On July 15th of 2009, my mother (Yvonne Rice) passed away suddenly after years of battling several types of cancer. Her heart gave out. I was 16 and the event added another layer of shit to my shit childhood (the full story will be in my memoirs, so stay tuned). It has now been 13 years of living without my mother. Sidebar, my father was not in the picture and is not a great person, so this was a single mom situation.
Anywho, over the past 13 years, I have bloomed into the rainbow-colored firework that I am! However, this yellow brick road was filled with lessons that would make Dorothy herself want to throw buckets of water. So, naturally, I want to share those lessons in the hope that they might help even half of a fraction of the world.
Lesson 1: They lied, “it gets better” is not 100% accurate.
To take a page out of Catie Turner’s book with her bop Gets Better, the following lyrics summarize what I am about to say:
They say it gets better
Damn it’s taking forever
Spoiler alert! Do I feel better about my mom leaving earth too early? NO! I think that one would say/think in time grief gets better, but it does not for me. I can cope, yes, but overall the pain is still very real. Better in time? No, but maybe more manageable in time, maybe. Yet, there are times that I think I have the guide to it all, then at a drop of a house, I am sobbing in the shower. This leads me to lesson 2.
Lesson 2: Grief sneaks up on you without warning, just like that girl from high school that wants you to join her cult….I mean pyramid scheme….I mean multilevel marketing opportunity #girlboss.
Again, I can prepare myself for birthdays, Mother’s Day, and for July 15th, but grief knows the backdoors to your trauma. I handled Mother’s Day 2022 like a champ, only cried once, and held it together. Fast forward to about a month ago when my husband introduced a new candle into the Rice Household. The smell hit me and reminded me of my mom. I had to remove myself from standing directly above said candle to ensure that the tears flowing down my face didn’t put out the flames.
Lesson 3: When it comes to humor, make it dark!
We all deal with our trauma in a variety of ways, I just so happen to like to use humor. When it comes to being an orphan, the humor used tends to get dark. Whether it be a group discussion on how mothers never call their children and I reply with, “Yeah, my mom never picks up the phone to chat, rude” or simply joking about being in a secret “Dead Parents Club”, my humor shines.
Lesson 4: Make like Dorothy and find a solid support group.
I am so lucky to have a great core group of folks that know me inside and out. It took time, but I understand now that you do not have to do it all on your own! Find those loved ones to skip with you down the road.
Especially if you can find those who have been in your shoes. AKA The Dead Parents Club! They will pick up what you're putting down and can connect with you on such a deep level.
Lesson 5: Not everyone knows all of your truth, so don’t hate.
It is only natural while meeting new people in life that they ask a standard set of ice-breaking questions. What do you do for work? Are you single? Does your family/parents live here? My mom lives way too far away and I’m not talking about Canada.
Humans do not come with a brief bio including answers to the questions above, so there have been many times that new people in my life ask about my parents. Then I have to bring the mood down by breaking the news that I am parentless. The natural response to this is “OH! I am so sorry to hear that”. At times I want to hit them back with, “Why are you sorry! Do you know something? Did you kill my mom?!”, but that would just further the awkwardness.
You can’t hold these folks at fault for not knowing or not knowing the right thing to say. It’s okay, death is such a strange topic, without a rule book. It’s not like after learning the alphabet, teachers gave a lesson on talking about dead people.
Lesson 6: Pull a reverse Destiny’s Child and say THEIR name.
One of my fears is that my mother will be forgotten. One way to prevent that is to say her name. Yvonne Salena Rice was such an important and beautiful soul. Where are my Buffy fans? (If not, ew.) MAJOR SPOILER ALERT AHEAD, you've been warned…
In Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy’s mom (Joyce Summers) suddenly dies. I could talk about how there are layers to this that make this every more heartbreak. Such as the fact that Buffy spent the better of 4.5 seasons fighting off literal evil to protect the ones she loved and in the end, a human condition took her mother’s life.
Sarah Michelle Gellar did THAT when she acted her ass off in the episode (The Body). At one point Buffy is on the phone with emergency services and they asked about “the body” and Buffy was not having it. She corrected them by letting them know it was not a body, but her mother.
This still strikes a steak right into my heart. I didn’t just lose “a mom” I lost Yvonne Rice, a mother, lover, and fighter.
Lesson 7: Entertainment hits differently, so I am basically a Disney Princess.
Speaking of great shows/entertainment, one thing I have seen is that when it comes to watching shows/movies, reading, or hearing songs, they can take on a heavy meaning. Did I cry in the middle of the movie theater when Into the Woods started talking/singing about dead moms, yes, and in a very ugly way? Yes, very much so.
Moments in songs, films, and literature take more on my heart than before my mom passed. I relate more to the Baudelaire children in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events now than when I first read them pre mom death. Side note, great series to help children get a glimpse of death and gloom in the world.
Also, just about every Disney Princess movie has dead parents. Fierce, sings a lot, can pull off a crown, and an orphan…that’s me! Bow down.
Lesson 8: Feel the feels and cry it out.
When my mother first passed, I took a few weeks to cry it out and then push all the emotional damage down (just like the rest of my childhood issues). Then a year and some change into college, I went to call my mom.
Just like when Buffy (later in the episode) cried out not to move the body, the realization that mom can’t come to the phone right now (why? Oh, ‘cause she's dead) slap me in the face harder than a Bella Twin could.
I had a bit of a breakdown and that was not healthy. Let the emotions in and take your time to do what is best for you. Pushing it all away did me no favors. It’s just a bandage on a snapped leg (or heart I guess).
Lesson 9: Have your Oprah moment with professional help when needed.
Full disclosure, this lesson took me until my late 20’s to learn. When feeling the feelings and crying it out gets to be too much, get professional help! Growing up uber poor and with the mentality of “wE ARe aLl SaD sOMEtimEs, gEt OVEr iT”, there wasn’t much therapy talk.
Now there are so many resources out there for your mental wellbeing. You can talk to a therapist on video chat while at home in your pajamas. THIS IS THE FUTURE! Along with someone to talk to, I also took up medication. Again, something I was not a fan of at first, but remember what I said at the start of this, you do not have to do it all on your own.
Lesson 10: Don’t hold on to guilt, it’s not healthy or cute.
For years I held this guilt surrounding my mom’s death. Told myself I should have been there and that I should have done more with our time together. Well, guess what Steven and friends, we have ZERO control over the past. Why fret about what you could have done when you can make such a beautiful path for the future?
Lesson 11: Keep their story going, girl!
Mom lives in my heart and soul, but also through the stories I share about her. Hints why I share them a lot. Like the time she was in the middle of chemotherapy and it happened to be the same time as the annual book fair at school.
I was (still am in a way) a huge nerd and loved to read. During class, students circled their top picks for what they wanted at the book fair. I went along with it and then tossed the catalog to the side at home, knowing damn well there was no spare money for books.
Then in the middle of class one day mom surprised me with books off my list (including Lemony Snicket) and I was over the rainbow with joy. I won’t go into the ass hole kids than asking all the questions on why my mom had barely any hair and had a funny-looking machine around her waist.
I share this story often as it reflects on how my mother has always been my angel.
Lesson 12: Look over there (for signs from beyond)!
I know that not everyone is as sentimental and corny as I am, but I love to look for signs that loved ones who have passed are still keeping tabs on me. Like that damn candle! One big thing I look forward to is my dreams.
I am convinced that in Dreamland, passed loved ones have an annual pass to come to visit us. I have countless dreams that my mom comes back into my life and at first, I question everything. Like girl, you died. Yet, mom and others in the dream continue like nothing bad happened in the first place. So I move on too! I do admit, at times, waking up sucks due to wanting more time with mom.
Lesson 13: Remember them how you want and see fit.
Years ago, Mindy Kaling gave an interview where she talked about her late mother. She hit on the fact that she doesn’t post many photos on her Instagram of her mother due to not wanting any online trolls tarnishing her memory.
“When someone is so special to you and you don’t want anything to harm the memory of them or anything, she becomes very private. But, I also want the whole world to know about her".
Mindy crushed it by saying that. So, if you do not see fit to post on social media about your late loved ones, you don’t have to. There is no right or wrong way of celebrating my mom. If I look deep inside, I know what she would like. For example, at her funeral, the four of us kids work colors. Mom would have reminded us we are not The Addams Family if we showed up in all black.
Damn, 13 years and 13 lessons. I hope you got something out of this, but if anything, you now know a fraction about the legendary Yvonne Rice! Stay safe out there. Happy Angelversary mom.
In Loving Memory of
Yvonne Salena Rice
1962 to 2009