My mother was the first person I truly knew. As is the case for many children. Growing up in a black, single parent household was the most defining part of my being. Over the course of my mother’s life I understood the complexity that lies within being a black woman in modern day society.
On the 29th April this year all that was certain in my life became uncertain. My mother passed away unexpectedly while on holiday in West Africa. She was young, healthy and happy having experienced difficulty in her life. It was through seeing my mother flourish and stand strong in troublesome times that I began to process the innate strength black women bare.
Words and phrases such as ‘independent’ ‘strong willed’ and ‘overconfident’ have become synonymous with black women and there is truth in that. However, there are underlying issues at play here. In the U.K ‘black households [are] more likely than other households [to be] headed by a lone parent’. My mother displayed great strength in raising two children and battling with her mental health. At the time, my young self didn’t understand the challenges my mother faced on a day-to-day basis: ensuring food was on the table, lights on in the house but also the emotional support needed to single handedly nurture two black children in today’s society. The social theorist Patricia Hill Collins believes the ‘super strong’ black mother has been a stereotype for a long time. It initially comes from within black communities as black mothers go through intensive efforts to raise their children, sometimes single handedly, and shield them from the dangers of racism.
The fragility of life didn’t seem to penetrate my mother. I saw her as untouchable. As though she commanded life around her. I never truly thought I could lose her.
When my mother passed away somebody told me that ‘African women are warriors’. Such a simple sentence had a profound effect on my grieving process. It displayed an assortment of significant meaning. African women are warriors. In fact, when I think of the black women in my life they each display to me the characteristics of a warrior. They appear to have this fire that moves within their body which warms up the people around them. Concentrating on this statement has been a comfort but also slowed down the grieving process as words such as ‘strong’ and ‘warrior’ don’t align with the words ‘death’ and ‘loss’.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that death does not mean a loss. I had an extremely close relationship with my mother. We are amalgamated. I am the woman I am today because of her. In recent years, she began searching for her roots in Nigeria after over forty years in the U.K. She was laid to rest in West Africa near purple mangos . A warrior’s journey home.