes while sitting in the swing, I look at that tree and remember the day we brought it home and planted it. I also remember what Mama dealt with during her life, yet she still held tight to her faith. Mama went through difficult times—the kind that would buckle Paul Bunyan’s knees. Losing her first child, a baby only eight months old, then nine years later losing her husband, leaving her with three children, ages seven, four, and two, Mama knew pain and heartbreak. Later on, she faced ruin and abandonment of another type.
It is true when bad times come people disappear. Mama made a decision, based on legal advice, she thought would fix a bad situation, but it made it worse. People stopped speaking to her in the grocery store, looked the other way when she came near, not wanting to be seen even acknowledging her presence. None of the people who turned on her heard her cry, or should I say sob, when she hung up the phone after telling my grandmother she made the decision to do what her lawyer advised. I did.
Although she tried to hide it, I believe it bothered her. We were always together, including working on the same machine in a local factory. She needed support—someone to be there, so I went with her whenever she needed me, to meetings, to court, to whatever. Through this and several other problems she faced, Mama taught me this important lesson: “You do what you have to do, face what you have to face, and you do it with shoulders straight and your head held high.” Those were hard years, and I know Jesus taught us we should forgive one another. Forgiving is easy, it’s the forgettin’ that’s hard.
Mama knew how fragile life is. She was a no nonsense person when it came to protecting her children. Much like Toya Graham who went to the Baltimore demonstrations to make her only son go home, to remove him from a volatile situation, Mama would show up unexpected to pull one of hers from a serious situation, chase off undesirables, as well as tell off a few. She didn’t care who didn’t like it. She once told me to consider the lioness for a moment. “The lioness will fight to her death to protect her cubs. Any mother worth her salt will do the same for her children.” True!
Mama taught me her final and most painful lesson without speaking a word.
I awoke abruptly around midnight on a hot August night. I’ll never forget the sound in the house—eerily quiet, except for the soft hum of a ceiling fan. Dan worked nightshift then, and Kim wasn’t home yet (I learned later she and her friends who went bowling had car trouble on the way back). I ran to the front door and looked around the yard. Oh my God, where is she?
I went to Mama’s room and said, “Mama, Kim’s not home yet. Something must be wrong.” Mama didn’t respond. She lay there, still and silent, staring at something wondrous, at what I’ll never know. I ran over and touched her hands; they were already cool to the touch. The thought came to me, “She’s gone, she’s dead.” I started patting her hands, shaking her thin arms. “Mama, Mama. What’s wrong? Talk to me.” More thoughts, “She’s gone. It’s too late.” I kept trying, “Mama, please, please.” My mind kept saying, “She’s already left,” but my heart refused to accept it. I got the phone and called 911. I tried several more times to arouse her to no avail. I then stopped.
I caressed her forehead, kissed her there one last time, the tears flowed as my heart now believed what my mind was saying—she had gone home. The final lesson: the mind and the heart don’t always communicate. Perhaps I’d known it all along, but it became brutally real that night.
A few weeks before she died, in her final hospital stay, I encouraged her to fight. “I don’t want to lose you,” I said. Mama turned to me and replied, “Someday, there has to be a parting.” That night we had that parting, and the moment the realization hit me, my heart shattered like fine crystal dropped on a stone floor.
With all of the losses, disappointments, and sickness she endured, I knew there was only one song suitable for her funeral—Precious Lord, Take My Hand by Thomas Dorsey. She was tired. She was weak. She was so worn.
Princess Caroline said in an interview with Barbara Walters, “You grow up when your mother dies…yes, you are alone in the world when your mother dies.” I didn’t comprehend what she meant at first. Thirteen years would pass before those words sunk in and struck a painful chord. Today I understand.
Every year I look forward to my Lollipop Tree blooming and the leaves changing color, but nowhere near as much as I look forward to seeing my precious Mama again. She was my confidant, teacher, protector, inspiration, sounding board, advisor, and criticizer when I needed it. My Mama…was my best friend.
Photo: Child drawing of her mother for mother’s day © sirikorn_t – Fotolia.com
© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved