The Soul of a Black Woman is a collection of poems and short stories that I began writing as a child, and finished by the time I was thirty-nine. With voices that range from the innocent whispers of a curious, insecure girl to the confident, resounding shouts of a mature, insighful woman, this book tells a powerful story of remarkablee transformation. From “At the Window” to the title poem, this book gives the reader a glimpse into the ups and downs, disappointments and discoveries, mistakes and milestones that have shaped me.
Mama never finished that sentence. Her heartbeat weakened and for the first time in my life, I saw surrender in my mama’s eyes. She’d lost the will to live and would fight no more. The once tight grip on my hand went limp. I became hysterical. Her doctors tried to resuscitate her, but I immediately ordered them to stop.
“Let her go as she wished,” I told them through my sobs.
Essie Wilson had lived a hard life and earned the right to die as she had lived-with dignity. Out of respect, I refused to let anyone take that away from her and it was the ultimate act of love for my dying mother. I figured I owed her that.
“Time of death, four thirty-eight,” the attending physician pronounced.
The condolences were endless and repetitive, almost rehearsed. Most folks seemed rather insincere and to some extent, I’d rather they said nothing than the corny, overused lines they chose to offer as sympathy.
“I’m so sorry for your loss . . .”
“Our hearts go out to you . . .”
“We know how much this hurts and if there’s anything we can do for you . . . .”
But there was nothing any of them could do and they couldn’t possibly know that the night of Mama’s wake was the worst night of my life. I felt I had lost everything. Or at least everything that mattered to me. I sat in the front row of the funeral parlor’s viewing room, not knowing what I would do, how I would go on. My mama had only been gone a short time, but I missed her so much already.
In one split second, I had lost a friend and a mentor, someone who loved me unconditionally and without equal, a woman whom I loved a great deal and respected even more. But I knew that her lessons, her shining example would forever guide my footsteps. So I went out into the world and was never afraid again-what else did I possibly have to fear? I had already suffered the most devastating loss and in my heart and mind, there would never be any that was greater, more painful or more lasting. My dear sweet Mama, my best friend, was gone and she wasn’t ever coming back.
At my mother’s funeral, I sat there silently, staring into space and scrolling through the many memories she and I had put together over my thirty years. My mind went back to all the times we bumped heads as mothers and daughters do, and how we overcame obstacles that would have torn weaker families apart. And maybe I didn’t tell her often enough, but Mama was the glue that held me together, the well from which I drew my strength. She was a steady beacon lighting my way and the silent tour guide that kept me on the right path. And even when I strayed, I could hear her voice ringing in my ears, urging me home. I also knew that when I finally found my way back, I would be received like the prodigal son; Mama would be there with open arms and a forgiving heart just as she had so many times in my life.
Remembering these things made me realize how very blessed I was to have had my mama as long as I did. We were so close and all my training in womanhood as well as life was under the watchful eyes of this amazing woman. Mama taught me by example how to be proud, work hard and have self-respect at all times. After all, I represented not only myself, but also her and a long line of tough, resilient African-American “sistuhs.” I thought of all this and as they lowered her body into the earth, I said a prayer for my mama, shed a tiny tear and tossed a rose onto her casket.
“Now you rest, Mama. Rest.”
Then I turned, threw my shoulders back with pride, held my head high and was strong. In the end, I learned I WAS just like Mama and anyone who knew her knew THAT wasn’t a bad thing to be.
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