April 1, 2015

Love, Sex, and Losing my Mother

"She taught me the birds and bees! She taught me how to be a woman. When it was that time of the month, I didn't go to my mom. I felt comfortable going to my big sister".

My aunt Kerri said those words at my mother's funeral March 21. She stood there in her regal church lady's hat and suit, talking about her relationship with her older sister.  They shared secrets and things I didn't with my mother: parents, clothes, and heartache. My aunt spoke with tears in her eyes about her sister teaching her about sex. About love. Poignantly in the funeral home amongst others who nodded and appreciated her candor.

Mama died March 13.  Heart failure. A combination of things associated with her 35 plus years battling Lupus. But she was more than that. She was a survivor. Tiny but mighty. My father said she fought it until the very end.

She had only been married to one man but I got the feeling from our intimate conversations that she had fallen in love more than once. Although her marriage was no fairy tale by any means, she stood by his side. "My reward will be in heaven" she would say.  She often said that I was her "miracle baby"  (the pregnancy and delivery were complicated. Lupus was new and births rare)...and the best thing she ever did.  She schooled me on how to nurse a broken heart, how birth control worked, how to empower myself, that masturbation was ok, that love will happen more than once,  and by all means, that "no means no".

My mother was my best friend. I shared things with her and she never made me feel ashamed about anything. Love. Sex. My mother. Seems like an odd pairing. Most daughters don't share that. When my ex husband had an affair, it was her arms I cried in. When I was starting back on my feet, it was her love that sustained me. When I started the PhD program, she would sneak into my house and cook entire meals and leave. Sometimes with a note. Sometimes not. But even as I turned the key, I knew she had been there.

Love.

Love was our standing Saturday hair appointments, usually accompanied by Denny's when I was a little girl. Love was hustling Girl Scout cookies in front of the grocery store even though I knew she was sick.  Love was teaching me about makeup and being girly. And even how to use curse words properly. Love was fostering in me a love of music, arts and most of all, books. She let me read anything. No questions asked.

I had my first real love in high school. I was head over heels.She cautioned me that "this will not be the last man you love...".  I didn't believe her. And when we broke up before college she told me "It's ok... college will be an adventure". and it was. I loved and lost and loved again. I found myself and she allowed that space. She never judged me. She listened to my guy stories and laughed and shook her head. I got married and divorced. She was the first person to tell me I was brave. My mama, the lupus survivor, telling me I was brave.  When I traveled she would listen to my stories and close her eyes, imagining every detail. She would say "you've gone places I've never imagined". I would shrug it off and say "Mama it was just DC" but that was big to her, this woman who had only been on a plane twice in her life. When I met my current husband, she knew before I did that I loved him. Because she loved him. He cared for her like his own mother. He met her and took great lengths to handle her fragile body with care. Pushing her wheelchair. Opening her door. Never rushing her slow, paced walking with her crutch or cane. Taking her to doctor's appointments. Even they started to have secrets. Secret lunch dates. Secret talks. They started to grow into love. When my husband first met my mother, she had just had heart surgery (a very risky procedure given her health). My aunt Cherry, seeing this care my husband had, said "Keep that one! He loves your mama already".  When I got engaged, I grabbed her and hugged her teary eyed and she said "oh don't cry!".  And when I picked out my wedding dress, she was there, taking her face in my hands asking "is this the one, baby?" and walked with her cane to the register to pay the deposit. When I said my vows, I looked over and saw her smile.  She got to see that. She saw me love again. She taught me how to love. Mama , not my high school boyfriend, was my first love.

Sex
She was my best friend. She taught me the proper names for my private parts  very early because "you need to  know just in case". Just in case something happened to me. I got the feeling maybe my mother had experienced hurt or come close. Black girls often go unprotected.  But that was one secret she never told me. And she fiercely protected me. When I had my period, she was celebratory. She told me, just like my aunt, the blunt truth about the birds and the bees. There was no sugar coating it.  Mama told me being a woman was special and being a black woman was unique. She told me sex and having it was ok. She never used words like "whore or "slut". When I lost my virginity, she only asked was I safe. She took me to get my first birth control pills and exams.  She said girls carry condoms too.  She was on me about breast exams, having two sisters diagnosed. And when my aunt died, she was even more fervent about mammograms. She was with me when they thought I had blocked ovaries which would make me incapable of having children. She said quite fiercely "that's not gonna happen". She told me stories of her own mother, and my great-grandmother having children well into their 40s to put me at ease. She was proud of that.  Tests were negative. And she was there the entire time. She and I shared that secret.

When I started this blog and told her it was about sex positivity, my journey through divorce and dating, she was the first person to subscribe. She would say "I  liked that post about..." or "you never told me about..." or "You taught me something! I always wanted to know about..." She came to my Pure Romance party and had everyone laughing. She made raunchy jokes about my honeymoon. Hilariously bawdy.... my mother.

As I cleaned out her bedroom, I found things a daughter probably shouldn't. But I wasn't grossed out. I laughed and it made me happy to know hat despite the illness, despite her handicapped status, she was still a sexual being.  Capable of pleasure both emotional and physical. She loved and she got mad. She taught me to revel in that. She taught me that it was ok. She was ok. She still loved. She still had passion.

Loss

My mother didn't lose her battle. I didn't lose her either. Lupus didn't win. Heart Failure didn't win. I gained a role model. I often tell myself if I can be half the woman that she was then I know I have lived a good life.  I lost the last person I talk to at night but I think of her now morning, noon and night. I listen to her voicemails when I want to hear her voice. And despite the tears. Despite the anguish. I am not filled with loss.

I didn't lose my mother.

I won because I had the best mother in the world.




Marcelle Chaney Mathews
5/30/53-3/13/15




Copyright © 2015 T. Michelle Richardson

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