Mama peacefully closed her eyes for the last time and transitioned into eternity on Thursday, March 13th. Pastor Hayes Long (son-in-law) said in his eulogy, “The Lord decided to “call in” Mama’s “loan.”
Her “loan” time on earth was up.
For me, how do I say goodbye to Mama, who loved her children unconditionally despite our flaws and imperfections? How do I say good-bye to Mama, who worked in cotton fields faithfully – picking bales and bales of cotton trying to take care of us? How do I say good-bye to Mama, who worked in private homes –sometimes treated fairly and most times unfairly? How do I say goodbye to Mama, who, after Daddy died, worked in a hog processing plant and stood on her feet day after day and worked overtime to support us?
How do I say goodbye to Mama, when at the beginning of integration began to prepare me by teaching me to answer only to my given name and not to the vicious, disrespectful and hurtful names that I was called? How do I say goodbye to Mama, who after I would tell her the children did not want to play with me at school –would gently and lovingly say, “Give it a few more days – the children will play with you.”? How do I say goodbye to Mama, who, when I laid in her bed at night and cried and asked her, “Why do the kids hate me? They don’t like me. Is it because of the color of my skin?”– she would say, “You are made by God and there is no difference.” How do I say goodbye to Mama, who, after I said, “I hate them!” – would sternly say, “You will love and not hate.” How do I say goodbye to Mama, whom I heard praying to God every night, “Lord, help me take care of my family; Lord, take care of my child at school; help me teach her how to love in spite of.…”?
How do I say goodbye to Mama who only had an eighth grade education, yet constantly talked about the importance of education by saying, “You must get an education – that’s the only way you can do better than me.”? How do I say goodbye to Mama, who cried when I graduated from Northeast Mississippi Community College and the University of Mississippi? How do I say goodbye to Mama, who during my 29 years of employment with CREATE constantly encouraged me? How do I saw goodbye to Mama?
At Mama’s visitation, I realized I didn’t have to say goodbye – because her life is still speaking for her. Her message of “you will love and not hate” was evident in the overwhelming display of love and support from the many people who came to pay final respects. Some had not met Mama personally –but had heard her story. I share this only to show what happens when you love and respect people. There were just as many whites as there were blacks at visitation at Jesus New Testament Holiness Church in Red Hill. There were CEO’s, doctors, lawyers, business professionals, bosses, co-workers, and friends from every socio-economic status. A CEO said, “Your mother’s message of love brought us together!” My brother, Wade, said, “I could not believe all the people who attended!” Another executive later told me, “When I came to visitation and walked into your church, I felt the most peaceful feeling of love.”
The next day at Mama’s home going celebration, I saw Mama’s life in the remarks from family and friends. Granddaughter Allison said, “Big Mama took care of my brothers and me when we lost our own mother… Granddaughter Kelli talked about Mama encouraging her … Granddaughter Pam eloquently read Mama’s obituary. Granddaughter Nicole acknowledged and thanked people for giving the many cards, flowers and plants. Grandson Tyler talked about learning a lifelong lesson from Mama’s wisdom. Her only surviving sister, Leona Cobb’s poem entitled, “It’s alright, Bern” was recited by my cousin, Lynette. Great-granddaughter Kamri spoke of Mama’s love for the great-grandchildren. Her grandson Timothy sang a medley of favorite songs that Mama loved. Friends that included, Annie Catherine, Elnora, Cornelia and Maury spoke of their beautiful relationship with Mama.
Mrs. Bernice Wade Gambrel, who had meager beginnings and seemingly had nothing materialistically –yet, was bountifully blessed with wisdom and love for mankind – made a difference and left this world better than she found it. Mama encouraged, motivated and inspired us to love, to have compassion, respect and racial harmony with each other regardless of one’s color or socio-economic status. Does love work? I know it does. For this article, I am the judge!
Juanita Gambrel Floyd is vice president for Finance and Administration at CREATE Foundation. Contect her at firstname.lastname@example.org.