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Unconditional Mothering

A Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Black Lives Matter Meditation

“I just heard about your son,” my mama said. “And, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m a mother too. I know. That thread? Let me fix it before you unravel. I know everybody always talking about him to you and you never get a chance to just sit with your grief. So, can I sit with you? You look pretty in that color, God. You take your time getting back into creation okay? I’m going to open these curtains, crack the window a bit and let some fresh air in. I think it would be nice if you sat under your own sun for a while. Teacakes? Ham? Spiral? Bone in? Dishes? Done. Your bridge club sent Devilled Eggs. Where do you keep your Tupperware? My son is cutting your lawn, I hope you don’t mind. Yes, that picture in the obituary look just like him.”


This is how the women in my family still respond to death. Any death. They respond with life-affirming gestures. After the details are done and the dust settles, the house empties and the phone calls trickle down, the very real work of making sure the grieving is held begins.


That’s when the mothers in my family are activated. They become mothers in other ways. I marvel at their ability to become women who mother other mothers. They seem to become more of themselves in these times. No one’s grief is too big for these women to hold. Not even God’s.


Their ministry of presence shows itself to be about a radical and particular kind of caring: An Unconditional Mothering. And Unconditional Mother is not the role to which they are relegated, but by their own volition they clean, cook and keep watch.


They field questions and run baths for God. They witness and they sit. While the news says “Another young African-American man has been killed at the hands of…” the mothers in my family call the names of the mothers.


“Gloria Darden, Lesley McSpadden, Gwenn Carr, Mary, my boys played with your boys. I knew Freddie, Jesus, Michael, Trayvon, George, Daunte, Elijah and Eric, like I know my own.”


They sit with them. Commiserate. Pass the time that never seems to pass. This is not a ministry of futzing. Unconditional Mothering, as practiced by the women in our family, is an intentional act of restoring another mother to balance in the face of a dizzying loss, like that of a child.


Unconditional Mothering is the suspension of time constraints and social status in service of the needs of the grieving. Unconditional Mothering is not coddling. It relieves guilt. “This could happen to any of us,” my mother said, “It is not your fault God.”


“Yes, your child knew you loved them. How do I know? Because a mother’s love, once it is spoken, slicks and coats the lives of our children.” Unconditional Mothering knows and attends.


“Yes,” my mother said, “I can see him lining up all the neighborhood kids and playing temple with them. Those carnations from the bleeding heart wreath show gon’ look nice in that vase. You want me to answer that? Fouche Hudson’s Funeral Home, right? In lieu of? Rolling Hills Cemetery?


“Who would have ever thought we would be the last two in all of creation? In all of your green earth, holding each other like this? Me from The Tenderloin, by way of Shreveport, Louisiana, and you from nowhere.


“I got stamps in my purse. I will mail those bills for you. Don’t you worry. Yes, God, only a mother knows this pain.”