I Still Hear Mama Praying

Willie Mae Johnson, my mother, made her heavenly transition almost six years ago. And there isn’t a single day in which my mind doesn’t wonder and say, “I wonder what Mama would say about that?” “I wonder what she’d say about my children?” “I wonder what nickname she would assign them?”

Young Willie Mae Johnson, (1967)

For me, Mother’s Day and the weeks right before it are always really hard. Don’t get me wrong, as a mother of two, I love the special day. But when your own Mother isn’t physically there, the holiday stings a bit as does most happy things in life. I suppose that will be the case for a while.

I remember my very last Mother’s Day with her, May 2011. She had been battling Ovarian cancer (knowingly) for four years at that point. And even with the hospice bed and a full-sized bed replacing my parents’ king-sized bed and the need to be kept “comfortable” with medication, she was still herself. She was still laughing, (WOW! she had a big beautiful laugh that filled the room) still talking and undoubtedly still praying.

The day before Mother’s day, we hired a photographer to take family pictures — those would be our last. Even in pain, Mama willed herself out of bed. And my dad wheeled her down the hall to the great room. She wore a white crochet cap, a black blouse and a white blanket over the rest of her covering her wheelchair. By the end of the session, the pain was more apparent (how much, I’m not sure) but she pushed through.

Mother’s Day Weekend, 2011

The day after, on Mother’s Day, my dad, my siblings and I sat around the bed sharing gifts with her. I had written her a letter, letting her know how much I loved and appreciated her. Funny thing that you can love someone and not fully appreciate everything that person has added to your life. Even though I think we all knew this would probably be the last Mother’s Day, and tears were shed, the room wasn’t sad. It was light and calm.

Fast forward to the Mother’s Days after her transition. A week before Mother’s Day in 2012, I found out that I would be a mother. I was so nervous, scared, excited and then I felt that sting that I don’t think will ever go away. The sting of having good news and not being able to share it with someone who you’d always imagine would be a part of it.

As time passes, and I cope with life’s new normals without Mama, there are a few things I pray I never lose when it comes to her.

I never want to ever forget her laugh and sometimes I have to close my eyes really tightly to hear it. It’s fading and that’s scary.

I never want to forget the scent of her perfume. My sister still has a bottle at her house from Mama’s last visit and I make a point to smell it every time I come. It’s the most comforting scent.

I never want to forget her hugs. She gave long hugs, and she had a large stomach, so even has a adult if I hugged her, as a result, I would almost lay on her. She didn’t care, she always wanted to hug as long as possible.

I never want to forget how she gave. She gave to people even when it didn’t make sense (to me, at least). If she had it and you needed it. It was a done deal.

And I never want to forget how she prayed, which was often. Prayer was her tool, it was her weapon, it was her journal. It was the venue for the love letter she wrote to her children. I’m sure she prayed a few prayers to get us through the good times where the sting of her not being there would return and suddenly the moment would turn bittersweet.

The song by Chester Baldwin, I Still Hear Mama Praying, always made her emotional, no doubt because she thought about her own mother. But now every time I hear the song, tears stream down my face.

Just as the lyrics say:

And the prayer that she prayed has been keeping me day by day — oh I still hear Mama praying for me.

And I realize that Mamas’ prayers have keeping power. They are passed down like a most valuable family heirloom. I’m still surviving on the prayers of my mother, my grandmother, and all the women who have ever stepped in when I needed mothering.

I try to pray like she did. As I get older and experience more, I realize that it isn’t always as easy as she made it look.

To my dad and siblings, George Jr. (Gee), Melinda and Jessica, who will hopefully read this: Thank you for stepping in when I needed Mama’s hug, Mama’s voice, Mama’s prayers.

Mama and Me, Wedding Day 2009

I thank God for her life, for the privilege of being Willie Mae’s baby girl and the lesson that she left — always pray.