“Darlena, when are you gonna realize that you are beautiful just the way you are?” my mother says to me as I’m getting ready for my first day of senior year in high school.
I was sitting at my vanity putting on make-up and doing my hair while listening to music. There I was, a 17 year old girl insecure about her looks and just ready to get the last year of high school over.
“Yeah, whatever, mom,” I roll my eyes and say to her as I’m doing the last finishing touches of my make-up. “I’m almost done, alright,” I told her in a manner hoping she would leave my room.
The morning I lost my mother, I didn’t know I would lose my mother. I just remember she had a doctor’s appointment that day because her breathing was problematic, she had a terrible cold and her memory was slowly fading. It was worrisome, but I don’t think she knew how bad of a condition she was in… or maybe she did but didn’t want to reveal it to her three kids in fear of worrying us. I will never know.
“Alright, mom. I’m about to head out the door now,” I tell her as I’m grabbing the last of my things for school.
“Darlena, I-I-I- I don’t think I can stay here alone,” my mother says stuttering from my sister’s room.
Before I know it I hear a loud thud on the hardwood floor, I rush to my sister’s room to find my mom had collapsed on the floor. I run screaming and crying, “Mom! Mom! Mom! Are you okay?! What’s happening?!” It happened so fast but yet so slow, the entire scenario felt like a movie. I wish it were.
I rush to call 9-1-1 and within minutes she is rushed off to the paramedics. I still had no clue of how bad of a condition she was in, my mother never spoke much of her health. She was a single mother with three kids to raise, she didn’t want to bother us with her internal worries, much less we probably wouldn’t understand. “Darlena, can you stay with me? I need you,” she asked me as they are wheeling her into the paramedics vehicle.
This is where I tear up as I write this because I chose to go to school instead of meeting my mother at the hospital as she needed me there with her. I still have a hard time forgiving myself of such a selfish act because I often think: If I had been there by her side, would she still be here by my side? I drove off to school instead and notified my big brother and little’s sister school of the terrible event I witnessed and told them I would be there to meet them at the hospital right after school.
I was about an hour late to school. “There goes my head start to perfect attendance,” I thought to myself as I enter the attendance office to get a tardy slip. I explained to the administrators my legit excuse for being tardy so it can be excused… and guess what? They gave me detention as I had no one to verify my excuse. Unbelievable, right? Throughout the school day I couldn’t even focus, I couldn’t even tell you what happened that day even if I tried. My mind was in a fog and I soon realized I made a terrible and stupid decision to come to school when I had real sh*t to tend to. Had I known I would lose my mother that day I would’ve stayed with her. But, my mother was a fighter, she always pulls through, she always makes things happen… I genuinely thought she would be okay.
Once I hear the dismissal bell for the ending of school I run to my car and almost race back to the house. I hadn’t heard anything back from my mother, my brother, my sister, nor the hospital so I thought everything was okay, I thought I would see my mother sitting there in her recliner chair watching her typical talk shows and drinking tea. But I opened the door and she wasn’t there. I wanted this to be dream so bad. The house felt eerie and cold and my mind immediately started replaying what happened earlier that day. I was feeling everything again and I began to feel sick. I really thought to myself that this had to be a dream.
I sat in the living room in pure silence sitting in my mother’s recliner chair waiting for my little sister to get off of school so we can drive to the hospital together. My brother was already there. I told my boyfriend at the time to meet me there as I would need support for probably the worst news I have ever received in my life. I would meet my brother, his girlfriend at the time, and my sister in the lobby of the hospital. I saw it in my brother’s eyes that it’s not looking too good. His eyes were bloodshot red from crying and his demeanor was cold. I see that he was speaking to the doctors and they are telling him that she is basically on her last string, there is nothing that they could do. 30 minutes later she was announced dead.
My mother didn’t have the greatest health insurance and that’s when I started to believe that America’s healthcare system is rigged against certain patients and discriminatory. I truly believe they didn’t fight hard enough for my mother’s health, but maybe they were and she wasn’t. All I know is that I was pissed! It was like I couldn’t feel, hear, see or think anything after that… for several months. I met my boyfriend at the time in the parking lot of the hospital and told him the news. We both cried together and he held me as tight and long as he could. What a horrible day on the day that was supposed to be an amazing day, my first day as a high school senior.
I grew up without my father in my life and I had my sister’s and brother’s dads, but I never had an real connection or relationship with them. My mother was my everything… my queen. I was 17 when I lost her so I was going through your typical rebellious teenage bullsh*t, so we didn’t always get along at the time. But, still her and I were very close and I was attached to her like crazy. To all of a sudden lose that and at a very young age, that had me furious. I didn’t understand, I didn’t want to understand. All I wanted was to wake up and find my mother to be there sitting in her recliner chair, watching her talk shows and drinking tea in the morning as she normally would. But, the next morning rolled over and she wasn’t there. I was mad at her. I was mad at her for leaving me and didn’t even tell me she was going. I was mad at me. I was mad at me for not being there when she probably needed me the most. I was in a clusterf*ck of emotions. Oh yeah, I still had to deal with this while trying to finish my last year of high school on my own.
I don’t think I give myself enough credit for graduating high school while dealing with a major death in my family. After my mom passed people grew distant, people disappeared, drama arose, fights broke out. Nothing was the same anymore. My mother was the glue to everything, she always kept the peace and brought the joy, never making an enemy in her entire life. Dealing with personal family matters while trying to push myself through school was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. I would be the first to graduate in my family so the pressure was on. My teachers were all notified so they gave me leniency while I grieved but I still felt so alone. Everyone in senior year was excited for homecoming, senior pictures, prom, field trips… initially I was excited too until the death of my mother. I didn’t give a f*ck about any of that after that.
Like I said, I really don’t give myself enough credit for graduating while dealing with a death because it’s now nine years later and I’m sitting here thinking how the hell did I even do that?! To be honest, my entire senior year was a blur, understandably so. But, I made sure to dress up, walk that stage, and receive that diploma for my mother… for me. I inspired my teachers, counselors and peers knowing all that I had been through but still accomplished it. Everyone was happy for me… besides me. I just wanted my mother to see it all. I was just happy that the process was over so I never had to look back at such an awful year again.
This was 2010-2011, it is now nearing the end of 2019 and I’m just now finding the courage to tell my story and hopefully be a voice for other young girls and women. I was 17, now I’m 26. Does time heal all wounds? I don’t believe so, to be honest. But, it lightens them. I cannot say how it is to have a mother by one’s side through heartbreaks, job losses, homelessness, financial crisis, suicidal attempts, the loss of a baby, loneliness and depression. Words cannot express the pain one feels to lose a parent, the grieving process is different for everyone. You just have to take it day by day, breathe and go at your own pace. Practice lots of self-care, talk to others around you, find a healthy or creative outlet, be the voice for others, and most importantly don’t be hard on yourself.
Unfortunately, my mother will not be around for weddings, birthdays, or holidays. She will not be here to see her grandchildren or in-laws. But, she will forever be in here in spirit… I’ll make sure she lives on through memories I’ll forever tell. Living without her has made me see life through a different lens, approach things differently and always be kind to others for you don’t know when a day might be the last. Her death taught me to be free and live life because you only get one and that’s what I will continue to do.
“Darlena, when are you gonna realize that you’re beautiful just the way you are?” Those were the last true words she said before she passed away that day. How I wish she were here to say those words to me once more standing here as 26 year old woman today. She was right, I am beautiful just the way I am. I was just too blind, young and immature to see what it is she meant exactly. It wasn’t the make-up part, but the fact that she saw I was caught up in finding my own identity as a teen growing into a young lady. I am a reflection of my mother: down to the shape of my thick eyebrows, the round apples of my cheek that create an everlasting youthfulness, to my long and feminine fingers, all the way down my calm, gentle and mellow personality. I am her and she is me. I am beautiful just the way I am.
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