This Mother’s Day is Different

Definition of Mother.

Mother’s day is a bittersweet day for me. I often think of the “mothers” I’ve had throughout my life who have left this world, I think about the women who long to become a mother but cannot and I think about the rocky relationship with my own mother.

Last year, my daughter announced right before mother’s day, she was spending her birthday at the end of May in New York. I was heartbroken. It was her first birthday away from me. She was leaving me on her 22nd birthday! In retrospect, I was going through so much more than my daughter going away.

Whenever I am hurting, I find an outlet. Sometimes, it’s writing or a creative expression of when I am feeling. During this painful time, I created a slide show set to “Photograph” by Ed Sherran. I went through hundreds of photos of my children throughout the years. Through this project, I got to see that my youngest son was no longer so dependent on me and was ready to start school, my older son had grown into a strong but gentle young man and my daughter was a beautiful woman.

I saw that it was time for me to let go of my older children, especially my daughter. She was my first born, the first to call me mama, the first baby I carried and cried over. But here she was a strong, confident, independent woman…all that I raised her to be.

I also saw something else while I was working on the Photograph project, I began to see what a great mom I had become. I had made it-if one can ever make it as a mom, lol. When my daughter was born, I was a teenager living without hope…living for my next paycheck. As I went through the photos I saw the joy in my children’s faces. I saw their hope for a bright future. Mostly, I saw love. My children always knew that they were wanted and that they were loved.

I know that not all children grow up feeling wanted or even loved. Some grow up feeling like they are more of a burden than anything else. Sometimes, that pain is so deep that it’s hard to move on and even harder not to repeat the cycle. Turning off that inner voice that says “you’ll never make it.” Holding back the name calling because that’s all you know but you also know how much it hurt. Never laying a hand on your child because while words hurt; it is also confusing that the same hands that hit you want to comfort you.

Breaking the cycle is speaking life into your children, being their biggest cheerleader, admitting when you’ve made a mistake and apologizing, loving them when they go against your beliefs, holding them when it hurts, never ever speaking bad about them to anyone and always being the realest member of their team.

This mother’s day is different. I am excited to spend the day with my children. These beautiful souls that call me mom fill my life with unspeakable joy, they have healed me in ways that they will never know and I love that they will never know.


Oh Diane!

From the day I was born, Auntie was a constant in my life. She waited at the hospital while my mom was in labor with me. She babysat me when my siblings were born. After my brother died she came to my house and cooked and cleaned for us because mom just couldn’t.

When my husband first met her, he couldn’t understand a thing she said because although she lived in Chicago for more than 40 years, she still spoke with a very strong southern accent.

Until she got sick; she drank too much, smoked too much and cussed too much. When I became a Christian she tried so hard not to cuss around me. In almost every conversation we had she’d slip up and say “oh Damn! Sorry Stephanie!” I’d just roll my eyes and smile.

My older son’s favorite memory of her is when she was still well enough to drive and we’d be in the car with her. She was an awful driver, very nervous, she drove fast and hard. When it’d became too stressful for her, she’d say, “oh Diane!” and talk to herself. To him, at age 7, it was cute. Every time we talk about her he says, “oh Diane!” Taking me back to the car rides and so many memories of Diane C. Clark.

In July 2008, I had the honor of delivering her eulogy. As I prepared to speak about her life, I went through her photos and discovered that many of the wild stories she told me as a kid were true. Like how she ran away and joined the circus, I saw photos for the first time of her in her circus costume. Or the stories of her life on the wild side, when I saw photos of her in mink coats, dressed to the nines. Everything I questioned about her stories faded when they came to life through her photos.

When something exciting happens in my life, I ache to call her. When my bonus child was born, I cried because I knew  he would never have the “oh diane!” experience. 

When we bought our house, I felt so lost that she wasn’t there to be excited with me, to tell me how proud she was of me, to see the look on her face when she saw all that I worked for come to reality. Just like she did when I was the first to graduate from high school, the first to go and graduate from college….she always told me how proud she was of me…and how much she loved me. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders!

In a lot of ways she drove me crazy. She was never afraid to offer her opinion whether you asked for it or not. She told me when I was wrong, called me out on my bullshit, it was never with grace just brutal honesty.

It wasn’t always easy to deal with her because she was so good at telling me how to run my life. She loved me unconditionally and she demanded that love in return. And believed it was her right to tell me what to do because she loved me so much.

When my mom get on my nerves, I realize how much I need to talk to her.

Her laugh was contagious, she was contagious. She always made me feel like I was the most important person in her life.

Auntie and Papito
Auntie and Papito, July 2008.

Known Only By God

county_poor_450vOn Wednesday, May 29 at noon, I am participating in the 28th annual Interfaith Memorial Observance for Indigent Persons. This service is dedicated to celebrating the lives of more than 300 people buried by the Office of the Cook County Medical Examiner in the last 12 months. The service includes a reading of the names buried over the past year, musical selections and devotional statements by representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Zoroastrian faiths. Some of those that are buried are listed as unknown. The service gives the community a chance to serve as a surrogate family for those who died poor and alone.

My role in the service is to read about 30 names of people, who I do not know, who I have no connection. In the last few days, I’ve read my list of names over and over and worked on the pronunciation of their names. Imagining what kind of life they lived: where they lived, what kind of families they came from, how they smiled, laughed and cried.  Maybe those around them had abandoned them or couldn’t afford to pay for a burial. Or they choose to walk away from their families and died alone. I may never know their stories, just their names. But each name I read is Known by God.

I am so humbled to participate in this service. I am honored to be a part of a ministry that hosts these type of events for the community.

Happy birthday little brother!


Today would have been my brother’s 35th birthday….would have been. Sadly his life was cut short at the age of 7 weeks. 7 weeks. 48 days to be exact.  Such a short period of time to have such an impact on the lives of so many. I was almost 4 years old. I was already the big sister to one sister when mom and dad brought home my baby brother. As an adult, I’ve tried to sort out what was real and what was made up in my 4 year old mind. A brother for 48 days and then he was gone.

I was told he was in heaven. And I wanted to go there to see him. After all, that’s how we saw Auntie, Granny, why couldn’t we visit him. I looked for him, I looked for ways to see him. I remember a cloud of sadness that covered my home life and never really dissipated.  I knew that I should not bring him up because it made everyone uncomfortable, but it was my way of staying connected to him.

Grief has a way of haunting you. Even as a child, I knew my world was different. His death changed the course of a young family, even for those that weren’t even born yet. His death brought sadness and confusion to the family.

I think about all the bad theology people say, “God must have needed him more” or  “He is an angel now.” How does that help people deal with their grief? It never helped me, it confused me. I often thought, “if God loved me, why did he destroy my family?”  But I know now that God does not bring death.  When his birthday and death anniversary arrive…I still ache and long to know him. I wonder what life would have been like to grow up with 2 little brothers and a sister. I wonder how different my life would have been if death hadn’t visited our family. Sometimes, it’s good to play the “what ifs”…but it sometimes makes the present more difficult. Through it all, there are 2 things I am sure of, God’s love has comforted me more times than I can count and one day I will see “my little brother” Manuel Reyes Jr. again.