The last four years of my life has been particularly difficult. I lost my mother to diabetes complications and although I have tried to pretend that everything is okay, it's not. I will never get over the fact that I will never see my mother again. Her death was my greatest childhood nightmare and it came true on December 6, 2006 at 4:45pm. I was on my way to the hospital to visit her when I received a call on my cell phone from her doctor informing me that my mother had expired. Such a cold, clinical way to tell someone that her mother was dead as if she was merely a specimen to be studied but she wasn’t; she was my mama and she was gone. I did not have a father and she was all I knew.
I remember silently crying on the bus and people staring at me as if I was some crazed individual. I wanted to scream, "My mama is dead, dead, dead!" but of course I didn't. As usual I kept my pain and my thoughts to myself. I got off the bus and slowly walked across the street on route to the hospital. It was cold, dreary evening and snow was everywhere and my mother was dead. I remember calling the father of my children, telling him that my mama was dead. I remember calling my eldest daughter and telling her that her granny was dead, the lady who helped raised her, who taught her how to read was gone.
I remember walking into the lobby of Michael Reese Hospital and the nice security guard telling me to sign in. I remember getting into the elevator on route to the tenth floor and getting off. I remember the blank looks on the faces of the nurses on her floor, I wondered did they know my mama was dead. I remember walking into her room and seeing her lying on the bed with her eyes closed and her mouth open, just like she was asleep, just like she always slept. But she wasn't sleep; she was dead, dead, dead. I remember touching her and noticing that she was still warm and painfully acknowledged that soon she would be cold and stiff. I remember leaving the room and speaking with the physician and passively listening to her explanation for my mother's death and asking her for a place to still down and think. I remember calling my boss to inform her that my mother was dead and that I did not know when I would be returning back to work. I remember calling various family members and friends to talk and cry and putting the phone down.
Memories of my childhood flooded my brain. Of going to work with her during spring and summer vacations. Shopping with her on State Street for school clothes, Easter clothes, books, and toys. Meeting her at the bus stop when she got off work on long, hot, summer days. Of going to the Clock with her, a neighborhood juke joint on Saturday afternoons and having a tall, cold glass of orange juice while she had a cold Millers High LIfe.
Memories of her when I was in the hospital having my eldest child and hearing my mother scream at doctors, telling them that I was in pain and that they should hurry up and do something. Of being curled up besides her listening to the stories of ghosts and haunts that her mother had told her when she was a little girl living in Itta Bena, Mississippi and giggling with her throughout the night. Remembering how hard she worked as a single, poor mother making sure that I never missed a school trip or was hungry or homeless. Remembering the time when she was admitted to the hospital with the same disease that ultimately took her life two weeks before Christmas back in 1978 and how she made Christmas happen for a little girl when she got out, that same little girl who was so afraid her mother would die and she would never see her again.
I am so happy to have these memories of my mother to sustain me on these cold winter nights when life can look so bleak. When I am filled with despair about my job situation, I can think about Gertrude Henry, the strongest woman I know to this day and know that my time is coming. She came up here from Berclair, Mississippi, a town so small I can barely find information about it on the Internet, to Chicago as a teenage girl to attend George Washington Carver High School in 1948 and she made a life for herself in a city where only the strong survive. She were a sharecropper’s daughter who picked cotton as a little girl younger than my nine-year-old daughter and I am so proud that her blood flows in my veins.
Rest in peace Ms. Gertrude Allen Henry. I miss you.