July 21, 2006.
It is a day that I will never forget.
It is a day that still brings me to tears.
It is the day my mother passed.
For those of you who know me very well, you know that my mother is an integral part of who I am today. She is responsible for 50% of what you see, when you see me. My father is responsible for the other half…but this is all about momma! I credit her for the marketing side of me, as she was an incredibly creative and talented woman, who used to make her own clothes. I credit her for my love of music, as we used to listen to Luther Vandross , Jeffrey Osborne, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin and countless others around the house. She was an amazing soloist, always leading songs in the church, and my gift of singing comes from her – although I am not comfortable being a soloist. I credit her for helping me find my wife Shannon, by showing me what a wife and mother should be.
Side note: She was also quick to tell me that Shannon was the one, and if I didn’t act right I would lose her (Shannon will smile at that! The below picture is from my brother’s wedding.)
But amidst all that I give her credit for, this yearly celebration of her passing is always a tough one for me. At times, I didn’t want to be bothered, I didn’t want to talk, I just didn’t want to do anything. I would get mad, then I would cry, then I would get mad again, and even though I was never diagnosed, I believe I went through a bout of depression.
Losing a loved one is never easy, and anyone who tries to console you and tell you “it’s going to be okay” is not telling you the full truth. The truth is – it is not easy. It does get easier, but it is not easy. It is appreciative when people show empathy during the initial moments when you are dealing with a loss, but that is short-lived. When those anniversaries, birthdays and holiday celebrations come around, you are now forced to deal with the loss on your own – every year. Very rarely do people remember the dates of your lost loved ones, and rightfully so, because they have their own lives to live. But for those of us who experience loss, how do we handle it? How do we move on? How do we continue to celebrate their life?
For me, the biggest decision I made was to address the issues of my pain head on. I would share those emotions with my wife and my children, and be honest about times where I felt sad that my mother wasn’t around. I literally would spend time talking to myself, trying to be honest, internally, about my true feelings of anger, hurt and pain. And once I began to really deal with my emotions myself, I began to see that I had the power to control how I deal with the loss of my mother.
It wasn’t until about five years ago, that I really began to accept the fact that my mother was no longer here. And in that acceptance, I was able to understand that just because she is not here in the physical doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist. As a child, our parents teach us how to act and behave, and they expect that same behavior whether they are around or not. And that is when it hit me…my mother wouldn’t want me to live in this state of sadness. She taught me at an early age how to deal with scrapes, bruises and other things that hurt you and how to move on, and for that I am eternally grateful.
I am very transparent in how I deal with the loss of my mother, and I have many friends who are also having to deal with the loss of a loved one, and my heart goes out to them. I know the pain they’re feeling. Even though our stories may not be the same, I empathize with all those who experience loss – especially the loss of a parent at young age. In saying that, I wanted to share with you three ways in how I have dealt with the loss of my mother, in the hopes that it can help you or someone you know:
#1 | Deal with your emotions. We’ve all heard the term that hurt people, hurt people. Often times that refers to when someone has been wronged by another person, and that same cycle will play itself out in future relationships. But that same theory applies to hurt people who are dealing with loss. When I lost my mother, my emotions were all over the place, and some days I didn’t give a damn what was going on. It took me seeking guidance from a therapist to help me get back on the right track. That’s right, therapy! Sometimes we cannot solve our issues by talking to our family and friends – we need a professional. Humble yourself and seek out that help if you think you need it. It was one of the best investments I made in myself
#2 | Find a way to carry on their legacy. The first thing we did as a family was start a scholarship fund in my mother’s name, who was big on education. That annual scholarship, which we still give out to this day, is given to a deserving high school senior who really needs money to go to school. Throughout our house are the last photos of my mother, taken at my wedding. When we decided to have children, Shannon and I agreed to name our daughter, Sydney Berry Borden, after my mother, as Berry was her maiden name. I talk to our children about her all the time, and tell them what she would do with them if she was around. I see my mother’s smile and witness that same creativity she had in my daughter. I visit her grave often at Cave Hill Cemetery. Sometimes I go alone, so that I can talk to her, meditate and pray. Other times I take the family, where the kids will help me scrub her headstone clean and plant new flowers. If you’re dealing with loss, you can carry on their legacy by simply continuing to do the good work that would make them proud as they look down and smile upon you.
#3 | Use your pain to help others heal. Now that I have been able to understand my true emotions, I am able to help others heal too. I used to find it odd, that when someone lost a parent, I would get this inner urge to send them a personal note to let them know I was praying for them. But after doing that so many times, I began to realize that God was using me as a vessel to bless others. I could hear this voice say, “Look, I have helped you heal, now you go help someone else heal.” In my nightly prayers, I ask God to allow me to be a blessing to others, and it is through the loss of my mother that I have been able to bless others and be a witness that God answers prayer. Some people ask me, “how do you deal with it?”, and my response is simple – God.