Flowers For Mom

Mother’s Day 2020 is when I learned my mother had COVID-19 and was becoming my grandmother

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Months passed before I learned my mother had spent consecutive days last year bedridden. She said it was the worst flu she’d ever experienced. Her breathing was bad; body aches were worse. She told me, aside from belabored trips to and from the bathroom, she’d spent the lion’s share of the week laying in her own sweat. This was May of last year — three months after she suffered through the illness. Mother’s Day, to be exact.

On that brilliant spring Sunday in Brooklyn, I stood on the bottom step of my mother’s East Flatbush home listening to her detail a flu that literally shook her to the bone. Except it wasn’t the worst flu of her life — it wasn’t the flu at all. Once she mentioned having lost her sense of taste, it all coalesced like Agent Kujan’s office at the end of The Usual Suspects.

That day, I surprised mom with vibrant roses and rare rosé (it’s been an adulthood-long fight to break her habit of pouring champagne over ice). I hadn’t hugged or engaged in a lengthy conversation with her since January. Her gift to me was informing, in a most cavalier manner, that she spent days — while I lived three miles away in oblivion — fighting off a new virus that would eventually claim the lives of more than 3 million people worldwide. Happy Mother’s Day, son.

Initially, the news was unnerving. Yet for anyone familiar with my wunderkind of a mother, it’s unsurprising. That woman is the most resilient human being that I’ve ever known. To paraphrase Beyoncé’s husband, my father’s baby mama is harder than a lot of men. In fact, my father was the last man to wear the pants in her household. Now that I think about it, that single pair of trousers in our home was most likely the catalyst for their split. Anyway, not a single one of my mom’s succeeding boyfriends owned a bigger pair than her. Williamsburg Housing made her and her creator favored. She has survived what expires most and climbed victorious from valleys that claim visitors as natural collateral.

Throughout my life, my mother has remained a power source. Whenever the time arrives for me to shape-shift a situation in my favor or fight exhaustion by tapping into my own reserve, I know it’s her DNA fueling. Not only is my mother the strongest woman I’ve ever known, she’s also the best driver. It always baffled me as to why she was involved in so many car accidents. I can’t count the amount of times a vehicle ran a light and slammed into my mother’s Subaru or Honda or Lexus. As a teen, I sometimes wondered if she intentionally ran someone over in a past life and was now paying a karmic debt incrementally at hospitals and auto shops. If said incident took place, I don’t care how many centuries may have passed, any enemy of my mother — whether medieval or missionary — got it worse.

It’s a joy to watch my mother age into the woman we both loved the most. Like grandma, mom’s favorite pastimes are also rollercoaster phone calls with her sisters and watching syndicated television shows whose credits end with Roman numerals.

I’ll never forget coming home from college one Friday evening to visit after one of mom’s more severe accidents. I was unprepared to see my girl swole to the state of near disfigurement. I absolutely love her smile, but that day she couldn’t. Initially, I was in shock. Her injuries looked mercilessly painful — like Martin Payne seated on the couch after fighting Tommy Hearns. The only reason I didn’t freak out was that beneath all the broken blood vessels and liquid behind her skin, I saw that my mother was fine. She winced with every move, yet not a single concern lived in her eyes. Thus my worry no longer had gravity and floated away. It was like her spirit simply accepted another battle-tested victory and the scathe as par for the course.

My mother received her warrior’s calm from her own mother. Up until she took her last breath, my grandmother exuded a powerful grace. Cancer plagued her for years. I, like most of my family members, was unaware of her fight until the year she passed. In true matriarch fashion, my grandmother remained committed to her family roles — mother, teacher, spiritual counselor, listener, and lover — without placing any burden upon those she loved without a pause.

It’s a joy to watch my mother age into the woman we both loved the most. Like grandma, mom’s favorite pastimes are also rollercoaster phone calls with her sisters and watching syndicated television shows whose credits end with Roman numerals. The hoarding gene is also real. Mom has also morphed bedrooms into storage closets. She’s always made magic in the kitchen. Grandma had long been the family’s chief baker. Today, I marvel at how my mother, at her seasoned age, has become an even greater pastry chef. No one made sour cream pound cake like my grandmother. After her passing, I assumed I would never taste that fave again. Yet somehow, in 2021, my mother has resurrected the recipe. Rich butter and brown sugar aside, the best flavor is of our favorite woman’s hands. Don’t ask me where my mother finds the time to improve a craft that was already grade A. This is an assistant principal, church deaconess, head of a scholarship fund, wife to an ailing husband and record holder for the most Gunsmoke episodes watched.

It’s as if this woman’s battery accumulates more power as she ages. She’s always been the ultimate hustler; to this day, she does the absolute most with her time. (She also just does the most.) We’re at the ages where I find myself pleading with her to sit down; to stop lifting furniture or shoveling her own snow (she has a younger son in her basement for that).

Truthfully, mom is equally inspiring and affirming. She wakes up at the crack of dawn every single day and uses every drop of energy to facilitate betterment for those in her world. Whether a relative, student or teacher in her school, or a high school graduate in need of financial aid, my mother literally makes it her business to supply the demand.

So of course hearing that she suffered through a bout with Covid weakened me for a sec. But being separated for months opened my eyes. We may have stood in her doorway 12 feet away last Mother’s Day, but I could still see into her eyes. Not a single concern was there. Just that normal cavalier air whenever discussing past tribulation. That February win was in the wind and placing burden upon those she loved without a pause was and most likely will never be an option. She didn’t even have any battle scars to show off. That day, just rosé (most likely atop of ice) and her flowers.

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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