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Berdine's Corner

Real Love

by Kenney Dennard

berdine dennard
Berdine Dillard Dennard

Life Lessons from a Matriarch

Throughout most of my life, I never told my mother I loved her and vice versa. In the past, I had heard two of my exes tell their parents they loved them at the end of each telephone conversation. I hadn't grown up doing that and thought it unnecessary. It wasn't that I didn't love my mom, and it wasn't that I didn't think she loved me. I was much closer to my mother than most guys my age that I knew. We just never said it. It was simply understood.

On Thanksgiving Day 2004, my grandmother, Ethel Mae Dillard passed. She was the closest person I’d ever known to die. My extended family was devastated. Months after her death, I found myself on the phone with my mother one late night. I was in New Jersey at the time where I was living, and she was in Macon, GA. She talked to me about her childhood and how hard it had been for her family growing up poor.

Somehow, although I cannot remember how, the subject came up about saying 'I love you.' She said she had never said it to her mother, and her mother had never said it to her, but it didn't bother her at all because it was always understood. Her family just wasn't like that. I joked back that it must have been passed to our generation too because none of us were like that either. I said, "I don't think I remember you ever telling me you loved me." She paused a second. She then said, "Really?" I responded, "Yes."

It was something she had never even realized or thought about. She then asked, "Have you ever thought that maybe I didn't love you?" I responded, "No." She went on to say how much she loved me and my brother and sister. She then went on to say how proud she was of each one of us; regardless of what we had done in our lives, she knew she had raised three fine children that had become three fine adults. She said she never had to worry about our names being dirtied in the streets and she never had to worry about where we were at nights or if either of us were on drugs or alcohol or in serious trouble with the law.

My mom then asked me if I had ever felt any favoritism growing up with my siblings. To that I responded no. She went on about how she loved each one of us in our own way and the love for one never outweighed the love for the other.

We talked a little bit longer. Then we ended our conversation near midnight saying I love you to each other. Even at that point, although it did make me smile, I didn't think about how much that moment meant to me.

I do think many people go overboard with "I Love You," at the end of every conversation. My motto has always been, "If everyday is a sunny day, then what's a sunny day?" If you say or hear it every day, does it mean or feel the same?

Since my mother, Berdine Dennard's death nearly 2 years ago, I've thought back to that moment dozens of times. I can remember the very spot I was in when we talked. I heard Stevie Wonder's song on the radio the other day and it made me think of it again. Those three little words, so short and simple, could mean so much to the person you love. But just as importantly, if not more, as he says in the last verse, "And when one's called from life/ The survived mourn the lost/ And will never be the same/ Yet they rejoice in knowing they gave them their all." Just as I knew and felt my mother's love every day of her life and even after her death, she had to feel mine as well. My entire family was with her to the end, step by step.

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