I never realized, until recently, that I don't know the day my mother died. I don't think I ever knew. All I know is that I knew she was gone before anyone told me.
I was ten when my mother died of Lupus, a disease of the red-blood cells that affects mostly African-American women between the ages of 18 and 45. My younger sister, Stephanie, and I spent many days in hospitals in Jackson, Miss. by mother's side. To this day, I can barely walk past a hospital without feeling faint or nauseated.
Before my mother became ill, in just a short time, she had already taught my sister and I about life and loving. She instilled in us the importance of education, sacrifice and determination. She would take my sister and me to the library each week to checkout books, spurring my love for reading. She would make us sing old gospel hymns in front of the entire congregation at Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. When I was eight, she comforted me when I got my tooth pulled, letting me lie in her arms until the pain went away. And she put hot sauce on my thumb while I slept at night to keep me from sucking it. She taught us about the value of money and I am often teased about my frugality. But most of all, my mother made us laugh - just her being at home made life a little bit sweeter.
I don't remember when my mother was diagnosed with Lupus. She was a small woman, just 5'0 foot tall. But the debilitating disease made her petite frame bloated and swollen. Nevertheless, she was a fighter and when she wasn't in the hospital, she was helping others.
I miss her. I miss her voice. She would sing: "I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses. And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share, as we tarry we there, none other have ever known…"
During one of our many visits to the hospital, my sister and I were in my mother's room laughing and talking when suddenly my mother asked for a hug. My sister got up immediately and ran to her beside. I hesitated as my sister gave my mother a big, loving hug. I finally stood up and walked slowly to the railing. I looked down at my mother. Tears welled up inside me, but I didn't cry. I began to remember all the times we shared – how she loved to hear me say big words, like "interesting," and how she made me hold a sign with my bus number on it when I went to a new school. I didn't want to hug my mother because deep down I knew the inevitable was near.
As I stared at her, Stephanie jabbed me in the side, "What are you doing?" she asked, irritated. So, I bent down slowly and hugged my mother. She hugged back tightly, squeezing me so hard I could barely breathe. She didn't want to let go and neither did I. I knew then, that I would never see my mother again.
After a long night at the hospital, my father and grandmother, his mother, came home. I was lying in bed, but I wasn't asleep. I already knew. My sister and I sat on my father's bed as my grandmother told us the sad news. I stared at her blankly. I wasn't surprised. I got up slowly and went to my room and quietly cried myself to sleep.
Over the years, there've been many times that I wish I had my mother here – shopping for a prom dress, being at my debutante ball, advising me about men, relationships, friends, cooking, makeup, school, career. I especially needed her help when my first experiment with lipstick left me looking like a purple-lipped reject from Barnum & Bailey's circus.
Today, I am the same age my mother was when she died. But I feel like I need her now more than ever. I want to talk to her after a long day at work, or when I see a good play. I want to share my special moments, or be comforted during painful experiences.
In her short time on this earth, my mother had accomplished so much. Growing up, she helped her single mother raise nine children. She eventually married and had me and my siblings, attained a degree from Hinds Junior College, bought her dream home and dream car, and established Jackson's Young Men's Association (YMA) and Young Women's Association (YWA), an organization that encouraged teens to be active in the church. Each year, teens raised money to participate in a pageant-like program that included a talent contest and speakers. A few of the churches still carry the programs. She touched lives and was a role model for many.
Twenty-five years after my mother's death. I've taken stock of my own life. I struggle with where I am today. I am not married. I don't have any children. And I'm still trying to make a career out of my passion. I wonder, how will I make a difference in this world? What will be my legacy?
In my solitude, I think about what my life would have been like if my mother had lived. I feel her presence at times and know deep down that my mother never left me, she's been here all along.
Lottie Joiner is the senior editor at The Crisis.
Lottie L. Joiner is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.