My mother’s passing on August 20, 2018, was hard. I think back to when my son was shot, it was like a strong uppercut to the stomach; it knocked the wind out of me. The loss of my mother however, left me with an inarticulate sorrow. It was far harder than any punch I have ever sustained. How do you get over all of the now missed opportunities and dreams? Well, you don’t, and probably never will. And that’s alright with me.
My Mom had stage four lung cancer, so I have been preparing myself over a year for her transition. I have served as a part-time hospice aide for the last three years, so I have learned to be ready for the inevitable. As an aide in that field we become “everything” for the patient. We read, write letters, feed, bathe, and provide companionship for them. We have to have a different perspective on their life, and the death, that is approaching them. One lesson that we were taught is to think of death as a “transaction.” Despite how uncomfortable and gut wrenching it is to sit by and watch a human being shrivel into nothing, losing all vitality with each passing moment, we endure. Whether it is performing a task, sharing a laugh or being an ear, we seek moments to provide comfort to our patients. Most times we are rendered helpless; we are forced to sit by and watch our peers become a shell of themselves. As much as we want to help we can’t. It’s like trying to hold onto sand in our hands. Still, being a part of hospice care is gratifying. I couldn’t be there for my mother, so helping someone else battle the same obstacles she did, provides some comfort for me.
I had just returned from a weekly meeting with my peers about prison stuff. We were drawing up proposals and solutions to present to facility administration in the way we usually do on Mondays. However, this Monday was a little different. We finished the meeting on time and there were little, if any, heated discussions. Since we had time, I even talked to the executive team about my replacement as President of the Liaison Committee. I informed them I wasn’t running for re-election. We were escorted back to the cell-blocks at 11 AM for the facility count. Count begins every day around 11:15 AM. I got back to the company I am housed in with no interruptions (fights or disturbances) and then the company officer yelled, “Gant. Visit.” My heart skipped a beat. Not because I felt something was wrong, but because there were only five minutes left before the facility count was going to take place. During the count, there is no movement among the inmate population. Everyone is locked in their cells or confined to the area where they are at and there are no exceptions. Because of the time, I put a rush on it, and made my way to the visiting room.
On my way to the visit, my mind scampered all over the place. After almost 21 years of incarceration, surprise visits are not good for me. For one, I become a nervous wreck. Secondly, because of the responsibilities I have, I am almost never ready in time. With the responsibilities I have, back up plans and replacements are important. It can be a disaster when some 800 people are depending on you to fulfill your duties and then you don’t. For us, it’s the equivalent of an air traffic controller taking a shift off at the busiest time of the day; there’s bound to be a catastrophic screw-up. Still, I walked briskly to the visiting room hoping to beat the count.
When I arrived at the visiting room area, I go through the normal security check. Clothing and shoes log in, pat frisk, metal wanding, and boss chair. “Face, feet, have a seat,” the officer instructed me as I approach the king sized gray chair. The cold, immovable, plastic chair that sits at the far end of the visiting frisk area corridor is unrelenting when I sit on it. I place my face on the adjacent face tray, complying with the order. Then I swipe my feet on the black rubber-matted box off to the left bottom of the chair. This chair is used by security to make sure that no metal objects are on an inmate’s body or cavity. The pat frisk and metal wanding are overkill, but at least visitors and staff will not be subject to any metal prison weapons. After fixing my clothes, I walk through the visiting room door. I see Kerry. She’s sitting in the far distance one row away from the windows. Her countenance is down and instantly I know it’s Mom.
Hurt, sadness, anger and an assortment of other emotions flew through me at that moment. My heart rate rose and chest burned. My throat felt like I had a tennis ball in it. With labored breathing I walk slowly toward the table. I noticed every step I took; I made myself breathe. I wanted so much to hold my Mom before she left. I had so many plans to take care of my mother when I was released. In one of our conversations I told her I was going to move her in with me until I could build her a home. She giggled. More importantly, I wanted her to see the man I had become on the other side. Years ago she told me her “boy had become a man.” Early in my bid, that was one of my proudest days. I wanted to show her that my maturation was real. On that Monday I felt robbed of two things: my mother, and the dreams I had with her in them. As I moved closer to Kerry and her outstretched arms, my eyes welled up with tears. I didn’t let them drop, my wife did that for me. As I disappeared into Kerry’s embrace, I closed my eyes and held her… I saw my mother’s warm smile. It was a vision of her from long ago. Although in my imagination mom didn’t speak, she told me to be strong.
My Mom Is Strong (Excerpt from my Mom’s funeral that Kerry read to my family and loved ones on August 27th, 2018.)
My husband could not be here today so he wanted to honor his Mom with these words: First a word from Proverbs 31: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
My mother was strong
My mother was strong- I have witnessed her strength since a child. No matter the obstacles she faced, no matter how uncomfortable she was, she kept herself upbeat. She endured so much and not only was she strong, she made me be strong too.
She encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do, to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t always listen, but through the heartaches I caused her, she stood strong, often telling me things I did and did not want to hear.
My mother was strong- she celebrated me for the things I accomplished, and she loved me through the bad decisions that I made.
In her eyes I could do no wrong, and even when I was wrong, she held her head high and supported me.
My mother was strong- when she began to wade deeper in her sickness, we would pray, she would tell me to be strong.
As she declined further her strength and resilience was still on display. She would pull it together to talk to me- all the while, I knew she was hurting.
Even as her spells grew and became more frequent before she was diagnosed she didn’t want to let me see that she was sick.
Then when they told her she had only a few of months to live, she took a year.
My mother was strong. She showed me strength, even in the face of a monster, and she did it all the way to the end.
The strongest part of my mother was her love. I learned a lot from my mother. She taught me the need for God. She expressed the importance of loyalty and she made me value family.
She exemplified her strength. I know she tried her hardest to stay here to see me on this side.
As we honor my mother, I would like everyone take a little time to honor themselves at this moment.
I am reminded of how fragile and fleeting life is. It is too short not to find joy in every day that we are blessed with.
Don’t be sad for my mother, even though we will all miss her, God had other plans for her.
I didn’t get a chance to show my mother on the outside the man that I have become. However, somewhere among the stars, I have comfort knowing that she will still know and be proud. She will also know I am being strong like she told me to be. I will honor her in everything I do.
So please whenever you find yourself down or you feel that you cannot go any further,
Be like my Mom and be strong.
The Bible says that God gives the “Peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have received many warm wishes, condolences and prayers. It all helped. The pain is still fresh and I’m learning to navigate through it all while in prison. It hasn’t been easy, but is it really supposed to be? Sill, I have experienced that peace. On the days I feel like I am in a fog floating around, it’s the kind word or action that helps. Just the other day I shared with my wife that during my individual prayer time that I often do at night, it was hard when I got to my Mom. It hurt so much at first that I would just stop. She suggested that I just thank God that she isn’t suffering anymore. Just like that, something clicked within me. I had taken a step forward in healing. I realized that it was OK to have a moment of weakness. Now I know it is OK to be vulnerable. Had I not been willing to show that vulnerability, I may not have received that piece of valuable advice. I guess in some way that is being strong… just like my Mom told me to be.
See you in the next leg of transition Mom. I love you.