13 Years

Thirteen: in some cultures a lucky number, unlucky in others. I have never personally put much stock in the influence of numbers (or objects) on my good fortune. But I do still mark the significance of certain occurrences, such as anniversaries. Today marks the thirteenth year since I lost my mother to the ravages of Lupus and for many reasons, mostly sweet and happy, she’s been on my mind a lot lately. Today, especially, her smile and sharp wit fill my thoughts.

Thirteen years is a long time to be separated from someone before voicing certain thoughts, answering certain questions. But I think I’m finally ready to let go that pinching, bitter-sweet pain of loss and missed opportunity. I’m ready to just celebrate in every remembrance the amazing person I still dearly love. This is my long overdue homage to and celebration of her life, in the form of a letter to my mom.


I don’t think there’s anything of mine or myself that I wouldn’t give for the chance to say these things to you in person, now that I’m grown enough to have words to bring the thoughts to life. But, failing that, I’ll speak to your spirit and mine here, in this virtual sanctuary where I’ve chosen to share my heart…

You were and are still my mind’s ideal of the well-mannered, tough-as-nails Southern gentlewoman. Though never a member of the economically privileged gentility that ruled the South with velvet-clad iron fists, you were everything I’ve come to associate with the slightly stereotypical, often characatured Southern Grande Dame. You united the traits of a modern Scarlett O’Hara crossed with a goodly dollop of Julia Sugarbaker and a sizable pinch of Oizer Boudreaux.* In short, you demonstrated daily all the qualities of a smart, strong, enduring, loving, fierce warrior-woman from a culture that prizes both sweet-mouthed politesse and hard-talking tough love.

This formidable woman was the mom I knew and still love. I always knew where I stood with you at a macro level, because you pulled no punches with your words or deeds. Everyone who knew you seemed to respect you, even when they didn’t particularly like you. This, more than anything else, informed my developing sense of justice and personal integrity. It was that same respect that made me strive to earn it back from you.

You were a white girl from a poor background in a place and time and culture steeped in bigotry and rigidly enforced lines of separation. Yet, once you allowed yourself to choose your own path, you loved where your heart took you, not where your society or family pushed you. Loving and marrying a brown man, a “damned foreigner”, who’d give you “nothing but black babies and heartbreak”, was an enormous act of courage and self direction. I admire that so much. This courage and the lessons you drilled into me on dignity and self control have shaped my character and fueled my professional development at every stage of my life. And the love you shared with Daddy taught me to love in turn.

You were the first person to teach me, in words and experiences, that no one, not even you, is perfect. You taught me the value of learning from mistakes and helped me see that there can be joy even in failure. You taught me to assess the value of everything: time, money, effort, patience, deferred gratification, praise, criticism, intelligence, freedom and so many other things! But you also taught me that the calculus of value of things doesn’t translate to people, training me to love and respect and trust people as if their value was immeasurable, because it is.

For the vast majority of my life, you lived in constant pain. But your spirit was unbowed. When disease ravaged your body, you carried on despite its limitations. When asked by well meaning folks how you could possibly be so positive, cheerful, undaunted in the face of such hardship, your response always amazed me. Instead of a typically sentimental, mushy answer filled with vague images of religious faith or self-serving deprecation, you were pragmatic and direct: “What choice do I have? If I awake, my life is not over so I endure. Cheerfulness, happiness, patience are all tools to overcome despair and I choose joy over pain. Simple.” I heard that little speech countless times over the years and was always awed by the effect it had on your listener. This matter-of-fact approach to life has helped me conquer some of the most horrific dragons in my life.

You instilled in me a fierce sense of faith, hope, love, determination and work ethic that has colored every life decision I’ve ever made. Although I believe that who I am today is a person you would have never expected me to become, I firmly believe that the love and care and life lessons you showered on me in the years we had together are a large part of why I have the courage to take this journey of self discovery that occupies my soul of late. Even if you didn’t approve, could never understand who and what I am becoming, your every word and deed tells me that you would love me, all the same.

So, as I take these steps into the unknown, as fearful as I sometimes am, the one thing of which I am sure is that I have been equipped, by you, with the life tools to handle each thought, event, decision as it comes. Though I may go slowly, tread lightly around tough issues and negotiate a torturous path to my ultimate goal, I go with a confidence of achieving that goal that I got from you.

So, today and every day here after, I will be thankful for who and what you were, celebrating instead of mourning, and taking on the monsters in my closet with the quiver of emotional and intellectual arrows with which you armed me in a life lived to the full. Thank you, mom, you’re the fiercest femme I’ve ever known.

* For those who don’t recognize them, these fictional characters exemplify Southern femininity. See Gone With the Wind, the tv series Designing Women, and the movie Steele Magnolias.

6 comments so far

  1. FemOutLoud on

    This is absolutely beautiful…and I *love* your last line.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Thank you, friend! That last comment is always meant as a high compliment. I’ve had others tell me she couldn’t wear that moniker, because she was straight. I disagree. Regardless of sexuality or gender binary ‘norms’, some of the greatest women in history were fierce femmes in my eyes. She was no less a fierce femme merely because she was straight or my mom.

  2. Femmi on

    Oh S4S… she sounds like an amazing woman. Much love to you during this anniversary.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Love from a dear friend is always welcome. I wish you could have known her. I think you’d have liked her feisty spirit. 😉

  3. Victoria Oldham on

    Beautifully said. Your mom was lucky to have you too.

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