By DENENE MILLNER
I'm not sure what made me think about her today. I was in the grocery store, smelling the over-priced strawberries when my mother suddenly popped into my mind. It happens like that, you know I'll be doing something absolutely mundane, and there she'll be, standing in the bathroom mirror of my childhood home, putting on her lipstick and adjusting her church hat; or standing over me and my Dad, watching us eat that extra sweet potato pie she baked just for us, because she knew we wouldn't be able to keep our hands off the two she made for Thanksgiving dinner; or singing a silly song to my Mari, which, even loud and off-key, always managed to make my then-baby girl fall fast asleep. Sometimes, the memories make me giggle a little. Sometimes, I can't quite control the tears, and I'm blinded by overwhelming sadness.

A lot of times, I just miss her so.

Bettye went away from here six years ago suddenly, surprisingly, heart-achingly. Mari was three, and so she couldn't quite understand, really, why she wouldn't be able to lay in her Gamma's arms anymore. Lila was barely two months old, and so all she has is a few pictures of my mom holding her in her arms, nuzzling Lila's fat cheeks. I was a young mother, trying to figure out how to raise two girl pies and be a good wife and hold down a challenging magazine gig and write books and run a household and live a fulfilled life. None of us was ready for her to go. We needed her.

I needed her.

Still do.

I didn't always appreciate the mother that Bettye Millner was. She was old school strict and a little mean and definitely one of those moms who thought children were to be seen, not heard. She reveled in making her kids do chores (I spent so much time scrubbing, vacuuming and doing laundry during weekend high school events that I seriously considered changing my name to Cinderella). She chauffeured my brother, Troy, and I to church every Sunday, faithfully, and with a smile. And most certainly, Bettye believed that any child who stepped out of line had a sound whooping coming right to ˜em (her weapon of choice: a fresh, thin, sturdy switch from the tree in the front yard). She was tart-tongued and quick to tell you about yourself fiercely protective and ridiculously private (she's somewhere on the other side clutching her pearls over me writing this blog about her, I'm sure!). And she prayed for us even when we didn't know it even when we didn't deserve it. Especially when we needed it.

I expected her to be a similar kind of grandmother to apply those strict, old school traits to the way she would love my babies. But she was different with them all googly and sweet and swooning. She would snatch Mari right out of my arms before she or I could get through the door good, and rush her away to a room full of gifts, and a plate full of food, and a VCR full of kid movies just waiting for her grandbaby. She'd read to her and sing to her and talk to her and welcome Mari to talk back. She'd dress up her grandbaby and sport her down the church aisle American's Next Top Model style, showing her off to anyone with eyes. And she'd fall asleep with Mari snuggled next to her in her bed my father banished to the basement couch to make room for the little girl child she loved so.

And just as she revealed a different side of Bettye as grandmother, my mom revealed a different, softer side of herself to me, too. Suddenly, we became fellow moms: Rather than tell me what to do, she encouraged me to do what I thought was right; instead of holding her secrets close, she shared them with the hope that they would help me be a better mom; rather than reprimand me for my childcare decisions, she trusted my judgment. I'll never forget the day when I came to her distraught because someone very close to us criticized my decision to keep breastfeeding Mari past six months. Honestly, I expected her to agree; after all, what self-respecting, black working mom kept her ninny in a baby's mouth past a few months when there was work to do and baby formula at the ready?

Mari is your baby, she insisted when I came to her, overwhelmed and a little mad at the judgmental mom who questioned my decision. You're not ever going to hear me questioning how you're raising your child. You're going to make mistakes all of us did before you, and many will after you. You do what's right for you.

What I would do to have her here. To order. To direct. To encourage. And pray for me and mine. There are so many things that I wish she could see Mari and Lila's fierce competitive spirit on the soccer field, the rows of A's on their report cards. I know she would love Lila's mischievousness, and Mari's curiousness. She'd hang their artwork up on her refrigerator, and brag about her grandbabies to her friends, and sit them right up there in the front pew, so they could pay attention to the preacher, and the other deaconesses could give them mints and pinches on their cheeks. And my mother would be overwhelmed by my daughters' beauty proud of the young ladies they're becoming. Excited about who they'll be.

I do wish, too, that she were still here so that my daughters could see first-hand the incredible woman their grandmother was.

We are all missing out on something special now that Bettye Millner is gone.

I'll tell Mari and Lila about her, though keep her fresh in their memories.

And I'll wait for her to come to me again a lovely, sweet, heartbreaking vision in my mind.

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98 Comments

  1. T.Allen-Mercado

    Beautiful and touching;Bettye Millner was a blessing and a gift.

  2. Thank you sooo much for sharing this with us. It touched me. I just revisited a few (only because it was too painful that day) memories of my great-grandmother who died a few years ago, and learned that I too touched someone.

    Your mother sounds like a southern dream =). Wonderful in every way. She reminds me of my Bigmama. I know the feeling that loosing a mother brings and I also know the feeling of having to explain loss to a child who doesn’t quite understand.

    I just thank you again for sharing.

  3. Your mother sounds like a truly wonderful woman! What a lovely tribute to the person she was and still is, in your memory!

  4. Renée aka Mekhismom

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing the memories of your mama with us.

  5. Jewelry Rockstar

    She sounds like one of those special gift to the world mamas who took seriously raising her babies to be great citizens. She did an amazing job, and her work will be seen for generations to come.

    Thanks for sharing memories of your mother it reminded me of you, me, my mother and our grandmothers. Strong, wise, loving, women, what would we do without them.

  6. Days like These!

    thank you so much for sharing your story with us. i wish i had a relationship with my mother like this one.

  7. Petra a.k.a The Wise (*Young*) Mommy

    what a beautiful post, thank you for that! It reminds me to appreciate my mother while I have her because she is wonderful!

  8. Christie-A Work In Progress

    Wiping away the tears! This was beautiful! And I am happy to say that your blog is working in my blogroll and reader again…woo hoo!

  9. Hana Njau-Okolo

    Thank you for sharing, brought tears to my eyes.

    Love the new design!

    Hana.

  10. The Arthur Clan

    Oh Denene…this is such a touching, beautifully written, lovely tribute to your mother. It makes me long to have met her. You were so blessed to have a loving, prayer warrior woman to call “mom.”

    Angie in OH

  11. Denene, I love the way that you write. I could praise you all day for your fluidity and rhythm but I love the honesty that you display here. Instead of painting an unrealistic portrait of your mother, you remember her from the eyes of a child and as an adult. I also like that you speak of her as a grandmother. This is similar to how my mother speaks of my grandma so I feel mostalgia as I read this. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. Ashanti

  12. What a heartwrenching post. Thank you for sharing.

  13. This was an amazing post. I know that feeling of our mothers crossing our minds like that, when they are not here to give a call to. What a tribute to your mother.

  14. what a sweet post. your mother sounds wonderful. going and call my mommy right now!

  15. Denene you brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing your precious memories of your mother.

  16. This is such a touching story. After having recently lost my grandmother, I find myself reflecting on life and loss again, almost daily. Your mother sounds like a beautiful person.

  17. I lost my daddy (my grampy), my best friend, my hero this week 1 year ago. I know what you mean. The beautiful thought of them comes out of nowhere all of a sudden. I lost my mom when I was seven, so my memories of her are very hazy. Your mother sounds like she did not play-a great mother. Hold on to the rich memories of her.

  18. What a wonderful depiction of your mom. She was obviously a strong and devoted women with a heart of gold.

    If I am ever fortunate enough to have grand-babies of my own, I will draw on your mother’s perfect quote:

    “Youre not ever going to hear me questioning how youre raising your child. Youre going to make mistakes—all of us did before you, and many will after you. You do whats right for you.”

  19. Justice Jonesie

    I agree with all the other comments, this was beautiful. Your mother is smiling down on you right now.

  20. mama's got moxie

    absolutely beautiful, denene!

    but hey, sitting here at my desk at work with tears in my eyes was not on today’s agenda! :)

    what a wonderful story, thanks for sharing.

  21. You made me mist up a little with this. It’s amazing how parents make the transition to grandparents and show us completely different sides of their personalities.

    Your mom sounds like a strong, beautiful black woman, and its wonderful that you love and respect her for it :)

  22. Lovely. Deeply and truly lovely. Thank you for sharing about Bettye. I can only imagine how much you miss her.

  23. Denene, I had to wait before I responded to this post because it made me very emotional. My mom is still with me, thank God, and we are close. She’s close to my kids too; I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through the last few years without her. Your mom sounds incredible, like so many of the Black moms we know, yet never hear about in the media. That’s why we owe it to them to keep their memory alive, and you certainly have in so many ways, especially in this loving tribute.

  24. Had to comment again after reading this post…my mom passed when I was 20 so it touched my heart in a lot of ways. I wish my children had pictures with her, but she will always be someone that they didn’t get a chance to meet in this life…

    HUGS!

  25. hey u…it’s Tish. i remember your mom like it was yesterday. “Sister Betty”. One of the most vivid memories that i have of her is after i had my daughter sierah, she gave me some beautiful clothes that she no longer needed. one of them was an Old Navy T-Shirt, i’ll never forget it. She was always very nourishing towards me and she did not play. Your Blog on Your Mom was beautiful, and heartfelt. While i will never feel the loss that YOU feel personally as she was your mother, i definitely feel the loss of her not being here. She was one of my spiritual mother’s in the church we grew up in, and she was an intricate part of my life…very classy and Gorgeous. She was loved and respected and will always be missed. i’m so glad that we were able to reconnect b/c i had the honor of reading such a beautiful memoir… God Bless You.
    Love, Tish…

  26. What a sweet and beautiful story! Thank you for sharing!

    Happy SITS day!

  27. What a beautiful post and wonderful Mum she was to you when you became a Mum.

  28. Days of Whine & Noses

    wow, you just made me see myself a little bit with my teenager. I am so strict with her that at times, I fear that she will just push me away when she’s grown but I think maybe I do what I need to guide her now no matter how she thinks of it and we will share a different relationship when she’s much older. We have been grieving since last July and that has made it harder with her.

    Visiting from SITS!

  29. Days of Whine & Noses

    wow, you just made me see myself a little bit with my teenager. I am so strict with her that at times, I fear that she will just push me away when she’s grown but I think maybe I do what I need to guide her now no matter how she thinks of it and we will share a different relationship when she’s much older. We have been grieving since last July and that has made it harder with her.

    Visiting from SITS!

  30. Days of Whine & Noses

    wow, you just made me see myself a little bit with my teenager. I am so strict with her that at times, I fear that she will just push me away when she’s grown but I think maybe I do what I need to guide her now no matter how she thinks of it and we will share a different relationship when she’s much older. We have been grieving since last July and that has made it harder with her.

    Visiting from SITS!

  31. She sounds like an incredible woman and m other – one that any daughter would want to have. I don’t know how incredibly difficult it must have been for you to deal with her passing away – I know that when that happens to me, I’d take it very very hard. In fact, this is one of my fears.

    Keep this incredible lady in your mind and soul, as I am sure she’s with you every step of the way.

  32. What a very beautiful and touching tribute to your mom.
    xo

  33. It’s a beautiful post!

  34. What a wonderful & beautiful post about your mother!

  35. Stopping by from SITS! What a lovely post about your mother.

  36. Lucky you to have had some a strong and independent mother. What a wonderful role model. You are lucky, too, that she still visits you in your thoughts.

  37. what a great tribute.

  38. ….a beautiful tribute to your mother……now I must go grab the tissue box.

  39. countryfriedmama

    You write beautifully. I’ll be back to visit again.

  40. Creative Junkie

    That was a beautiful tribute to your mom!

  41. Jennifer Juniper

    I miss Bettye now. You’ve made her real to me and I miss her for you, with you. Thank you for telling her story. I wish I had someone like her in my life and maybe that is what I’m missing.

    She was a good mom, she really does check in on you when you’re sniffing strawberries. She loves you, too.

    Happy sits :)

  42. brought tears to my eyes…

  43. Wonderful story.

  44. Visiting from SITS – what a beautiful post!

  45. This is such a beautifully written and touching post. Thank you for sharing!

  46. That brought tears to my eyes. I’m sorry for your loss – it was such a profound one. It’s good you can reflect and remember and stay true.

  47. Marshmallow Circus

    Well now I need a box of tissues! Thank you for a lovely post.

  48. What lovely writng and what a beautiful tribute to your Mom. I hope my son has the same love and admiration for me when he is grown. I wish I could have met your Mommy, she sounds like someone I would like to have as a friend!

  49. Beautiful post. My Grandma raised me and I too am surprised by how much I miss her at times. I am sometimes saddened by the fact that she wasn’t here to meet my Theo – although, perhaps she did meet him before sending him along to me in the physical.

  50. Your mother sounds like my father, lol. I did not come to appreciate his way of showing and giving love until I was older, but I honestly believe that his ways turned me into the person I am today. My mother always was the warm person she still is today, never missed a cuddle, never missed a kiss. I still have both of my parents in my life, even though we are a continent apart, they are as close to me as my husband and children are right here, right now. Thank you for sharing your memories with us!

  51. This post is both beautiful and heart-wrenching. I miss my mom every day too.

  52. Little Miss Baker

    What a touching post; you have such a talent for writing sweetly yet powerfully. I loved this. Happy SITS Day to you :)

  53. Your mother sounds like she was a special woman. I love that you’re trying your best to share your memories of her with your own daughters!

  54. You were so lucky to have a Mother that you could look up to and admire. Even now it’s obvious that you carry those memories with you all the time. Thanks for sharing!

  55. Just – beautiful. I miss my mother all the time too. She’s still living but had a brain operation when I was in college about 20 years ago and is not the same person she was before. She lives over 2,000 miles away. We stay in touch and visit as we can, and I am thankful my kids can spend time with her.

  56. That was absolutely beautiful!!!

  57. Controlling My Chaos

    Do you supply Kleenex with your blog posts? Geez, I’m all teary now. I l feel like I know your Mama now.

  58. Ugh – tears! I’m sorry for you loss… I’m lucky enough that my mother is still here, but thinking about losing her chokes me up in nothing flat.

    I, too, have seen a different woman in my mother as a grandmother. It must be something we mothers learn along the way, how to be grandmothers, that is. My mom, too, is encouraging, supportive, and more open. She is embracing her knew role in my life as mentor vs. mother.

    It’s a truly beautiful thing and I appreciate your snapshot of this relationship.

  59. Thank you for sharing with us this beautiful memory!

  60. I’m sure your children will get to know a good bit about your mother through you, and the woman you have become because of her.

  61. I don’t think we’ll ever stop needing or loving our mothers, grandmothers… when they pass.

    Great post. :)

    Happy SITS day.

  62. Beautiful tribute for all Mothers and all Daughters of Mothers.
    The heart never forgets. Thank you for sharing her w/us. Thank you also for remindgin me how much I appreciate and am blessed to still have my Mom in my life.

  63. Sounds like an amazing woman- I’m sure she left more than a memory for her daughter; I bet you are an amazing mamma too!

  64. That was beautiful…I often think about how my life will be after my mom won’t be with us anymore. She was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and we are trying to make the best of the time we have now. Your words gives me faith that my mom will be with me forever in spirit.
    Thank you

  65. Beautiful post!

  66. eastsidemommy

    You brought tears to my eyes, and I miss my Grandmother like this!

  67. Beautiful post! So well written…

  68. This is a beautiful post. I lost my dad last year and I have similar experiences; I’ll be doing something mundane and all of a sudden I will have such a strong memory of him. Your mother seems like she was a wonderful woman and I think she definitely passed that on to you.

  69. Kathie @ my net finds

    That was wonderful! I’m here visiting from SITS, thank you for such a lovely post :-)

  70. Robbie S.Redmon, LPC

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share. This has blessed me.

  71. Beautiful post. The publicist misses her mother at odd times too.
    Happy SITS day.

  72. What a beautiful memory. I am sure she is now watching over you, whispering in your ear guidance and advice on how to help your girls. What an honor to your mother. As long as you keep her alive for your children, she will always be alive in your heart and theirs.

  73. MicroBlogginMom

    Found you & stopping by through SITS. Thank ou for sharing such a beautiful post.

  74. This was such a sweet post, and so thought-provoking.

  75. I don’t think your mom would be clutching her pearls at this one–more like beaming with pride:) Wonderful tribute!

  76. Dang. I miss my mom now too and she’s still alive…

  77. what a beautiful post. it doesn’t matter how old we get, we always will need our mothers.

  78. that is just beautiful…thanks for sharing…

  79. So Sweet. That was a very beautiful post.

  80. You’re mom WAS looking over your shoulder clutching her pearls as you wrote this…she probably even pushed those keyboard keys, too. Here from SITS.

  81. That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing. What a wise women she is and has helped to make you into.

  82. Your mother instilled such wonderful values in you that you will then pass on to your children. Sorry she left you so soon :-(

  83. A lovely tribute to your mother…I thin she’d be so very proud of you.
    Happy SITS day!

  84. Beautiful. It sounds like your mother was wonderful.

  85. Thank you for writting this post, it touched me.

  86. I don’t know what I’ll do when my Mom leaves me. I don’t think we’re ever ready for them to go. Thanks for helping me appreciate her a little more today!!

  87. Roshni Mitra Chintalapati

    just loved this!!
    coming from SITS

  88. I’m so sorry for your loss…your words put me where you are mentally and it was truly moving. My mother is still with me and I thought about her through this whole post. Isn’t it amazing how much more we understand our mothers once we take the amazing journey of motherhood ourselves? I find myself constantly saying “So THAT’S why mom did that!” It’s a wonderful thing when our mothers get to share just even a sliver of our lives with children. It’s good that you got that time with her even for a little bit. No doubt, when she comes back you and those babies will be one of the first things on her mind. Hang in there…

    My best, Lynn
    http://safebeauty.blogspot.com

  89. Oh that was absolutely gorgeous. I’m blinking tears out of my eyes. I have yet to lose my mom, but she’s the same way. I can still feel her pinching the backs of my arms to keep me quiet in church, yet she’s the constantly spoiling, doting grandmother with the wee ones. It’s a special relationship, and I’m sorry your two weren’t able to enjoy her longer.

  90. meandtheblueskies.com

    After 15 tries, IE finally let me read this post and girl, you brought me to tears. I am certain that you are the wonderful person you are because of your mother. Congrats on your SITS day. – Preston

  91. Jeannie Finelli, RN

    Your mom sounds like she was a wonderful lady, and I’m sorry you’ve had to learn to live with such a loss in your life. I truly believe, though, that mothers are somehow always in our hearts.

  92. Delectable Dining

    What a beautiful post… thank you for sharing.

  93. Your talent oozes from your pores, lady. I love it!

  94. Charmaine @ randalswife

    That was so sweet. I still have my mother – for which I am very grateful. But she lost her mother a couple of years ago and every once in awhile I see that look on her face – she’s thinking about her.

  95. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. Happy {belated} SITS feature day to you.

  96. That was wonderful. I’m sorry for the loss of your mom.

  97. Bless you for remembering your mom so beautifully and for keeping her memory alive to your girls. I lost my mother expectedly when pregnant with my 3rd. None of my children got to know their marvelous, amazing grandmother. And I didn’t get to know her more adult-to-adult. Can’t help but feel like we were robbed. At the same time, during the 6 weeks she was ill, she left an amazing legacy of how to live and to die. Thanks, Momma.

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