Black Women and Mother Loss: 5 Steps for Getting through Mother's Day

by Liz Alexander

This year marks the 11th Mother’s Day where my mama is not physically here with me.

There isn’t adequate language to describe the pain of mother loss and the permanent void it leaves. In fact, Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, reminds us that the pain and the void experienced differs depending on several different factors: the type of relationship the daughter and mother had while the mother was living; the age of the daughter when the loss occurred; and the actual cause of the loss (such as physical illness, suicide, abandonment, mental illness, etc.) Nonetheless, mother-loss has profound effects on a daughter’s identity, self-esteem, faith, and the overall quality of her life.

For Black women, mother-loss has unique challenges. In what bell hooks classifies as our white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal society, Black daughters who experience mother loss are confronted with having to navigate such a complex and hostile terrain without Mama’s road map. They are without Mama’s strategies of survival and most critically, without the affirming and healing power of Mama’s unconditional love.
As Mother’s Day approaches, it can be a painfully grief-ridden and triggering experience for daughters who have experienced mother loss. Having experienced the loss of my own mother in my early teens and living without her now as a woman, I have had to redefine my experience of Mother’s Day. In my redefinition, I have come up with 5 steps for getting through.

Step 1: Feel it.

In the words of poet Nayyirah Waheed, “Fall apart. Please, just fall apart. Open your mouth and hurt. Hurt the size of everything it is.” Give yourself permission to feel whatever feelings come up for you. If it is grief, let it overtake you. If it is joy, let it overtake you. Be in the present moment.

Step 2: Remember her.

Remember her voice. Remember her laughter. Remember her smell. Remember her touch. Remember her hugs. Remember her kisses. Remember her embrace. Remember her favorite things. Remember her wisdom. Remember her guidance. Call out her name in remembrance.

Step 3: Reconnect with her.

Invoke her energy. Take out whatever things of hers you’ve kept. Take out her picture and her journals. Invoke all of your favorite memories of her. Recall all of the stories of her that you heard from other people. Feel her presence.

Step 4: Give thanks for her life.

Give thanks for the opportunity to know her, to have met her. Give thanks for the time that you spent with her. Give thanks for the things she taught you. Give thanks for experiencing her love.

Step 5: Honor your other mamas and mama figures.

Honor the women who took the time to “see” you. Reach out to the women who saw your life worthy enough for them to love and care for you as their own. Honor the women who said, “I want to be here for you.” Celebrate the women who considered you to be so special that they invited you into their family, created a space for you at their table, and offered their advice and their embraces in times of need. Call on them. Show them your gratitude. Value them. Honor them.
And for the women who’ve never known a Mama, I urge you to dream of her. And let the dream overtake you.

For me, this Mother’s Day is a reminder that although my mother, Marla Helen Cooper, may be physically absent, my truth is that she has never left me. In fact, her physical absence allows me to experience her in other forms.

I give thanks for her continued presence and guidance.

And I give thanks for Imogene Kennedy, Lisa Rhodes, Alexandra Charles, Chante’ DeLoach, Tracie Worthy and Charmaine Bourne. These women have guided me, mothered me, and continue to mother me on my journey to becoming.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Photo: Shutterstock

Liz Alexander is an urgent, connected, and responsible woman. She is a womanist social worker and writer. Follow her on Twitter @radicalwholenes.

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