My mother ran a firm, a position previously and since only held by men. She worked her way up from secretary and was well-respected by her peers, a woman of power in her industry and very well-known. She started working there when she was pregnant with me, and I pretty much grew up there as she brought me to work almost every Saturday morning or I begged to go. The firm occupied an entire building and I knew every single person that worked there and they knew me.
In the very early eighties, a woman I will call Miss E, came to work at the building as a cleaner. She was 17 years younger than my mother, and was on the opposite end of the spectrum to my mother. My mother is a former beauty queen, a socialite, and can be very prissy at times. Miss E was loud, but not obnoxious, came from a part of the city that most people never ventured into, and spoke so quickly you could sometimes not understand her. Yet still, over the years, everyday when she was on duty, Miss E could be found at some point in the day in my mother’s office shooting the breeze.
My mother took early retirement in the early nineties, and after she left, some of the people who worked there kept in touch with her, but slowly over the years, they stopped calling or coming by. All except Miss E. Miss E ended up becoming my mother’s best friend. She became my second mother, and my spiritual mother. They would talk almost everyday on the phone, and Miss E would come visit my mother every few weeks. It was difficult for my mother to go to Miss E’s, as Miss E lived at the top of a mountain that even jeeps could not get to. You had to take a jeep and walk the rest of the way.
Over the years, Miss E always asked after my wife and me, and on occasion I would call her. To Miss E, I was “my boy”. Miss E became a pastor in her church and every easter she had her “Thanksgiving”, where she made a huge meal for the children in her neighborhood. It became an easter tradition. Drug dealers respected and feared her. They would go to her for help. Miss E was by no means rich, but she gave her all to her community, her family and friends.
Over the last two years, Miss E had a series of set backs with her health. She developed cataracts, diabetes and high blood pressure. It was not an easy time for her and in the end, Miss E lost her zest for life. Last Tuesday my mother called to tell me that Miss E was in the hospital, and by Thursday morning she died.
I know that I held a special place in Miss E’s heart as she did in mine. In 2008, when I went to Arizona, I sent a cross made of metal by native Americans to Miss E, but it was stolen from her. So in August, when I visited the National Shrine in DC, I sent a rosary made of rose wood and deeply scented with rose essence. I was so honored to know that gift was what she held her in hand to sleep every night, and she died with the rosary that day.
I only saw Miss E twice since I left my home 25 years ago, and spoke with her a few times in that time, but we had a special connection. We checked on each other through my mother. I speak to my mum about every two weeks, and every time, Miss E is the first person I ask after and the first person my mother says asked after me.
On Thursday afternoon, the day that she died, on a cold rainy day in the Northeast, I went to the beach to say goodbye, a gesture suggested by my beautiful wife. I bought a beautiful bouquet of lavender roses and threw them into the ocean for Miss E. It was such a beautiful sentiment, very sad, but very healing. Even though it was raining lightly, the tide was out, the sea was beautiful, calm and peaceful and there was no one on the beach. I thanked Miss E for all her selflessness and for looking out for all of us, and mostly for being Mum’s friend, and as I stood at the water’s edge, I swear I could feel Miss E hug me.
If you told me thirty years ago that I would be standing at the edge of the ocean, tossing in flowers and mourning the new cleaning woman in my mother’s office, I would probably would not consider it. We were from different worlds, but our souls were from the same place. I will miss her terribly, but I know she is still with me in Spirit. Be at peace my beautiful E.
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