I didn’t know when I woke up 20 years ago on Sunday, September 1, 1996, that it was a day that would forever change my life.
It was the day my momma, Doris J. Sparks, died after a battle with leukemia.
I was supposed to go out of town that weekend to celebrate Labor Day. Instead I ended up on a plane headed back to Birmingham to bury my momma. The memories of that week have gotten a little fuzzy over the years—or maybe I’ve chosen to forget.
I had talked to my momma for hours two nights before, and looking back, I know now she was telling me everything she thought I needed to know to get through life. The only thing I don’t recall her sharing is how to get through life without her. That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn on my own.
It hasn’t been an easy one.
For two years, I just existed. I went through the motions of life: work, home, bed. Repeat. I couldn’t set foot in Birmingham because this place reminded me too much of her. Ironically, after I moved back here, I ended up living in the house she left for me and my brothers—a house I had once turned up my nose at. It was one of the many ways she continued to bless me, even after death.
Twenty years later, I’ve found joy in life. I’ve learned to laugh again. I’ve built my own relationships with my family. (I never realized that she was the glue that held so many of our relationships together until after she was gone.) I’ve stopped questioning why I had to lose both my parents before I turned 25, and I’ve learned to appreciate the time I had with her and my daddy.
I didn’t know when I woke up on September 1, 1996, that 20 years later, I would still cry sometimes when I think of her, and that I would still miss her like crazy. I didn’t know there would still be days I’d want to just crawl in bed with her and watch Andy Griffith reruns and talk about everything…and nothing. I didn’t know there would be days when I would wish my baby girl could experience a grandmother’s love and enjoy that bond. I didn’t know there would still be days when I would wonder how differently my life would be if my momma were still around.
In the last 20 years, I’ve learned that I am so much stronger than I ever thought I was, that one day in spite of your pain, you do laugh again. I’ve learned that after someone you love dies, you create a new normal and that life goes on. I’ve learned that my momma doesn’t have to be physically present for me to still want her to be proud of me, and that her physical presence doesn’t stop me from loving her or knowing that she loves me. Twenty years later, I am still thankful for her presence, her love, her guidance, her encouragement. I’m still thankful for the example she set and for building the foundation for my relationship with God. Twenty years later, I still love my momma, and I know with everything in me that I always will.