Dear Mama

OPINION: In a letter to his dearly departed mother, Panama shares how they moved on from the article that impacted their lives and how they got back to a good space before she passed.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Note: Check out part 1 of the two-part Dear Culture episode where Panama discusses a difficult time in his family life; episode 2 discusses how it was resolved.

Dear mama, 

It’s been roughly seven months since you passed and as I’m sure is the norm, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about you. I suppose that’s just the way we humans are built; when pain is new and fresh, we constantly look for reminders of who we lost and are also introduced to new things that also serve as reminders. It’s not a complaint; just an observation of something I didn’t expect. I’ll hear songs on the radio that you may or may not have liked and yet, somehow, I’m thinking about you. Funny how that works. 

(Courtesy of Panama Jackson)

I’m not in as much pain as I was right after you passed; time definitely helps. Of course, I still miss you. It’s especially noticeable on the kids’ birthdays as there are no more cards or phone calls. It was the same on my birthday this year and on Father’s Day. It’s such an odd feeling to know that a constant occurrence is no longer a possibility. Or the FaceTime calls that were so hilariously stereotypical; for some reason, I don’t think we ever actually saw your face when we called on FaceTime, just the top right corner of your head. No matter how many times I tried to tell you to position your face in the camera it never quite worked. That really did bring me a lot of joy. 

Joy. We got back to joy. And it’s important for me to let you know that I know that we got back there since it mattered so much to you after our falling out. I also know that it really mattered to you that other people knew that we were good. I never did write an article about clearing it all up after the fact. Part of that was because despite you wanting to clear the air publicly, you also told me never to write about you again. When I told you I was going to write a book (still working on that, by the way), you also told me not to mention you in the book. I told you that was an impossibility but the look of concern is still burned into my brain. Point is, the only way to clear the air publicly was and is to write about where we got to—how we got back to right. 

I also owe you a public apology—I apologized to you privately, of course—for how you found out. In all of our disagreements, the one thing I agreed with you on was that I should have told you about the article before you found out about it through social media. It’s ironic that the reason you even found it through social media was that we—my sister Sarah and I—bought you an iPad for your birthday, and you discovered Facebook, and then boom. For that I’m sorry; by the time you found it, I assumed all of the stuff died down, and because of life circumstances, we had tried to move past the initial issues stemming from the visit that was the catalyst for the article. 

But when you found that article, you went nuclear from hurt, from being blindsided, from embarrassment…from all of the feelings, and that’s my fault. Now, you didn’t have to threaten to sue me…but…you did. But from there, the arguments we had and the things said after, I felt justified in pulling back; oddly, I felt more justified in what I wrote after that. But you were and are still my mother. So even though we weren’t in a good space, there was a clear and apparent hole. It didn’t go away and it was a daily presence. 

So how did we get back right? And just so folks know, at some points during all of the anger and hurt, we did talk. But most of that was because my wedding was coming up and you weren’t sure if you were going to come, ultimately deciding not to come…for safety reasons. You never outright said it to me, but I’m sure that’s a decision you regretted until the end. I think that helped bring us back, though. Because missing such a big thing means that you could miss other things, and losing out on time with your grandchildren seemed like a real possibility. We started trying to talk more but it was just too difficult. There were things you wanted to say but didn’t want to make it worse, and there were things I wanted to say but for the same reason, we left them unsaid. But little by little, we’d get back to…talking about nothing and everything. Awkwardly at first—about the kids, about my job, about life. We found a rhythm again even if we left certain conversations alone. 

But we did end up having those conversations. Some two years after your last visit to Washington, D.C., to see us all, you came back and we had our talks. We sat down and hashed out our issues and cried in a restaurant and agreed that we would do our best to not ever get back to that place again. Some of those wounds never healed for either of us. The way you felt about me writing that article, well, I know that never subsided. You would bring it up to me and Sarah at random times. When you found out that I won awards for the article on your last trip here in October 2021, you got visibly upset and started to tear up; how could anybody award an article that was so damaging to a mother, you asked? I decided not to get back into it and let you have your moment. But stuff like that happened often. And I tried to understand it, especially with distance and after trying to understand my own hurt. I had to give you grace because I don’t know (and hopefully I won’t) what it’s like to see one of your children allege that you might not ever have a relationship again in a public manner. But we hugged. And we laughed. We loved. And I worried. 

Your health wasn’t great. Sarah and I worried a lot. You’d been having health issues for years so part of me, maybe subconsciously, wanted to make sure we were good just in case. Your time left on earth was always in the back of my mind. On that last trip here to D.C., the last time I saw you in person, you were supposed to stay for a few weeks and ended up staying for maybe six days; for whatever reason, you felt a need to get home. You struggled walking. And breathing. But you told us you were doing better; my eyes told me something different. But you got to hang out with your babies and goodness did your grandbabies love having their Nana around. They were attached to your hip, and I know you loved that. Despite your health struggles, you wrestled with them and let them crawl all over you, and the baby did the same. He just couldn’t get enough of his Nana. I’m glad you got that. I wanted that for you. By the time you left this realm, you knew that all of the people who mattered the most loved you as much as possible. You didn’t have to wonder. You didn’t have to ask. You knew. I only hate that we didn’t get a chance to do things that you never got to do, like go to New York City or back to France. You left before you got that chance. 

(Photo courtesy of Panama Jackson)

I had to do your eulogy, and through non-stop tears, I talked about making sure to bring you with me everywhere so you’d get to see everywhere. That’s a promise I will keep. 

Ma, I hope you’re smiling down on us. Your babies are all doing OK. Your grandchildren are going to go places and do things you’d probably never imagine. My memories of our life and time together are the good ones; that’s what I hold onto and always will. I did say it’s gotten easier and that’s true, but it’s not easy. Perhaps it never will be. You left too soon. But despite leaving too soon, we had enough time to get ourselves back to being mother-and-son, one of the most important relationships that could ever exist; we did that. We got there. We got back right. And now all who need to know that can know that. Our story didn’t just live in that original article, it had five more years to work itself out and we did. I love that we did. We love you. I love you. I miss you. Forever.

Signed, Your Number One Son. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download here.