Emotions produce fertile grounds for writers, and my mama has always told me that I wear mine on my shoulders. Basically, what she is telling me is that part of what makes me strong as a writer can also make me weak and defenseless when exposed to attack. The very thought of this hurts my emotions. I suppose Mama knew what she was talking about when she told me this in my teenage years, and she even reminds me of the same from time to time as an adult. I am a grown woman who still wears her feelings on her shoulders at times. Ask my husband. He agrees. In fact, he once told me he understands just exactly what my mama means now.
And I still wonder how do I not feel? Or better yet, how do I disconnect myself from something that is fundamentally intrinsic in the blueprint of being human. Or at least my understanding and my experiences with humanity, my connection to people by this intangible thing: feelings.
I started watching my mama and thinking about her life. How I never saw emotions weigh her down. Emotions never took her purpose. Emotions never broke her even after my daddy died. I was five years old at the time, and for all I know and imagine from pictures, my daddy was the love of my mama’s life. He was her fire. Her strength. Her laughter. And when his fire was extinguished in this world, and he heard his name called to walk in the Light of Jesus, I cried. But out the corner of my child eyes I also watched my mama. I didn’t see tears, but I saw a woman stand up and go to work each day to care for her seven children. I watched her cook dinners and ensure we were nourished as we all sat together and gave God thanks for our food. I watched Mama call us into her room each night, and we kneeled by the bed or sat on the floor and read the Word of God aloud together. I even watched, or rather felt, the sting of her switch when I allowed my shouldered feelings to burst forward in angry and disrespectful words or actions.
Of the seven of us, I am the youngest. I am the one plagued with these frustrating shouldered feelings, and so I felt angry after my father’s death. But Mama held on to her joy. I felt confused. But Mama walked with clarity. I hated God at the time. But Mama still took us to church, and she continued to pray, worship, and laugh with Jesus. Mama showed me that God was real because only a God could lift the boulder-sized feelings she must have felt on her shoulders and carry them for her.
I didn’t see her break. Instead, I watched Mama dance. Not literally, because I never saw her dance, like ever. But figuratively. She spun circles in the most figurative dance battle I have ever seen. She fox-trotted and break-danced her way through her grief, and I watched. My curious child eyes could not comprehend it. Sometimes I was even offended that she never broke down and cried. That she never threw a self-pity party asking God why? That she never gave up and quit. That she didn’t roll on the floor like a tantrum-possessed kid, screaming from the void that must’ve filled her heart at nights. I never heard hurt or malice in her voice, rather victory and Godly praises. I never heard her curse. I never heard her complain.
All I watched was this strong, heroic-like phenomenal woman break-dance in the rain—and boy, she can dance! Figuratively. (As a side note, I only have one sibling who I think can dance—literally.) I guess the rest of us inherited our mama’s none dancing skills. And I’m still trying to learn her metaphorical dance steps, if just a basic two-step. How do I move like Mama and let unkind people bounce off of me? How do I keep harsh voices from entering into my dreams? How do I not cry in defeat? How do I take these emotions off of my shoulders? How do I become more like this woman I call Mama?
I don’t know, but I continue to try dancing right beside her. And the more I learn her steps, the more I sometimes think I figured out what she did with her emotions. She wears them. Not on her shoulders, but in her heart and her spirit. Her emotions help fuel her to walk into hospitals and pray for the sick. Her emotions help her to give even when she is not rich. Her emotions inspire her to keep sharing the Gospel of Christ even when it is not always received. Her emotions compel her to see others set free.
Instead of letting her emotions rule her, my Mama uses them to propel her purpose. So in little ways I guess I might be learning to dance a little, tiny bit, like Mama. Instead of letting tears fall from my eyes so easily, I’ve learned to cry them from my spirit onto the page. Instead of my Mama letting grief overtake her life, my mother learned how to push it away. She tucked those moments of grief into her shoes. Then she reassigned their purpose, and turned it into some dancing fuel.
And boy, she can dance! Figuratively.
*I read this to my mama at the Listen to Your Mother Show exactly two weeks before she died. A good bit of my family also attended the event to celebrate her. The next Sunday was Mother's Day, and we celebrated again. I just remember my mama having such a great time and being so grateful all the time, including the weeks leading up to her passing. She died the Sunday after Mother's Day on May 21, 2017. In hindsight, God gave us time to say goodbye, and I count it all a great blessing to have spent so much time with her. The Tuesday before she died, I spent the whole day with her being silly and visiting people. This post is a small memory of her beauty, persistence, and faith. She will be forever loved.
That's my beautiful mother with me and four of my six siblings here. I'm the child in red.
Me and mommy, a picture I will forever treasure.
My sister Karen and my brother Mike (and me) with our dear mother after the show.
On Behalf of the Children About Our Mom--[I read this at my mama's funeral service-I hope it blesses and encourages you if you are dealing with grief]
Firstly, my siblings and I would like to thank everyone for their kindness to our family during this time of grief. Your outpouring of love and prayers have truly helped empower us and lessen our sorrow in many ways. We would also like to honor two special people who have been powerful forces in the life of our mother, especially in the last few months of her life. Sis. Jessie, thank you for the love and friendship you have shared with our mom throughout her life. Sis. Jessie. Also, Sis. Tammy Curry, thank you for coming visiting our mom often before, during, and after her surgery. Thanks for cooking for her, calling her, cleaning for her, and just being an amazing friend. She valued you both and talked of you two so often. She valued her friendships deeply.
In fact, we found in my mama’s own writing where she wrote about friends. This is part of what she wrote: “The idea that anyone can be friendless is upsetting to me. Friends are essential to our emotional, physical, and spiritual well being. Friends listen to our heartaches without blaming us for having problems…They are happy when we succeed and sad when we fail. They give us wise counsel and keep us from making foolish choices. They even risk making us angry for the sake of making us right. My friends have done all of this and more for me. I’m thankful for the friends I have now and have had for years.” Sis. Jessie, Sis. Tammy, and to everyone my mother called friend—that’s what she thought of you, and we thank God for everyone who returned her friendship throughout the years.
So, about our mom…Whether we called you Ma Dukes, Ma, Mama Lou, or just plain sweet Mama, we also called you great. We called you warrior. We called you fearless. We called you compassionate. We called you great woman of God. We called you our phenomenal black queen who kept leaping over trial after trial after trial with a jet pack packed with endurance to the end. We called you the never quitter, the never give up-per, the I don't care what the devil says-er, if God said it then it will be so-er. You so were full of insane faith that continued to grow as you watched God bring you out each and every trial.
And now that you're gone, as my brother Ben says, we get a little nervous wondering how we will make it without you. How will we make tough decisions without you? But then we think of all the things you taught us and all the sacrifices you've made for us. And it fills us with strength and happiness. You've given us everything we need to make it. All we have to do is use what you gave us. You poured the Word of God into us consistently, you poured love into us endlessly, and you poured enough wisdom into us to last many lifetimes.
You have joined that great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1, therefore Mama, we will strive to run strong with perseverance the race marked out for us. Thank you Mama for helping us know what endurance looks like for our course.
The week before your surgery, I remember telling you about the vacation Davin and I had planned during part of your recovery. We were planning to go visit family in Texas, but we would cancel it. You told me, "Don't y'all stop living your life just for me, I got people. I'm going to be just fine." And while you're gone from this earth, I imagine you telling me, all my siblings, your family, friends and the church some of the same: "Don't y’all stop living your life just for me, I got people. As of matter of fact, I am walking right next to King Jesus. I'm going to be just fine."
Death is not to be feared. My sister, Tamesia, you explained it beautifully last week and your words added to my peace. Just like an infant is pushed through the birth canal and enters this world unexpectedly with all these new sights and sounds, death is simply the vehicle that pushes us out of this world into the next one waiting for us. Mama, with all our hearts and souls we believe God pushed you into that glorious place of rest, and you are experiencing all the new sights and sounds of heaven's beauty. You are right in God’s presence. We have always just wanted our mom to be happy. We saw your smiling face every time we saw you, and we heard your joy in every single phone call and funny or encouraging voicemail you left. Of course we will miss you, but we cling to your legacy and wisdom. Our grief is simply like the afterbirth, the residue left after your transition. But we know God will clean it all up. And when He does, we will start hoping for more glorious transitions into that new joy you’re experiencing. I pray we all develop a deep hunger for heaven and live accordingly.
It’s funny how we talk so much about seeing Jesus. We tell people about Acts 2:38, about being baptized in the name of Jesus and receiving the Holy Ghost. And about living a Holy life. About being faithful to your calling. And we live our entire lives hoping for the reward my mama has obtained. Yet, few of us want to take that journey to the other side by death. We sorrow at the very thing we hope for one day. But I won’t grieve long because I too want to see King Jesus. I want to see my beautiful mama again. I want to see my dad. I want to see Bishop Allmon. Bro. Gerald. Mother Barnes. Sis. Janie. Sis. Rita. Sis. Lily Mae. Sis. Gert. I want to see the Mackeys, and I don't think I ever even met them. Just all the saints of God. Because I am well aware I stand here strong and full of faith because they all stood there and fought the good fight of faith before me. They made it a little bit easier for me. And a lot of you sit there because they stood up first for you too. I hope to honor my mom, my family, and this rich Apostolic heritage of Christ by continuing to stand and contend for the faith, and hopefully leave a legacy as rich behind as my mother and these great witnesses did.
To my siblings and family I offer these short poetic words---
Breath. Laugh. Live. Smile.
In spite of the tears that will fall from our eyes and shatter our hearts like a hurricane eye
In time—just remember, she didn’t die in vain
But her strength freely flows through our veins
It’s ingrained in our names
And every time we paint life in ink, or think or blink
Her soul sinks with pieces of our minds
So when we need a sign to reconcile her death
Let us stand in the mirror and look at our self
We inhale her breath
We are the deposit of her spirit she left to leave a legacy just like she did in this earth.
Our mama was a legend in my eyes.
And in some way, I fear wondering if I could ever live up to her giant steps.
But I realize something that she did well—she remained consistent in her calling.
She never wavered. She never quit. Whether chaos was around her or attacked her own personal life—she pressed and praised God through it all. I never saw her give up, and she had a lot of hardships. But she was steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. My mama has made heaven even more real to me, and has motivated me to keep putting in the work and pushing harder than I ever have before.
I’ll end by saying this: a month or so ago I was sitting with my mama at her home. And it just came over me, and I told her what a great husband I had. Like she didn’t know. Like she hadn’t told me before. But again, I told her how he treated me like a queen. And jokingly, I said, “I just don’t know what I did to deserve him.” I was joking yall…
But my mama looked at me and said, “Oh you didn’t do anything to deserve it. It’s just the grace and mercy of God.” By all estimations, I know a lot of you, like myself, feel like my mama deserves this rest in the arms of Christ. But perhaps my mama would say, “I didn’t do anything to deserve this, I made it Home only by the grace and mercy of God.” When she gave her life to Him, He kept her every day of her life like He promised He’d do for all of us.
My mama loved, trusted, and served for more than 40 consistent years of her life. She served the Lord for longer than I’ve been alive. It blows my mind. We give God praise for keeping our mama. We give God praise for her Godly example to me and my siblings. And we give Him praise in advance that we’re all going to make it Home to see her again one day and be with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our hearts are filled with overwhelming gratitude for our mother. And if I could tell her any last words, I’d thank her again for her Godly example to me and my siblings. Because with Christ, we have joy and we have hope.