While She Can Smell the Roses: A Prayer for my Mom

Dear God,

In Matthew 7:7, You said, “Ask and it shall be given to you…” Well, I have an ask, but before I lay my ask at your feet, I need to share a few things. Not that you do not know all things, but it helps me, God, to speak from the heart and lay it all bare. So, here I go.

On the maternal side of my family, my late grandmother Cobb gave birth to a dozen children. I had 11 aunts and uncles; my mom being the oldest of the bunch. One of my uncles, may he rest in heavenly peace, passed away many years ago from sickle cell anemia. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sickle cell disease (SCD) is prone to attack one in every 365 African Americans and one in every 13 African Americans carries the sickle cell trait; my mom has the trait. Why are African Americans more prone to sickle cell compared to all other racial and ethnic groups? There are a few thoughts regarding this phenomenon, but I did not intend to offer a scientific synopsis on diseases, specifically SCD, that affect Black/African Americans predominately; rather, I suppose I wanted to remind you that you’ve already plucked from the dozen.

God, I have no idea what it was like growing up with 11 brothers and sisters, but I can conjure up images of what my mom’s early upbringing was like in that very busy household. I envision two grandparents who migrated north to New York from North Carolina to start a new life but faced oppression and discrimination along the way. I envision a modest home where spare bedrooms were nonexistent, but love was plentiful. I envision sibling bickering, but a family bond that would challenge anyone who tried to test family loyalty. I envision a family where clothes were passed down from the old to the young, but those clothes did not indicate longing or need. I envision a semi-bare pantry, but a grandmother who could make a full-course meal out of anything, leaving bellies full and satisfied. I envision my grandmother calling for someone to go to the corner store for a loaf of bread and a pack of red-label snuff only to have her dozen darlings play pretend sleep. Okay, that last one might be slightly true. I have many more thoughts and images about my family’s household. I wonder what it would have been like for me, growing up with a sibling.  I almost did, but my younger brother never experienced this world; we never had the chance to play, tattle on one another, or protect one another from the dangers of growing up. So, there was just me and the tender love of my mom. Thank you, God, for gifting me my mom. I just love her so much! Perhaps the other gift was that my little brother, who would have been named Avery, was spared the realities of Jim Crow 2.0 or something far worse-reminiscent of the countless Black men killed senselessly. But I won’t go down that road here; I’ll save that story for another time. Before I go any further God, I hope you know that my prayer is not an indictment of my dad. On the contrary, my parents, who separated while I was very young, reminded me at every turn that although they were no longer together, their love for me was abundant.

My prayer, quite honestly, is my best attempt to extend a bouquet of flowers, preferably roses, to my mom. Too often tributes are offered when the person is no longer with us to know how much they were loved. Today, my mom can smell the sweet scent of each rose, which I hope comes through in these written words. She may not be too communicative now, but I know she can hear me. Just the other day when she wasn’t talking at all, I asked her to squeeze my hand if she could hear me; she squeezed it. That ever-so-slight squeeze was all the assurance I needed to keep writing, to keep talking to her, to sit with her as often as I possibly could. My mom, thankfully, knows I am here-right by her side. She can hear when I play her favorite tunes; she can hear me whisper in her ear, “I love you!” She will hear me when I read this letter to her. A letter that I’ve been writing and re-writing; for every 100 words typed, 101 words were erased. The questions that swirled in my mind like, how much did I want to share? Why am I sharing this now? Will God listen? Of course, He will, I finally told myself. God is listening now. In the end, I made the decision to let the words flow knowing that you don’t care how we come to you. You even said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV).  I am so tired. I feel like my heart is being ripped from me.

For more than 50 years, I’ve watched my mom exude an inordinate amount of strength, more strength than I could ever muster. Growing up, for example, my mom and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment. We could not afford much, but we certainly had the basics. Although raised Baptist, my mom was adamant that I would attend a parochial school. She wanted this schooling for me so much that she would wake before sunrise to travel to work, by train, from one state to another, to make those school tuition payments. I never really understood why, but back then you didn’t question your parents. So, I coerced my friends to ask her if I could attend public school with them. Well, that didn’t go over well. From kindergarten to grade eight, I knew only the color brown and from grades nine to 12, blue adorned my closet. Those were the required parochial school uniform colors, respectively. Having to wake up early to catch the bus from Mount Vernon, NY to New Rochelle, my mom, with her five-foot one-inch self, would walk me down the steps, with a broom in one hand, daring any loiterer to say something to me or her. In truth, I don’t think my mom could really hurt them, but she had and still has the heart of a lion. Looking back now, I think those people respected my mom’s heart. Today, my mom is facing possibly the biggest battle of her life. A two-time breast cancer survivor and my mom’s faith in God has only gotten stronger. Unfortunately, that cancer has returned, and it’s returned with a vengeance.

God, I am not sure whether to be angry with you or grateful to you. Angry that for more than a dozen years I’ve tried everything to get my mom to sell her home and relocate to wherever I lived at the time. Each time I asked her to move, she would give a reason why she could not leave B-more (Baltimore City). It wasn’t until this past summer that my mom while lounging in the reading room, said, “I am ready to move.” I thought I was hearing things because her words were almost too low to fully comprehend. So, I asked her to repeat what she said. Again, she said she was ready to move. Three months later, she moved. On November 12th, I finally had my mom with me. But, immediately after her arrival, we were assaulted with the news; the cancer returned and spread. Just typing these words, my heart sinks. I must pause to catch my breath. So much anger inside because I feel like you are robbing me of this time. On the other hand, I am deeply grateful to you, God, that my mom is finally here with me. Maybe it was your intention all along that in my mom’s greatest need, I would be able to stay by her side. As she lays in this hospital bed, I wept so loudly. My mom just turned and said, God, has us. She didn’t say, “God has me!” She said, “God has us!” Even in her upcoming fight, she unselfishly thought of me and her entire family. Today, my mom continues to fight. Maybe she is waiting for her siblings, nieces, and nephews to arrive from their respective designations. Maybe she wants to come out of this last fight with a new testimony.  I don’t know what the plan is, but what I do know is that I will be with my mom, side by side.

Returning to my opening. Dear God, I ask that you please hold my mom’s hands, wrap her gently near your bosom, comfort her in the midnight hour, and allow her to see her mom’s, my late grandmom’s, angelic face while she rests. If it is your will God, heal my mom’s body and make her whole again. If your plan is something different, please provide peace and comfort to my mom, me, and our entire family. Help me to continue to make her proud, ease the mental and emotional anguish that will undoubtedly follow if you call my mom home, and soothe and lessen the weight of my fractured heart. Finally, and only if you will her home with you, play a few songs for the journey; play her favorite artists including, the soulful sounds of Lena Horne, Mr. Baritone himself, Lou Rawls, and the sweet and rich voice of Dionne Warwick, and yes, even Frank Sinatra.  Amen.

5 thoughts on “While She Can Smell the Roses: A Prayer for my Mom

  1. Dr. Lance, your mom is a beloved child of God and God’s got this. Let your love for your Mom be your North Star. Let it guide you to the place where you can be with her, love on her, listen to her, sit with her, be by her side. I did that with my mother and I am so grateful we had the time together. We need our mothers and when they are gone, life looks and feels different. It’s a new normal and it takes some getting used to. I’ll pray for healing and hope for her and for your entire family.

    Laura Smail


  2. Heavenly farther, giver of life and health: Comfort and receive and receive your sick servant and give your power of healing to those who minister to his needs that he may be strengthened his weaknesses and gave confidence in your loving care; through Jesus christ our lord amen.


  3. I’ll keep you and your mother in prayer Dr. Lance. This is a valley experience now and God is in control either way. What a story and thanks for sharing.
    I had 16 aunts and uncles family is everything. 🙏🏽


  4. Dr. Lance, as I began reading your beautifully written piece. But by the end, I am weeping. As a parent, we want our children to have all of the possibilities that we did not. I understand the root of your mom’s strength and sacrifices as I have done the same for my children.
    The pride that she feels for for you fills up her soul. She has watched you take what she gave you and excel.
    This is time with her is a gift for you and your dear, mother.

    Our Lord will surround you and mom with his love.


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