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Lessons from Solange: Part Two

I’m behind on my blog posts, but I always return back to what brings balance and peace in my life: one such thing is writing. In May, I wrote the blog post Lessons from Solange: Part I. I had intended to complete my second installment sooner than now, but better late than never. I think about my mom often, but my recent trip to the Dominican Republic has me thinking about her and the lessons she taught me even more. My mom, Solange, passed away on 7/8/2017, so we’re coming up on the 2 year anniversary…another reason I’m thinking of her. I requested that day off work, so I can spend the whole day thinking about her undisturbed. I wrote about my grief and loss in these posts: Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen, Surreal-ality, and Family is everything. I hope these posts will help anyone who has lost someone close to them like a parent.

When you really think about it, it’s amazing the amount of influence mothers have with shaping their children’s lives. I’m more focused on my mother because I didn’t have a relationship with my biological father. He passed away a few years before my mom. My mom was my everything. She shaped my world. You only have one mother. Despite how complicated our relationship was and how much we disappointed each other, the bond was undeniable and cosmic.

A few more lessons Solange taught me that the world (more accurately, the people in my world) get to experience:

  1. Be a good cook – My mom was of the belief that you need to be a good cook to get a husband. My younger, rebellious self was not thinking about a husband. I was about 12 years old when my mom put her foot down and started to teach me how to cook particular dishes. Tears are coming down as I think about how much I respect her now for doing that and how ungrateful I was at the time. It was like participating in my very own cooking class and I didn’t appreciate it. Because I am a good cook thanks to her, I’ve had the satisfaction of pleasing my family with many delicious meals. Did I think my mom’s ideals were sexist…YES! However, I happen to have a family and I know they appreciate my cooking. I can feed them, which I think means something different when poverty was part of your history. I also am able to cook Haitian foods, which connects my family and myself to our heritage. I’ve shared my cooking with others such as extended family, friends, and coworkers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  2. Dress well – If you knew my mom, you know she loved her suits, shoes and purses. For every shoe she had, she had a purse to match. After she passed away, I wrote a post about a pair of shoes I took of hers back to Austin. You can read it here: In her shoes. My mom passed on her love of dressing well to me. It was one of the few indulgences she was able to entertain and she deserved it with all the trauma she experienced in her life. I love clothes and I have many of them. A few months back, I binge watched “Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up” on Netflix and purged my supply. I vowed to only keep clothes that bring me “joy” moving forward. In a “not superficial way”, the lesson I received from my mom was to have pride in my appearance, to take care of myself, and to be aware of how I presented myself to the world.
  3. Be a giver – When I was in graduate school, I participated in counseling the last 6 months before graduation because I needed help with managing the stress of being a working mom in a graduate program and attending to my final internship. As I hashed out my stress to the therapist, she said something that I will never forget. As an explanation to my woes in a particular circumstance, she said, “it’s because you’re a giver”. Quite frankly, the comment floored me because I never thought of myself as a “giver”; yet, I had this insatiable appetite to give all the time. I’d often prayed to God to “use me for his purpose”. The therapist referred me to an article about givers and it made sense. It was at that point, I knew I was a giver. Now where did I get this trait? My biggest role model for giving was my mom because she gave so much of herself to her children. She also gave to others like her family in Haiti, New York and beyond. We didn’t have much growing up, but on occasion she would host dinner parties at our small apartment. I remember being so embarrassed because my brother’s bed was in the living room, but she wasn’t too proud to have people over to experience her cooking. She was my greatest example of a giver. I’ve learned to balance some of that giving to others with giving to myself.

A mother’s love is like no other in the cosmos and you only have one. I’m thankful Solange shared many light lessons with me, even the ones I didn’t want.

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Lessons from Solange: Part I

My upcoming birthday in a couple of days will be my second without my mom, Solange. Last year, Mother’s Day and my birthday was rough. These events are one week apart. I grieved a lot. I hadn’t really thought about how my mom’s absence would affect me on my birthday until the circumstance presented itself. The pain of her loss wasn’t as intense this year as last year. To help curb the pain of her absence on my upcoming birthday, I will honor her for all she’s instilled in me by contemplating and sharing the top greatest lessons my mom taught me, whether inadvertantly or not.

  1. Believe in God – There is an omnipotent force bigger than all of us and that is God. My mom made sure I knew there is a God. However, I didn’t agree with my mom’s religion. In fact, it made me very confused for a large part of my life. She didn’t understand why it didn’t appeal to me. I simply don’t believe God wants us to be miserable all the time by following a bunch of legalistic rules that have nothing to do with God. I did learn to have a relationship and faith in God, which caused me to seek him further as I got older. I was taught only ONE religion leads to God, but I don’t believe that’s true. Thank God I have a relationship with Him because religion would have kept me away.
  2. Work hard – To know my mom is to know she worked hard all her life. She had no choice. She came to the United States from Haiti without knowing the language, without much of an education and had to raise 4 children as a single parent because my father couldn’t/wouldn’t help. She retired from a¬†hospital in Chicago after 20+ years of cleaning hospital rooms. I don’t know how she did it, but she passed on her work ethic to her children. Our work ethic is rare.
  3. Be the bigger person – I used to get frustrated with my mom because people in our family turned their backs on us when my mom was struggling and some thought they were better than us, but she still tried to make peace with them even to her death. I’m not fully at my mom’s level yet, but I do tolerate people better than I see many other people do. It helps that love helping people, am¬†trained as a social worker, and understand empathy and the value in not being judgmental. I also exercise healthy boundaries.
  4. Save your pennies – I’ve struggled with managing my finances for a long time as an adult, often because my wants outweighed my resources. Then life circumstances, such as my husband’s health issues, caused us to rely on one income. One habit that has stuck with me to this day is saving loose change. This one little habit helped get us through some tight months. I used to beat myself up because I thought I didn’t know how to save, but I do know. I’ve watched my mom do it with her small salary. The act of putting money away consistently, no matter how small, builds up over time.
  5. Be early – I still struggle with arriving places on time, let alone early. It is a bad habit. When I was younger and had my first own car, I used to arrive at all the religious meetings late because I didn’t want to be there in the first place. My mom and stepfather made it clear that as long as I lived in her house, I had to go, so I went…VERY late. Admittedly, it was an act of defiance. Later on in my life, the tardiness posed itself as me multitasking to the point that I lost track of time, underestimating how much time I had. I’m still working on this one. It’s a work in progress.

Our relationship was not perfect. Solange was not perfect. I am not perfect. It was a complex relationship as most mother/daughter relationships are. However, I always knew that Solange loved me and loved me enough to teach me how to survive in this world. I’m using what she instilled in me to not only survive, but to THRIVE and be better every day.

Next week, I’ll share 5 more lessons Solange taught me.

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Oh September

September has been difficult for me emotionally. Last September (2016), mummy came to Austin for a two and a half week visit. The whole time she was here, I was undergoing multiple tests to determine what the tumor was in my left breast. I didn’t tell her what I was going through and I wasn’t planning on it until it was confirmed by my doctor. I don’t regret it either. The day she left, my husband and I took her to the airport, then headed to my doctor’s appointment for the news. I already knew. I had been researching breast cancer obsessively. September 28 marks one year since my life changed drammatically.

It’s been almost 3 months since mummy passed away and it’s been a struggle. Most days, I’m well, going through my normal routine and then it’ll hit me. I become overwhelmed with emotion and start crying. It especially hits me when I’m driving home from work because for about 5 years, it was my routine to call her during this time. I miss her voice. My Facebook memories feed also reminds me through pictures that she is gone. I’m glad that I’ve taken so many pictures with mummy when she’s come to visit or vice versa. My sister noted that she and my other siblings didn’t think to take as many pictures with mummy since they all live in the same city and saw each other frequently. I happen to enjoy selfies plus I didn’t have the luxury of seeing mummy often, so I loved commemorating her visits.

On September 1, I had my annual exam with my primary care doctor and it was also emotional for me because the last time I saw her, she told me that I had breast cancer. She was on the verge of tears when she told me. Of course, I was happy to report that I’ve been well and healthy, but I soon found out that I need more tests for some other potential issues. Her words were, “You’ve been through a lot this past year already. There are still some questions.” I had testing on my breasts yesterday and things didn’t go as smoothly as 6 months ago. The radiology technician called me back 3 times for more testing, then requested the ultrsound. This was all too familiar, but last year, I didn’t think anything of it. Apparently, I’m not completely out of the woods yet on this cancer thing. I need a biopsy. The doctors want to be sure about the 2 new spots on the same breast.

I’m generally a positive person, but I don’t want to go down this road again. However, this does put things in perspective in terms of what is important in life. I needed the reminder. The hardest part of all of this is that my biggest supporter will not be around to take care of me for whatever procedures/treatment I may need. Last year, once it was confirmed that I had breast cancer, and after we had met with the surgeons and oncologist, I told mummy of my diagnosis. She took it hard, but was back in Austin by the end of October to be present for my two surgeries in November. How will I get through this next phase of “whatever” without her?

Whatever happens, I will do what I need to do to be alive as long as I can for my family. I am strong and brave. I just wish September wouldn’t be so hard. On the positive side, the weather has changed. The expression, “seasons change”, just rang in my ears and we all know that to be true. Only God knows why I’m faced with these health challenges in this season of my life. I will go through this season with everything in me… like a champ or chump, by fighting hard or barely hanging on, but I’ll get through it with her spirit within me. I’ll get through it with the support of my family and friends. I’ll get through it with God.