Next week will mark one year since I’ve lost my mother. My mother is not dead, but it is the type of lose that accompanies an individual who suffers from dementia. My background as an educator pushes me to look at my mother’s dementia (specifically Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome) from a strengths-based position; as a set of circumstances that causes her to interact and learn differently from others. But even with that, it is not easy. As I reflect on the last year of my life, I’ve learned so much about my strengths, limitations, goals, and needs. I write this blog entry without fear and from an open heart. I share with you the three most important lessons I have learned over the last year, and three personal goals I have for the next year.
The Three Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned
(1) I AM STRONG
I must take a special strong type of someone to be a loving boyfriend, loving son, loving brother, loving parent, loving teacher, loving friend, loving colleague, and a loving learner while facing uncharted territory that no average 28-year-old would even be prepared for. Being a parent is a tough and evolving responsibility, especially when you match that with being the care-taker of one of your parents. On the night of my 10-year highschool reunion, a good friend of mine said, “Not to get all religious and stuff, but bro, the lord only gives you what you can handle.” That sentiment was later echoed by one of my mentor’s when she told me, “If you were given it, then you must have been able to take it.” So when I look back at my successes: planned my 10-year highschool reunion, restarted and relaunched the Alumni Association for that highschool, earned my teaching SEI Retell Endorsement for Massachusetts, co-coached my job’s Slam Poetry team to a State Championship, supported my girlfriend and sister with love, encouragement, tears, laughs, hugs, and so much more, I realize how strong I am. I did not learn of nor gained my strength by-myself; it took love, support, and listening ears to get me there. I don’t intend to stroke my ego with what I have stated, rather I am trying to connect to the second most important lesson I have learned. I need to love myself.
(2) I NEED TO LOVE MYSELF
I have beaten myself up a lot over the last year. When my mother first got sick I jumped right-into ‘logistical-management-mode’. I spent so much time balancing obligations and time-sensitive tasks that I forgot to equally, if not more, balance socio-emotional obligations. It wasn’t until the beginning of summer that I started to authentically reflect on my lack of socio-emotional supports for my sister, my mother, my girlfriend, my father, and most importantly myself. Whenever you board a plane and you’re about to take-off, the flight attendant instructs you that in the case of an emergency, that you place the air mask on yourself before helping others. In my case, I placed the air mask on only cover my nose and that did not allow me to take the deep-breaths needed to relax. I reached my emotional breaking-point on a few occasions and I still have the scars from beating myself up afterwards. It is only now that I am using those same hands to apply ointment to those scars. By loving myself, I can forgive myself, and by forgiving myself, I can help myself. Now my air mask covers my full face. I’ve been breathing deeply the last couple of weeks.
(3) MY TRUE FAMILY IS WHAT I MAKE IT TO BE
My family has always been small: my mother, my sister, my father, and a cat. Due to the age difference between my sister and myself, I haven’t had the chance to develop a strong brother-to-sister relationship. My sister was born when I started highschool, my sister was entering kindergarten when I started undergrad at Boston University, and by the time my sister was entering 7th grade I began my master’s program at Harvard Graduate School of Education. There was no middle (buffer) child, and my family (both mother and father’s side) did not get involved (unless they wanted something). As for my sister’s father (we have different fathers because my parents divorced when I was 7) and his family, they also did not get involved. So how was I suppose to feel when my sister’s father didn’t ‘step-up’ when my mother was hospitalized? How was I suppose to feel when my grandmother (my lone-living grandparent) decides to visit for nearly two months and refuses to see my sister, myself, and her own daughter during the Christmas and New Years? How was I suppose to feel when no family member reached-out to invite my sister and I over for Thanksgiving? If my family was already small, it became that much smaller when my mother was removed.
I came across this quote, “Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family,” and only now can I grasp the weight of what it means. For a few years I reflected on the natural process of becoming an adult and beginning to know and understand family members as ‘people’ and not titles. I’ve only began to understand and truly appreciate the man my father is through our discussions man-to-man. Discussions that are not limited by topic or content. Discussions that have helped my father and I build a bond deeper than father and son, a bond of friendship. Friendship is the bond that I have come to value to the most in my life. My girlfriend and I have a relationship built from friendship. When you call someone your friend, you do so by choosing that relationship, by trusting that relationship, and by maintaining that relationship. That effort, trust, and hopeful reciprocity, is not always present in a blood-family. This same phenomenon is experienced when an individual breaks away from their family’s ‘history.’ Think of ‘first-generationers’: those who first break the poverty cycle in their family, those first to marry outside their race, those first to marry someone of the same sex, those who first enter college, those who first move away from their home state, and those who first break-away from the ‘family-business’. It is possible to grow-away from your family, and to maintain the relationship, one must find value in it. Just like some friendships I have had, their are no relatives that I do not find value in maintaining a relationship with. That previous statement not only weights on me, but it places me in a vulnerable position.
This lesson has given me the insight to value and put the effort forward to maintain and develop friendships that I can then call a ‘family-relation.’ A few years ago a close friend of mine from B.U. and I got into an argument. We both allowed it to escalate and let our ego’s get the best of us. We would go beyond just losing a friendship, but we would lost a brotherhood; a brotherhood that is ever more important given the current situation in America when it comes to Black Lives. We have since started repairing our friendship and are on mends. I did not ever think it would be possible for us to reconcile our differences. It has been such a relief and fruitful for both of us to have each other in our lives. When I think about the future for my girlfriend and myself, I look forward to making my small family a bit larger.
My Three Personal Goals for the Next (school) Year
Although I only shared three lessons in this blog-entry, I have learned many lessons this last year. It is through my collective lessons that I present these three personal goals I have for the next school year. These goals are not only attainable, but they are also fulfilling and scratch an inch I’ve had for some time.
(1) BE A MENTOR
I’ve wanted to be a mentor for quite some time. It goes back to my time working a Year Up when I was tasked with matching my students with mentors. Ever since I left Year Up I wanted to become a mentor for a Year Up student, but my schedule and profession made that a difficult venture. I have two mentors and call both of them my friend. I appreciate them for their guidance, support, love, listening-ear, and friendship.
One professional goal of mine is to support, mentor, and nurture new teachers. I have a more years of teaching and experience to go before I feel like I can do that adequately. However, I have enough experience to mentor a highschooler. This brings me to how I will become a mentor. I’m working with the John D. O’Bryant Boston Technical Alumni Association to establish a mentoring program that will connect alumni with current highschoolers. Through this effort, I will soon have my mentee.
(2) WRITE MORE POETRY
Poetry is life! I found my most effective and honest mode of expression when I became a spoken-word artist. Since my time at B.U., I have self-published two chapbooks, performed for many many crowds and venues, and attended many spoken-word and slam poetry events. I’ve been planning on releasing a third chapbook for the last four years and have not delivered. I have written some poems, now I haven’t exactly completed each one, but I do have material to work with. I’ve read and edited more poems for my friends and students over the last two and a half years than writing my own poems. While that is not entirely a bad thing, I want to deliver on my goal of producing my third chapbook. More importantly, I want to continue to express myself in the most powerful way I know, poetically. These blogs have been my replacement from writing poems, but my artistic edge is not expressed in these blogs.
Expect your copy to be available by Christmas, on a sliding monetary scale of $0 to $5.
(3) BE ACTIVE ABOUT WHO AND WHAT I LOVE
My third goal loops back into the first two [did you just see what I did]. Over this last year I put forth the effort to reconnect with a friend and I got myself a bike. I’ve come to the realization that my actions must reflect what I need, want, and/or love to do. It’s not about making decision solely based on being right, wrong, or wronged, it’s about being genuine to my heart and what I need, want, and/or love to do.
What entices me the most about this goal is how adaptable it is. I enjoy playing tennis, so I will try to play more. I enjoy bike riding, so I will ride my new bike longer and further than ever before. I love to travel with people I love, so I will plan to do so. One short coming of this goal is the lack of accountability. Perhaps this is where you come in. YEAH, YOU THE READER! You can hold me accountable by commenting on this entry, asking me if I have achieved my goals.
As I enter the next year of my life, I hope that my next entries are more of the ‘poetic’ nature. I don’t see a way to wrap a bow on this blog entry. The truth is, I don’t want to. What I am going through is a process; of understanding, of healing, of progression. My mother’s dream for me was to be healthy and happy with what I do in life. It is hard to accept that my mother will not be the same, but I try to remind myself of the mom I had. The friendship I’ve built and continue to build with my dad will not happen to the safe effect with my mom. However, her dreams for myself and my sister will carry on.
So, until my next entry and/or adventure with you…