It was about 5:15 pm, Thursday, May 29. I was driving my 3-year-old son Joshua home from daycare when I got the call. I looked down at my iPhone and saw that is was my step dad (even though he and my mom have been divorced for over a decade, I still call him my step dad). Something in my gut told me something was wrong. It wasn’t unusual for him to call on my cell, but for some reason, this time it didn’t seem right.
“Hey Dennis, what’s up?”
“Hi Ron, I’m afraid I have bad news. Your mom died.”
Honestly, I don’t know if those were the exact words or not. But it doesn’t really matter. They hit me like ton of bricks. I got home as fast as I could, tears streaming from my face. I called my wife, Tasra, to come out so our daughter wouldn’t have to see me. Joshua was already crying because he knew something was wrong with daddy. I still couldn’t believe it.
A Mother’s Legacy
Saundra Aflreda Faye Adams was born April 30, 1946 in Winston-Salem, NC. She was the daughter of William and Ruth Adams. She had five other siblings. I won’t go into a long detailed history of my mom, but will share with you this one aspect of her life that most shapes my image of her.
When I was about three (1971), Saundra Dawson packed up everything she could fit into her VW bug, including her two sons, Ronny and Brandy (my brother was about one and a half), then drove cross country from Pennsylvania to Hollywood, CA. She was a single mom, separated from my dad, and about 24 or 25 years old. (I think back to my level of maturity when I was 25 and realize there’s no way in a million years I could have raised two children on my own. Much props go out to all you single moms out there). Saundra was a registered nurse and got a new job at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles (hospital to the stars).
She was starting a new life. Leaving the pain I only now can truly understand she must have felt having separated from my dad and still so young. (The divorce was finalized a few years later. I remember her telling us that she and my father weren’t going to get back together. It was a hard day.) For the next ten years (until she married my step dad in 1981 and became Saundra McIntosh), my mom raised my brother and I alone. And she made amazing sacrifices that more than anything, shaped us into the people we are today.
- I remember spending the night at my mom’s nursing office in the hospital the days she had to work the night shift. We’d stay up till ten watching “Wonder Woman” then drive over to Cedars and sleep on the floor behind her desk. It was so much fun. But, in retrospect, I imagine it might have been hard or embarrassing for her to have to drag your two kids with you to work. Or worry about leaving them in an office alone while you made your rounds.
- I remember her driving 90 minutes to two hours (each way) every week day from Playa del Rey to Altadena when I was in the 4th grade so that my brother and I could attend a private school. (Eventually we ended up sleeping at a friend’s house three days a week, another hard thing for a mom to do, I’m sure.)
- Every Christmas we had all the toys we ever asked of Santa, and then some.
- Every summer she let go of her two boys for a month for us to visit our dad back east in NJ so that we could still have somewhat of a relationship with our biological dad.
- She brought her dates home to meet us so that they’d know, if they married her, they were “marrying” us too.
- She bought her first home while still a single mom.
- She bough her second home while still a single mom.
- She got us a dog (which we later had to give up because we never walked the poor thing).
- In April of 1981, she married my step dad so that we could have a better life (he was a successful anesthesiologist).
My mom and step dad had a tumultuous, 14-year marriage wrought with lots of loud arguments. Admittedly, they were probably not really right for each other. She was a sweet, Christian lady and he a very cynical, outspoken, agnostic/atheist (I’m not sure he knows which he is.) Even after their divorce they’d fight. Much of it over the raising of my half-brother, Maquon. But, as my step dad said through tears at her memorial service, tumultuous as it was, it was due to passion. Passion can be bad and good. In his own way, he still loved my mom. (This week was the first I think I’ve ever seen him cry. I don’t even think I remember him crying at his mother’s funeral),
Her Greatest Gift
My mom’s memorial services were held Tuesday, June 3, in Inglewood, CA. Frank Wilson (an old and dear friend of the family and my mom’s pastor) and the congregation of New Dawn Christian Village pulled together quickly so that we could have the services on very short notice. Food, flowers, and friends were in abundance. Some old friends I hadn’t seen in years were there. This past week I even talked to my biological dad (who I haven’t spoken to in years…that’s a different story). He told me that my mom was a sweet and kind soul. That she, more than anything, was the reason my brother Brandon and I are the people we are today. And that the greatest gift she gave me and him was our love for God.
Friends and family shared many great stories about my mom. About how compassionate she was. How she cared for others. How she fought against injustices. (My aunt told how back in high school, my mom was taken away in a paddy-wagon as part of a civil rights protest. I never knew that. Hard to imagine my little mother being dragged off in handcuffs. You go mom!🙂 How she hated to fly. I mean, she’d literally scream on a plane. (One friend told of a time when the plane had to land and let her off it got so bad.) How she loved clothes and shoes. (My brother joked that up in heaven, as the angel was giving her her new angelic robes, she probably asked if it was Gucci). How pretty and vibrant she was. Many great stories were told. It was such a blessing to hear so many wonderful stories about her.
The last few years for my mom had been hard. Financial troubles, physical pain, and loneliness often got to her. I know now she’s in a much better place. And at peace. Next week she will be cremated and her remains placed alongside my grandfather, her dad.
The Take Away
The last time I saw my mom in person was about 18 months ago when I went down to L.A. for my high school reunion. Had I known that would be the last time I’d see her in person…well, you know. Woulda, could, shoulda.
I always like to have some sort of educational take away from my blog posts here. So I leave you with this: love on your mother. Take time to be with your family. Don’t let work get in the way of what’s really important in life. And remember, we’re only here for a relatively short time. Make the best of your visit. Find out what you’re really meant to do in this life, then pursue it with passion.
Thanks mom for helping me become the man I am today. Until we meet again, I love you.
My wedding day.
Joshua (3) and Imahni (13)
I am so happy that my mom had the opportunity to know her grand kids before passing.