Friday, May 27

To All the Moms I Ever Loved: Reflections of a Mourning, Queer Black Son

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I am the type of person who marks time with milestones like holidays and graduations. I know that’s not exactly uncommon, but towards my later adolescence, my family went from weekly dinners to only getting together for those types of celebrations. So those moments that our small family came together were very special.

Mother’s Day was always my favorite because we would typically celebrate the matriarchs, as well as my birthday and my nephew’s birthday.

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking about what it would feel like to get together for this first Mother’s Day since my mom’s passing. But what feels unique for me is that I am mourning two mothers – my adoptive mom as well as my biological mom.

On January 14, 2022, my mom Roberta passed away from a series of health complications. In her prime, she was an incredibly fierce woman, with wild curly hair, an ‘on-again, off-again’ relationship with her New Jersey accent, and was the personification of a Jewish mother stereotype. I was her baby boy and I could truly do no wrong, except for when I stopped eating red meat. She supported me in everything I did and was my biggest fan, and I was hers. Our relationship declined over the last six years, but she was really and truly my first best friend.

On February 16, 2022, I learned that Carla, my bio mom, also passed away. I really had no relationship with her beyond the little information I had and even that was made difficult by legal restrictions for adoptees. My half-sister, with whom I became connected back in 2019, had posted the news of her death on her Facebook and I just so happened to idly scroll by it.

So what does it feel like to mourn two women on Mother’s Day, one of whom you only know through a blurry picture from 1989?

It’s complicated. My relationship with my mom had deteriorated to the point that we hadn’t spoken for 18 months leading up to her death. It would be extraordinarily reductive to try to summarize the issues as ‘political differences,’ however being a socially conscious, queer, Black, transracially adopted person raised in the rural-adjacent exurbs of Cleveland made connecting with my family quite difficult over the last six years.

And when it comes to my bio mom, I spent 20-something years not acknowledging that there was this whole person with whom I share a deep connection. As unfounded as it is, like some other adopted people, I felt that somehow wanting to “find” my biological family meant I was unappreciative of the life I had or that the mutual love from my adoptive family somehow was not enough.

But the truth is, I had been “looking” for my bio mom for my whole life. When I started the process of trying to track down my blood family, I found myself scouring the internet for women named Carla with any combination of last names that I was learning about from my connections on an ancestry DNA website. I would zoom in on their faces to see if I could spot any similarities in our bone structure.

I was literally looking for my mom in stranger’s faces.

It was that moment, desperate and sobbing at my kitchen table, that I realized I had been collecting maternal figures for my whole life. Not necessarily in the unbalanced, emotional labor kind of way. But in the way that we all seek others to fill roles in our lives. Strong women and femmes that nurtured me, made me feel safe and loved, and helped me grow. Seeking their approval and hoping that they would empower me to see and fix the underdeveloped parts of myself. Teaching me about self-love, liberation, and abundance of spirit. Literally guiding me through the treacherous waters of existing in this body, in this skin, and in this world.

So I return back to my original question – what does it feel like to prepare for this first Mother’s Day without Roberta and Carla?

Well, I feel compelled to use an analogy. To this day, one of my favorite sensory experiences is floating in a pool when it’s gently raining. Something about the cognitive dissonance of feeling the water around me while also feeling each individual rain drop on my skin brings about a certain experience of mindfulness.

That’s what it feels like.

Every memory, every commercial, every social media post is like a rain drop – a reminder that the women that made me, figuratively and metaphorically, are no longer Earth-side. But I am simultaneously submerged in maternal love; every day, women like Meredith, Phyllis, Terra, Tanisha, Karyn, Lorraine and Estelle act as the air in my lungs, keeping my head above water.

I feel like I am floating.

I am sad, I am loved, and I am floating. 🔥

About Author

Ryan Clopton-Zymler is an activist, educator, emcee and advocate from Cleveland, Ohio. They are a co-founder and consultant of Sage & Maven, LLC a for-profit consultancy that focuses on leadership and social justice. They are also a rotating host for area drag and burlesque shows and in their spare time, they read comics, lift weights, and compliment random dogs. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter at @callmercz

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1 Comment

  1. This is a very beautiful piece, Ryan. I am glad you are at peace and embracing all the mothers in your life. We all have many more than one
    to celebrate, hopefully more than one day a year.

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