Losing a Mother, Being a Mother

Certainly, the 40s are about multitasking. But how does a busy mom find space to process the death of her own mother?

In my new career as a minister, I’m usually the one offering condolences or saying a prayer. But this time, a hospital chaplain stood in the place where I normally stand asking to do all those things. I was the parishioner, the wounded one.

During my mother’s hospital stay, I sat for hours looking down at her while the monitors overhead kept track of her vital signs. Her heart rate was good. Her blood pressure was good. So why can’t she just get up! This is the same woman who came back from ovarian cancer, abusive men and a general hard-luck life. I studied her in silence, thinking about how she awaited my debut into the world. And now I would be there as she made her exit. Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and ours was as complicated as they come. Raised in early childhood by my grandparents, I came to stay with my mother as a teenager. She was a young, single parent raising two girls. She had trouble paying the rent and keeping the utilities on. I tallied all her faults.

We struggle to be different from our mothers. We struggle to climb the corporate ladder. We struggle to provide greater opportunities for our kids. We struggle to keep it all together. When things go haywire, we ask ourselves, why? Why like this? Why now, when I have so much to mourn? I have gone to sleep with the question on my lips and have awaken in the middle of the night still pondering.

Now I am left to make my own transition from someone’s daughter to no one’s daughter.

Every time I look at the woman adjusting my wedding veil in that bedroom photo, sadness washes over me. She’s gone. There will be no more phone calls between us. No more arguments in which we vow never to speak again. No more hearing her “when I was a child” stories. No more calling to ask how to cook something (yet still managing to mess it up). Her journey of worrying about job security, raising confident children, finding fulfillment and gaining financial stability is over. Mine, however, continues, awaiting the next transition.

Salatheia Bryant-Honors is a former 20-year newspaper journalist turned full-time minister living in Houston, with her husband, Reginald, and two children.

READ MORE on motherhood: Helena Andrews on the 20s. Rebecca Walker on the 30sMireille Grangenois on the 50s.