A letter to my strength: Ma Lillian

Theresa Takafuma
Posted May 11, 2019 from Zimbabwe

Today I can gladly stand among fellow women—and men too—and call myself a strong woman. I am a strong woman because strength is all I have ever known. Strength is what raised me, and strength is you Ma. They say details are what makes a person, but your details did not only make you. They made me and other people as well—I have known no other thing but to forge through life with strength and resolute, making other people's lives better in the process. I have listened to your stories countless times as you narrated how at one point before you even went to first grade your whole family got ill and you, as the second born child had to fetch water and help your ill mother prepare meals, as well as babysit your little brother who later died on your back from a fever and you didn't even know.  You have told me how in fifth grade grandma had to leave you when she got a serious mental illness that caused her to be violent towards her children. I always remember when I asked you about the scar on your right eyelid and you told me how you almost lost your eye during the Zimbabwean liberation war as you tried to hide from the impending danger in the pitch of the night, your surviving little brother on your back. There is that one story that always gives me the strength to go on whenever I'm feeling defeated—when grandpa asked you to drop out of school so that uncle, your younger brother could continue with education. You had a number of siblings and since your elder sister married early, you assumed the position of eldest.  You told me you were in Form Two, and was devastated when your parents made that decision for you thinking this was a good decision assuming you could soon find a husband. You always tell me that deep inside your heart you had made a vow with yourself that you were going to get an education first before you could get a husband because you wanted to take your family out of poverty—you wanted to make your father stop struggling from making a living through thatching people's huts in the village. When grandpa broke the news, you pondered the whole night and the following day you went to the local clinic hoping to be recruited in the Red Cross so that you could get an income to go back to school but to no avail. Your uncle then came looking for a house help, and you jumped at the opportunity as you were about to be the second breadwinner in your family alongside your father who did not get much from the odd jobs he did around the village. Working as a house help at your tender age was not easy, coupled with the fact that it was your first time in an urban setting but you made it through, keeping your earnings in a tin so that you could go back to school. A few years later you went back to school and attained your Ordinary Level, beyond everybody's expectations, making your father proud in the process, also getting closer to your dream of being a nurse. I almost forgot that you met Daddy before going back to school and he offered to help you with the school fees on condition that you get married that year, but you would have none of it and threw his offer right in his face—you had to get an education first. You could not get into nursing school because of the burden at home of taking care of your siblings which included paying for their school fees and general upkeep but that disappointment didn't pull you back.  Daddy finally came and paid the bride-price for you and that same year you had my sister, putting that dream of having a career on ice, and soon afterwards you had me. When you were pregnant with me however, you got a temporary teaching post and soon after my birth, you went into a classroom and started a career that would take all of us through school despite having a husband who could provide for all our basic needs—but your siblings needed you to provide for them because grandpa and grandma could not manage on their own. Mama, you had my brother Talkmore but tragedy struck seven months later; Daddy died in a car accident and you became a widow at only 28 years. Acquiline was five and I was three. You lost everything you and your husband had worked for. They took everything and blamed you for our father's death. They even wanted to take us too, but you clung to us and allowed them have everything on condition that they let you keep us. The pain even made you stronger—a few years later you went and attained a diploma in teaching, all the while taking care of all those who looked up to you with grace. You then decided to remarry. Even though I have always struggled with that decision, you tell me you did it for us; for me and my sister so that we could have a father figure in our lives although it did not turn out for the best. But Ma, I want to tell you this day that I do not know how to thank you for putting our wellbeing first before yours. You endured years and years of physical and emotional abuse in that marriage because you kept insisting that you would never let your children down. You continued being the sole breadwinner and always did your best to give us a hot meal every day in the scathing economic depression with your meagre salary. You gave us three more brothers in that marriage and guess what gets me all the time? You do this sole breadwinner thing with so much grace while at the same time being our emotional pillar. Wait, how do you even do it? Then came the HIV. I remember the very first day you became so ill you could not walk by yourself. It broke my heart, but like you have always taught me, I look into your eyes and I see that fire, that will to live and conquer. After several months of speculating, you finally went for tests and the doctors just confirmed the obvious. The day you broke the news to me, I wept and thought you were going to die, but you became my counsellor, my strength and my assurance that I was not going to be an orphan. I'm still not one to this day because you Mother kicked HIV in the butt! You assured me that some days would be better than others with your condition, and I have lived to see that more than I have ever imagined. I have seen you at your lowest, as HIV ravages your body, and I have seen you rising from the death bed to conquer the world. I sometimes watch you as you sleep and I just smile. Ma, you are the true definition of "When life gives you lemons, make some damn lemonade, get some wine and call everyone to the party."  I knew I would be a woman with her own my mind earlier in life because you know what? You taught me that as long as you still have life in your body, even the sky itself will pave way.  I looked at you today in your pink suit and wedge heels and I just realized how much of you I so want to become. At family gatherings when extended family asks me whose child I am, I am more than glad to announce that I am Lillian's second child—people just know your strength Ma. In most cases, their details are intertwined with yours and that is always my favorite part. You touch lives Ma. Also the way you love people around you and how you want to make their lives better. Those first grade students of yours are very lucky to have you as their teacher because you always know every single one of their stories and try to help whenever you can. Apart from strength, you taught me compassion. You taught me to listen and to believe in the goodness of people. I used to think it is a weakness, but as I grow older I realize it is one of my biggest strengths. Up to this day, I still drink from your fountain of wisdom, knowledge and experience, and you know what? It is like living life with a manual.  On this Mothers' Day, like any other I salute you Ma for your strength. I thank you for admiring my strength even when I thought I am struggling. I always wonder what I would have become if you were not the only parent I've ever known.  Earrings, heels and a watch, yes I will remember to buy your favorite gift combo for you mother like always. Happy Mothers' Day parent! You are a woman I aspire to be.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 9

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Jill Langhus
May 12
May 12

Hi Theresa,

How are you doing? Thanks so much for sharing your lovely tribute to your tough-as-nails, trailblazing, awesome role model of a mother:-) She sounds like a force to be reckoned with... her strong will is definitely seen and admired.

Hope you're having a great Mother's Day, dear.

Theresa Takafuma
May 12
May 12

Hi Jill
Thanks so much for reading. I adore her. I admire her strength so much. She is really an inspiration. Recently she started sourcing stationery and warm clothing for pupils in her infant department at the rural school she is working. She has such a big heart.

Jill Langhus
May 12
May 12

Hello there dear:-)

You're welcome! Yes, it shows:-)

Aw... beautiful!

Lisbeth
May 12
May 12

Your strength is shown in your appreciation. We can see that clear in your story. Thanks for sharing

Theresa Takafuma
May 13
May 13

Thank you for your kind words. Indeed she is a strong woman.

maeann
May 13
May 13

Hi Theresa,
Thanks for sharing about how you have admire your Mother. And how you have realize that she is your biggest strengths. Your Mother deserve a big hug as she also taught you how to listen and believe in the goodness of people... Happy Mother's day to your Mom :)

Theresa Takafuma
May 13
May 13

Thanks for reading my tribute to my dear mother. I love her very much. She is indeed a great woman.

maeann
May 13
May 13

youre welcome... excited to read more of your wonderful stories

Hello, Theresa,

Your mother is indeed an embodiment of strength. Wow, I’m speechless with all the sorrows and suffering she’s been through. But she got her reward for having a daughter like you.

Hugs to you and your mother! Thanks you for sharing!