There were nights when, in the weeks, months and years following my Mama’s death, I would look up at the ceiling and just howl in grief. Scream. Cry until my tear ducts were drained then start crying all over again. Voy! Ugggggh. The horror of it. The desperation of it. The snot and choke of it. And now, decades later, I can sit here and write about it without breaking down. Look how utterly far I have come. Look what time and poetry and tears can do. Look what bonding with others who have also buried their mothers can do. Look at me now. If I break it all down, one word sums up what I feel: grateful. I don’t ever want to go back there again. I remember that time when I was in grad school at Syracuse U. I was suffering through two pains: a horribly boring class on the economics of slavery and the just-a-month-ago death of Mama. I tried so hard to sit in class and look normal but I couldn’t pull it off. I couldn’t stop that missing-tooth feeling of not having her to call and check on. I’m not sure how many times I had to get up and leave that airless room (so many of those days are blurry) but I remember being a total wreck. Sadness pressed down on my chest like a heavy necklace. One other classmate had lost her father so sometimes we would get together to talk and cry. And cry. That was long ago and far away but I still remember how hard I struggled. Studying was often impossible because I couldn’t focus. Shucks, I could barely go to McDonalds. There were too many mothers there with their daughters and the mothers were alive and the daughters were loving them and my mother was dead and I couldn’t ask her to pass me a napkin or open the stubborn packet of ketchup. Now, I am better. I can talk about Laverne. I can ponder her life. I can sit in my car and ask God why he sent us to each other and what lessons I am to learn from my days as her child. This is gigantic progress, a land I wondered if I’d ever reach. I am grateful for where I am, sitting here writing you about how damn far I’ve come and how much shorter my crying spells are. I still cry but the sessions are brief and manageable. Pensive has replaced distraught. Hope usually scooches despair out of my way. And I breathe.