As Told To Veronica R. Wells
Why I Put My Sister, Aunts & Uncles Out Of My Mother's Funeral
In part one of her story, Serita shared the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her mother's boyfriend. While her mother was privy to the abuse and even involved in some of it, Serita was able to forgive her mother and maintain a relationship with her. But her other family members were not able to do the same. In part two of her story, Serita shares the way she cared for mother in life and death, the battles she fought with her family members and raising her own daughter.
My mother is a softy. You could yell at her and she'll cry. She'll boo woo cry. And one day my aunt called me and was like, 'Your mother's out in these streets looking crazy, look like somebody's beating the crap out of her. She's got a big ole knot on her eye the size of a tennis ball. She looks crazy.' And I was just like, you know, maybe my aunt is overreacting. But I had roommate whose mother was in law enforcement. So I asked my roommate's mother if she would mind taking me to see her.
I called the building to see if I could get in contact with her. And I spoke to the security guard that's downstairs. I said, 'How is my mother doing?' She was like, 'It's not good.' So I said, 'Well, what's going on? She said 'Your mother doesn't look good. I would just rather you see it for yourself." Then she said that my uncle came to visit her and he didn't like the way she looked and started yelling and screaming and hollering. And was like 'Well, what did my mother do?' And the security guard said, 'Nothing. She just stood there and asked him for $100.' And that's when I knew that there was something wrong with my mother. I knew I needed to go visit her. So we went to go see her. And you know, over the phone, she could fool you. You would think that that's her, talking regular. So when we got there, I told the security guard call her downstairs but don't tell her who it is. When she came around the corner I didn't even recognize my mother. All I heard her say was "Serita!" I had to lock my knees so I could continue to stand there. And I knew it was something wrong because I cried in my mother's face and I was like, 'What is going on with you? What happened to you? Who's bothering you?' And she just stood there, high as a kite. My roommate's mother was with me and she told me, 'I want to help your mother. I have a cousin who went through the same thing and she completely turned her life around. Your mother can do the same thing.' So we started working on that. A few days later my roommate's mother called me upstairs and she's sitting down talking to me and she's like, 'What type of building is that your mother lives in?' I was like 'It's for people who have transitioned. They went to jail and you know, they're trying to get themselves on their feet.' And I just remember her saying, ' I'm not saying this to scare you or anything and this really puts me in a tough situation. Be careful with the information that I'm about to give you because I wasn't supposed to.' So I was like. 'Sure, no problem.' You know, whatever. She was like, 'Serita, that building is not for people who have gone to jail. That building is for people who have AIDS and HIV and terminal illnesses.' And I was just like, 'Well, what is my mother doing in a place like that?' She said, 'When your mother got arrested, she was HIV positive. But she's not anymore. Your mother has AIDS.' And I just remember I felt like somebody just punched me in my chest real hard and just knocked the wind out of me. But she said, 'Serita, it doesn't mean your mother is going to die.' So after that I just wanted to help my mother. She wound up losing the apartment she was in because of her epilepsy. It got worse, it went from horrible to worse and that was the reason that she was getting the bruises and hurting herself because she was banging her head and her face on the heater and the radiator. So it was a lot of hospital trips.
We went through that. Then it was trying to get my mother to get into the routine. She wound up going into a nursing home and for awhile. It was okay, but it wasn't giving her or doing what I felt it needed to do, which was rehabilitate her. She started getting arthritis really bad so she can only use--on both hands--her thumb and pointer finger. That was all she could use on both hands. Her middle finger, ring finger and her pinky were permanently bent into a fist of the two fingers are free. So it was a lot of trying to open her hands. It was a lot mentally to deal with, but it couldn't just say 'Alright, let them people do what they do for you. And I'm the over here.' It was I have to do for my mother. I have to make sure she's okay. My aunts would visit when they wanted to and help when they wanted to and help when they could. And it was just like, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to go out like that. It's not going to happen. I gotta try to help her. So at the church that I was going to, at the time, I had spoke to one of the members there about her position at a rehab for elderly. I managed to get her from the Bronx to Queens and that woman did the intake right at church. And everything was going in the right direction. Everything was working its way in a way it should have. We were moving in the right direction.
In 2009, that particular summer we had that horrible heat. It was really hot everyday I felt like we were going to die that year. And my mother and the heat, didn't really go together. So I kept pushing my mother to drink ice coffee. She had diabetes so I was like, you can drink coffee, but if it only has one Equal. But then I was telling her to drink her water, stay inside saying, you know, put a rag in the freezer. Everything that I was trying to do to make sure she was okay and I was still going to visit her and one weekend I was going to visit her, but I had a headache. It was a Saturday. So I told her, I was like, 'Mommy, it's extremely hot. I have a horrible headache. I'm going to be there on Monday. Make sure you comb your hair and tie your shoe laces.' Because that was our occupational therapy from me to her. And she was like, I'ma do it. Get that headache together. I'll be here Monday. I'll make sure my shoes are tied and I'll make sure my hair is combed.' That next day I got up early. Like I couldn't sleep. I ran out of food and I went to church at 8:30 service, which I don't ever do. So I was at service then I came in the house and I laid down and went to sleep. My neighbor called me to annoy me about her cable. And I was just like I'm half asleep, I'm not paying no mind to what she's saying because she's annoying and my phone beeped in. And it was the nursing home. So I'm like, 'Hello.' And the lady's like, 'Hello, how are you? My name is so and so, and I'm calling to find out if this is Doris' daughter?' And I'm like, 'Yes, this is her daughter Serita what's going on?' And she's like, I need to know your relationship to her. And I'm like, 'I'm her daughter.' Hello. You just asked me if I was Doris' daughter. But I'm half asleep so my annoyance wasn't too high. It was just like I'm tired and I'm laying in the bed. It's dark in my room, I'm half asleep. She was like, 'I need to talk to you.' She said, 'I really hate that I have to call you about this.' I was like, 'What happened she broke her neck? She broke her leg' Like, this is what I'm thinking because this is the worst for me. 'She broke her arm? She didn't want to take a medication? She's not eating? She's refusing? Did she have an episode? Is it really bad?' I was like, 'Listen, is it broken?' And she said, 'I really hate to have to tell you this. She died 10 minutes ago.'
'And I just jumped out the bed, like somebody threw hot fish grease on me. Like I don't even remember how I jumped up that fast because I was on my feet standing on the bed. And I just remember being so hysterical and I'm screaming and I'm crying. I'm just like, I can't believe this is, this is happening right now, and I go upstairs I'm banging on my landlord's door. His daughter, who I was cool with came to the door. She's trying to figure out like what's going on because I'm screaming. I'm not even saying anything worth understanding. I'm screaming. She's like, "What's going on? What's going on? Serita, I need you to breathe. I need you to talk to me and tell me so I can help you. I don't know.' She thought I was being attacked. She couldn't even figure it out. She finally took my phone. The entire time that I'm doing all this yelling, that lady was still on the phone. I didn't even hang up on her. So the lady told her. And my landlord's daughter said, 'Ok, I'm going to have her call you back once I can get her to at least calm down just a little bit.' She hung up the phone and she was talking to me. And she said, 'Is there anybody that you need me to call?' I couldn't remember any information. I had my phone so I said I'm going to call my aunt. She brought me some water and some tissue. Soon as my aunt answered the phone, I went ballistic. My aunt thought that I was being raped and my phone accidentally called her. So the girl took the phone. She said, 'I'm just going to handle this for you.' After that, I calmed myself down. I finally get myself together. I was like, I'm going to get dressed. So the girl upstairs was like, 'Well, let me know what you need me to take you and I'll take you.' I put my wig on backwards. I forgot to put on underwear. Like this is how much out of whack I was. When I finally got to the nursing home, I just, I was like, 'This is a joke. This is just a joke. My mother wanted me to visit her because I didn't come. She's trying to pay me back.' And I just remember when we stood at her door. I went in the room and my mother was under the covers and I swore Veronica, she was going to jump up and be like, 'Gotcha.' And she didn't. And then after that I was just like, I swear she's gon call me and be like, 'I'm sorry. I played this evil joke on you. And when it came to actually realizing as days went by that this was really gonna happen, I think once I decided to cremate her was when I really realized like I'm never gonna see this woman again in the physical form. And I resented my aunts and my uncle because during that time we were supposed to just be grieving. They wanted to argue. NSNC: About what? She don't deserve-- My uncle said she don't deserve a funeral because she didn't have no friends. My aunt, she was trying to make decisions. My other aunt didn't want to participate because of what my mother did in the past. When I say it was two weeks of hell for me-- I didn't sleep for two weeks. I would doze off here and there and that was it. But I couldn't believe that these are people who were her sisters before she became my mother and they were acting like that. And they didn't have no remorse. At that point I felt like I was having a mental breakdown. I was 27 at the time. I don't know nothing about burying somebody or doing a funeral. I didn't know nothing about that. And I feel like I shouldn't have to. But that's what, this is the position they put me in and her funeral wound up coming together towards the end. But I was so over it and so overwhelmed. And when it got time for me to stand up there and speak, I really let them have it. I was just like, Y'all are disgusting. I was like, this was somebody's friend. She was somebody's sister. She was somebody's aunt and y'all didn't take the time out to support her while she was here. Now y'all want to sit here and cry. Y'all are all full of shit. Because y'all really don't miss her. Y'all really don't feel bad. Y'all really don't feel anything because if you felt that way, you would have been here. But you know who feels bad? Me! Because I was there. So all of y'all can get the hell out this funeral home.' I guess they thought I was playing. 'I was like get out. Y'all don't deserve to pay no respects to her because y'all didn't respect her when she was here.' I just felt like it needed to be said. I even told my sister to get out.
NSNC: How was your sister's relationship with your mother? Non-existant because of my aunt. NSNC: So you mean your aunt would like to speak against your mother to her children? Is that what you're saying? She says she doesn't. But you don't encourage her either. You don't say, 'Go visit your mother, call your mother'. You don't do that. But my sister doesn't do it for me and I'm her sister. She doesn't have a desire to want to pick up the phone and call. You would think I did something to my sister. But this is what they do. My sister hadn't seen my mother in five years and she passed away. And you okay with that? That to me will never be something that I can sit there and say, oh, okay, that's cool. If I didn't know my mother that's a different story but you know her and she's physically here. You could still see her and you choose not to for whatever reason, which it should be no reason. NSNC: Did your sister experience any abuse? She did but she was a baby. NSNC: From her father? Umm hmm. And I just feel like she was young. I'm not saying she couldn't feel how she was supposed to feel but you know, try to work through it and that's why I say I love unconditionally. That's my mother. She's gonna to always be my mother. You only get one. So when you had the opportunity to fix something, fix it. My sister didn't chose to. And my aunt didn't encourage her to either. And it was no apology to them after [I told them to leave the funeral home] because I didn't feel I was wrong. It was worth it. It was like, what am I apologizing to y'all for? The person that y'all should be apologizing to is in an urn upstairs she ain't even gon hear y'all apology because y'all don't even mean it. So it was just like, no. And I just feel bad because they could have helped her. Mentally, physically, and emotionally they could have helped her. They chose not to. And that's the sad part. I wish the knowledge that I have now, I wish I had it then. I was 27. I'm in my twenties. I'm supposed to be living my life. Not saying that I can't take care of my mother. But that's something that my aunts should have been stepping in doing. They didn't want to because they couldn't swallow their pride on something that did not happen to them that they needed to let go, but yet they wanted to act like it was them. You could have sworn it happened to them the way that they were acting. And it didn't. So after her autopsy and after her cremation I took my mom, because I have her ashes, and I went to stay with my best friend at the time. She was living in Pennsylvania. I gave her my phone and I tried to get rest. I slept for two days straight and I'm just tried to get myself together.
It took me four years to get myself together. During that time, one thing that I also was able to recover finding my father. NSNC: Oh really? So I got in contact with my mother's friend, a man she grew up with. I wrote him and I was just like, I need you to help me with finding out who my father is. Is there any information you could give me? And he was like, 'I don't think we want to open that door.' And I was just like, 'Listen, I need to know who he is. I don't care if he's not around or don't want to be around, it's fine.' At first he was like, 'Well, I need you to come visit me and maybe you can talk about it.' I was like, 'I don't know when I'll be able to do that and I need to know now if I need to go look for him, I need to look for him. So I was like, just write me and tell me who he is.' And he wrote me and I thought that he was gon say your father's gay. Never in a million years did I think he was wanting to say I am your father. And that was the second time that I caught the blow to the chest and I just remember getting angry because I was just like 'You could have helped us. You could have helped us.' My aunts said I was kind of wrong for putting that blame on him, but you knew you could have helped us, whether you knew what was going on, you still could have helped. Because you knew your position. My aunt said I was selfish. She said, 'if he could have helped y'all, your sister wouldn't be here.' He still could have helped us out. He could have helped my mother. He could have helped me. If you didn't want to help my mother, if you didn't have a relationship anymore, you could have helped me. I could have had a whole different life, a whole different life outside of what happened to me, if you had just stepped in. And he said, 'Well, your mother made me promise to never tell anybody.' And I just remember saying, 'Damn that! Do you see what I was going through? Do you see what she was going through? If you loved her the way you say you do, you wouldn't have cared about the fact that she promised or you promised her or she promised you or whatever. It wasn't even on a piece of paper. You could have helped her. NSNC: Did you know who he was before you got in contact with him? Yeah he was the guy my mother was dating for a bit. He came home and got locked up. That was him. Everybody else, my aunts were so happy, relieved. My grandmother, his mother, was the only one who felt the same way I felt. She was like, 'Serita could have been happy, different. She would have had a different upbringing had we known she was one of us.' . The unfortunate thing is the only person I do talk to now is my grandmother on my father's side. I don't even speak to my father right now. And I'm trying to work on that. But it was just so many avenues he could have taken if he didn't want the cat to get out of the bag. But who cares?! You almost watched me grow up but you didn't blink an eye. You didn't feel like that's my daughter I need to step in. You didn't do anything. NSNC: Do you think he knew what was going on? I think he knew because my aunt was a social worker and I'm sure she told him. And he has another son and he was in my brother's life. So now there's more injury added to it because you knew. It's just so many things that could have been done to help. I had taken a lot of guilt when I was that young that I could have said something sooner. I waited until my mother left from Virginia to tell my family that was me in the picture. So I had to deal with taking my own guilt. Even though I was told 5,000 times, it wasn't my fault.
The crazy thing about it is the man that molested me, he's dead. He died maybe about six years ago. His daughter reached out to me on Facebook. She was like, 'I know all about you and I know I have a sister.' And I was like 'You can go straight to hell right along with him.' And it's funny because he had a Facebook page and saw the page and I just remember getting so upset with the screen. And I was just like, that was the man that I was scared of as a kid. Like I was terrified of that man. She was like, ' He died of cancer.' I was like, 'That was too easy.' And she said, 'I don't know what your problem is?' I said, 'You're my problem. You're the reason why I'm feeling like this. I wasn't thinking about this man.' NSNC: What was the purpose of her reaching out? I don't get it. To try and tell me he's dead as if I care, I guess. I just remember going to the police and finding out if he was really dead or if this was like something else. So I wanted to make sure that he was dead and you know, the authorities confirmed it. That was a relief. NSNC: Were you ever scared? I was scared that I would be somewhere and I would see him and you know, or he would find out my mother's in a nursing home and go see her. That's what I was scared of. I just didn't want that to happen. But other than that I was okay. I mean I'm surprised that I survived it.
NSNC: How old was your mother and when she passed? 46. NSNC: Oh my God! She died two weeks after her 46th birthday. So that's why it was just...like, my summers will never be the same. I'm always just like, 'Oh gosh.' But as time has gone by, I've learned to celebrate it. You know how people say poor one out for my homies, I just do it with Pepsi.
I just know around her birthday while I was pregnant, it was really hard for me to try to keep a smile on my face. While I was enjoying the pregnant, it was just like, I'm finally pregnant and my mother's not here to see this. But we joked about it. My mother's the type of person when she's excited about something, she will repeat it over and over again. So I said she's in heaven telling everybody that her daughter's pregnant to the point where everybody's sitting, like if they're in the cafeteria and she's like, 'Hey, good morning, my daughter's pregnant.' And the people be like 'We know! Your daughter's pregnant. We get it!' That's the only thing that I miss with my mom now that she didn't get to meet her granddaughter. Unfortunately, my child's father is not in my child's life, so it's hard with her other grandmother. I actually do speak to her grandmother every now and then so I do try. But since her father's not around, it's kind of difficult. But I don't force it. I just hope and pray that he does comes around before it's too late. I feel for me, and this is something no one can take from me, as much as I've been through, I don't feel like I walk around here like I'm gonna end my life or I don't want to be here no more. It's stressful but I don't give up. I didn't give up. I didn't give up with my mother. I didn't give up on how I love life. I'm more protective now with me having a child than when it was just me. And as we speak right now, I will share this with you. I'm staying in a shelter. NSNC: Really?
You would have never known that because I don't walk around here like I go through anything. Though it's tough now, I feel like my rainbow is coming. I feel like my break is coming. I'm gonna be able to, instead of looking at the sun, I'm going to be able to shine like one. And I'll be able to say, you know what? I was there at one point. I'm not there anymore. But this is what I did to get me where I am right now. That's how I would rather see it. And now I'm more cautious of keeping it a hundred percent normal for my child. Doing things with her. It's getting me in tune to make sure that she's comfortable. I mean, even though she's one, she'll be two, but she's very smart and I find myself apologizing to her, telling her 'You know, this is only temporary and mommy's sorry. As you get older, you'll understand. Hopefully you'll understand and you won't hate mommy for the things that mommy did now, the choices that mommy made. I just try to keep it as positive as possible. And it ain't easy. There's little to no support. That's why I said, things have repeated itself. Because l don't speak to my aunt's like that. But I try to go with an open mind that it's not about me anymore. It's about my child. I've become a completely different person and it's because of my daughter and I understand what my mother used to feel for me. You could be a complete stranger and walk up to me and be like, 'Doris Reid never loved you. I wouldn't even turn around twice and give you the time of day. I would be like, 'You're crazy.' She loved me. I mean even through her personal demons. They never. It was never. It never became less. It never became voided. It never became fake. It was always there.
With Serita's permission, we've launched a GoFundMe page to help her and her daughter in getting out of the shelter and securing an apartment of their own. If you'd like to contribute, you can do so here.