Out of habit, I was halfway down the aisle at the store when I suddenly stopped. I’ve had this realization before—usually when I’ve picked up the phone to share some news or just to hear her voice—and then I remember that she’s not going to answer. There’s no longer someone to open my Mother’s Day card.
Just over a year ago, my beautiful, graceful mother Thelma Williams passed away on the eve of her 91st birthday. The woman I spoke to several times every single day of my life is no longer on this earth
This week, millions of Americans will go through the ritual of buying cards for their mothers. They will take part in this commercial holiday and then check it off the list. It might even be the only time of the year they actually say, “Thank you” or “I love you” to the woman who has given them so much.
But we don’t need Hallmark to tell us what day to celebrate mothers. Because every day we should take just a moment to express our appreciation, whether our mothers are still here or not.
There is no one who helped define me more than Thelma Howard Williams. As a mother to my nine siblings and me, she was a never-ending presence in our lives—loving us, shaping us and guiding us to become the people we are today.
She raised four stepchildren and six of her own. She also endured the horrifying grief of giving birth to two stillborn babies. She often sacrificed herself for the needs of her family. She was poised, independent and strong.
My mother taught me everything from how to tie my shoes to the importance of faith, moral values and personal responsibility. She was my friend, my mentor and my champion. She gave me courage and confidence. My mother proved the enduring effect one person can have on another.
The role of a mother is even more pivotal in America’s African-American community, where so often they must shoulder the burden of childcare alone. More than one-third of all black children in the United States live with single mothers, which is a tragedy. Out of necessity, these single mothers must play the role of mother, father and provider.
While physically painful, giving birth is actually the easy part. It’s during the ensuing decades that mothers truly show their commitment, resilience and spirit.
This is what we should be celebrating on Mother’s Day: the strength of women who do not give up and who do not expect someone else to shoulder their responsibilities, no matter how challenging the path before them.
I feel truly blessed that I had so many rich years with my own mother. I often gaze up at a framed photograph in my office. It’s a picture of my mother and me. My arms are wrapped around her. She was my rock, and really still is.
A friend recently visited my office and looked up at the photo. And then he observed something I never had. He said, “Your hands and her hands. They are the same.”
Despite having stared at that picture literally hundreds of times, I had never noticed. But he was right. I immediately saw the similarity. Her hands. And my hands. It was an emotional moment for me, as I reflected on the impact of this incredible person.
And not only are her hands a part of me—her faith, her love and her passion for life are also a part of me.
It’s heartbreaking to know that I cannot call my mother this Sunday. I can’t send her a card. But I will be thinking about her, celebrating her and thanking her for molding me into the person I am.
And so we all should salute the women who refuse to see life’s circumstances as a reason to fail. We should pay tribute to the women who get up every day and provide for their children. Mothers, often more than anyone else, shape young kids into promising adults, prepared to lead successful, productive lives, personally and professionally.
America’s mothers give life and direction to our future leaders. And they deserve to be honored.
As my mother was fond of saying, “Lord, just let my last days be my best days.”
Every day with her was the best day. What a blessing.