I don’t remember a lot growing up, but some of the most memorable moments I have as a child are from when my mother was still alive. My mother was my best friend and my mother—and not many parents today are successful at doing that. Too often, they are one or the other. But my mother was both. She was there for me when I needed a kick in the tail end and when I needed a shoulder to cry on, in good times and through hard times. I was a mommy’s girl.
I was only three when my mother became very sick and eventually diagnosed with kidney failure. Throughout the next twelve years my mother struggled just to stay alive, a slave to dialysis until she passed away. But no matter how bad she felt she didn’t let it keep her down. She also never let it affect our relationship. If anything, I think our relationship grew stronger because of her sickness.
Some of it was the small things she did to show me love. When she had to go to the clinic do her dialysis, she made sure I had plenty of food, and more often than not, so much food that I had leftovers. She’d pack a bag with things for me to do: crossword puzzles, art supplies, and anything to save me from boredom.
We had lots of good times, too. On Friday nights during football season she’d drive to pick me up from my father’s house and we’d head straight for the Fleming County football games, where my maternal grandmother, a massage therapist, worked hard on the backs of the high school football players. I loved going to those games, sitting next to my mother and grandmother as they hollered for our boys. My grandmother had the habit of not only hollering, but also turning my leg as red as a lobster from smacking it while cheering for our team. After the games Mom always took me over to the steps outside of the locker rooms where I’d talk to the guys and tell them “great game,” or “you’ll get ‘em next time.”
On early Saturday mornings in the summer, we’d go about a mile up the road to my grandparent’s farm, where we’d make chili and tea, and thaw out the buffalo meat for later that evening. Around 4, we’d hear the sound of diesels and see black smoke roll up the driveway as the bull riders pulled in. I loved watching the rodeos with my mom. She always let me stay afterwards to get autographs and take pictures with all of the riders, no matter how early we had to get up the next morning for church.
Sunday mornings we went to New Life Church in Orangeburg, Kentucky. I loved attending there with my Mom. Once I was old enough, she let me join the youth group and encouraged me to join the church dance team. Whatever event was going on at the church, she always made sure I got there.
I was 15 when I got a call one day saying that my mother was in the hospital. I had gotten used to this because she was often in and out of the hospital for her sickness. But nothing prepared me for what happened next.
I was at my father’s house when we got a phone call in the middle of the night saying that my mom wouldn’t make it through the night. My father tried to get some more sleep before driving to the hospital, and it wasn’t until hours later—maybe even a day later—that we left Dayton, Ohio, for Louisville, Kentucky. It was the longest ride of my life.
When I finally saw the big neon UK sign on the hospital, I called my stepfather—and that’s when I lost it all. My mother had passed about fifteen minutes prior to my phone call, he told me. I was angry at everyone around me: angry that I hadn’t been contacted immediately after my mom died, angry that I didn’t get there soon enough, and most of all, angry because I lost my best friend without even having a chance to say goodbye.
At least that’s what I thought.
After what seemed like the longest minutes of my life I slammed the doors of my father’s truck and ran straight past the security guards to the elevators. When I finally arrived at my mother’s side, I cried my eyes out, pleading with God to bring her back and take me instead. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life without my best friend.
“No, Mom, you can’t go!” I begged, sobbing hysterically as I held my mom’s hand. “You can’t leave me here. I need you!”
And in that moment I experienced the greatest miracle I could have asked for: I had the chance to say goodbye. Although the doctors had already pronounced my mother dead she grabbed my hand so tight I thought it was going to break—and then took her last breath in my arms. From that moment, I knew my life would never be the same. But I will always be grateful for that last chance to say goodbye.
My mother showed me to put God and family first before anything. Every single morning, she’d get up and read her Bible and pray. She taught me to keep my morals and to never turn into somebody that I’m not. Don’t lay down and let life run over you, she told me: you stand up and run over life. She was one of the strongest and most generous women I’ve ever met in my life. As long as she was serving God and other people, she was happy. And that’s the way I’d like to live my life.