The Black Cancer Podcast
Episode 4: I’m Not Afraid of Losing Something Now (with Sharon Eldridge)
Transcribed by: Kisa Nishimoto, Eryn Strong, Elizabeth Jarvie, and Hannah Rosentreter
Running time: 62:21
Sharon: And I think that the groundwork of my mom’s passing and losing that most important person in my life, that was the groundwork for this second wave when I was old enough to be ready to be that person I needed to be. Be that, more courageous person honestly I needed to be. The groundwork was laid. So when that happened, it was like, all came together and then I became much…I think, I’m a more confident person. I’m more outspoken. I’ve become – for the first time in my life, I was called an “angry Black woman” on Instagram [Jodi-Ann: chuckles] from the Instagram comments. [Jodi-Ann: You’re like, “I’m here.”] And I’d never been called that before. [Jodi-Ann: Like, YES – I’ve arrived!] Yes, exactly! *both laugh*
[Music fades in, then fades out]
Jodi-Ann [as host]: Welcome to Black Cancer. I’m your host Jodi-Ann. Our guest on today’s episode is Sharon Eldridge who lost her mother and her grandmother to cancer when they were both in their 50s. We chat about the ways to approach life with a looming fear that cancer may find you on your path. Sharon and I talk a lot about who she was and the decisions that she made during her mother’s cancer journey. We explore what it means to just do the best with the information that you have at the time. Trauma and loss – that’s also information, you know. And after going through her journey, Sharon years later, has used that information to step into her own power. Showing up differently for herself as she enters a new phase in her own life. I will say it was a joy speaking to Sharon: a person who just found the Black cancer podcast on the internet months ago, way before I had anything going on. All I had was a domain and Instagram page. *chuckle* And she reached out to join this project. I’m so grateful to her, her story and her gorgeous cats who jumped in and around the closet where Sharon recorded this conversation with me.
Public service announcement! Don’t forget to stay for the post show after the credits. Sharon and I speak about her mother’s name, why she didn’t share it and the ways we relate to those who have passed on. Here’s my conversation with Sharon.
[Music fades in, then fades out]
Jodi-Ann: Hi, Sharon, welcome to Black Cancer.
Sharon: Thank you, Jodi-Ann. Good to be here.
Jodi-Ann: It’s-it’s really great to chat with you today and dig in a little bit more into your experience with cancer. I’d love for you to share a little bit more about your mother. What was your relationship like? Who was she, is she to you?
Sharon: My mother and I were really close. I was an only child and my mother really doted on me. She maybe kind of spoiled me a bit. She really made it clear throughout my childhood, even through college, that I mattered so much to her. She told me she loved me all the time. She sent me care packages in college. She was always there. I could always talk to her. I could talk to her about anything. We could just chill and watch TV together. We would go – she loved shopping – we would go shopping together. She just like, wore her feelings for me on, on her sleeve and made it clear that I was maybe the most important person in the world to her. And always made me feel loved. Yeah, that’s who my mom was. And she loved other people, too. She cared about other people. She was a social worker and her co-workers loved her. And students she worked with loved her and loved her. She’s a really lovable person.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. Did you feel that at the time? ‘Cause sometimes when I think back in my childhood, I see my mom a certain way. And then I try to put myself *chuckle* into like, the 10 year old, 15 year old version of myself – and I don’t know if I experienced her that way. What was your perspective of her, kind of at that time in your, you know, teenage years? Your early 20s?
Sharon: I think I took her completely for granted. Like, yeah, just my mom, she loves me and she’s all about me. Like, she’s like my biggest fan. Like, yeah, it’s what it is. Of course, and like naturally. And of course, and she’ll always be here – obviously I also thought that. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.]
But yeah, she was so… I could lean into that love and that support all the time, and I definitely took it for granted. And I don’t – I showed it back as well, like at times, but again, looking back not as much as I wish I had. I never – like as a kid, often you don’t appreciate that love as something not guaranteed. Maybe not always there. You just have it and you think that’s normal and expected? And I…yeah. Looking back, I wish I had been like, thanked her more? I guess been more, been more appreciative. And thanked her more for all she did for me.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. And then it’s like, at the same time, you’re a teenager, *laughs* you know? [Sharon: Yeah. *chuckles*] When I studied Adolescent Health development, and when I think back to my relationship with my mom during that time, and, you know, similar to what you’re saying – taking them for granted, you know, not really showing up for them in the way that they’re showing up for you. I’m just like, Ah, yeah, that’s developmentally appropriate. *both chuckle*
Sharon: That’s reassuring. Okay, good.
Jodi-Ann: Like, uh, it checks out. I feel like shit about it, but ‘mmm the science tells me maybe that’s okay. *laughs*
Sharon: That is so reassuring. *chuckle*
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. And so, you know, as we think about your teenage years and your early 20s, can you describe a little bit of, of your life? And who you were before your mom’s diagnosis?
Sharon: Oh, yeah. So, um, yeah I finished college when I was 21, moved to Los Angeles to try and make it in TV. And was just kind of trying to build my life, build my career, make my way out there. I was very focused on myself. I mean in college – you’re saying like, college through early 20s – just yeah, very focused on myself. Getting…finishing school, doing all my – getting all my projects done, and like, what’s my future hold? What am I going to do in my future. And like, really focused on-on myself. And it was, you know, stressful. And like so many choices to make and paths to take and with what I do? But also really exciting. It was a really exciting time. And I’ve pretty much my whole life been unattached, not had a significant other, not even – don’t even have siblings. So all my choices were just for me. Like I didn’t have to plan around anybody else. There was no like, a sibling, sort of peer situation where I was like, told to go somewhere my sibling was. It was just me. And I knew my parents would support me wherever I went, whatever I wanted to do. So yeah, my life was very much about myself, at that time. I was focused on my future and making my path.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. And then it all kind of, gets disrupted when you hear about her diagnosis.
Sharon: Yeah. I remember I was, I was on the phone. It was probably a corded phone since 19-, no, it was April 2000. And I was in my apartment in LA. I think I still sleeping on the floor. I didn’t have a bed yet. [Jodi-Ann: Wow.]
Yeah. And I was on the phone with – like both my parents called me together, which I should, that should have clued me because they’d never do that. And, I think my dad was the one who said it, “You know, your mom has stage four colon cancer.” And I was like, Okay. Okay. She’d had breast cancer 10 years before. And, she had surgery, partial mastectomy, radiation, chemo, and she beat it. So I thought, cancer is something that you can – you can beat. And I did not know what stage four meant. I did not know what it was. And that’s like the critical piece of information I’m realizing my dad… maybe thought I had? But I didn’t have. I was 23…22, 23 years old – yeah, I was 22 at the time. And I didn’t know enough about cancer to know what this – know about stages. And this is before Google and I couldn’t Google that. *deep inhale*
So I thought for a long, for a while, Okay, she has cancer – let me make sure I go back home. Like her birthday was in June, so I’ll go back home in June. I think I went home in June, August, and then October, something like that. I went home every two months. Just to make sure they knew I was, you know, to see my mom kind of just in case this was going to be a big thing. To help out as I could and to show up for her. But never thinking I need to go back because these are the last few times I’m going to see her alive. I never thought that. But a little part of me was like, maybe it was a just in case sort of thing?
So I thought, This is…okay. This is hard, but like we’ll, we’ll get through this. When they told me my thought was, This is hard. We’ll get through it. This is not a death sentence. It’ll be okay. I’ll just make sure I visit her a lot. That was my, my thought process.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. Which makes sense because you know, working backwards, she had already beat breast cancer 10 years prior. So you’re 12, 13?
Sharon: Yeah. I was like 12.
Jodi-Ann: Was that your first experience with someone in your family having cancer at that time?
Sharon: Actually, no. Right – like a year or so before that my grandmother had stomach cancer. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm. ] At like, Spring – wait, oh, was it the same year? Wow. I was, I was in sixth grade. I think it might have been ’89. That might have been the same year. My grandmother also was diagnosed. I think it was, it was months between diagnosis and when she died. And it might have even been that same year, or at least within the year, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] Might have been a few months later. I’m not, not positive. Yeah. So really, yeah, I had that really recent experience with my grandmother.
Jodi-Ann: That’s a lot at 12. [Sharon: Yeah.] And so your grandmother passes quickly. Your mom goes through treatment for breast cancer, survives…and, you know, you – in your teenage, you go to college and you kind of move forward. And yeah, I’m just like, as I’m listening to this story, I’m trying to put myself in that situation. It’s just like yeah, 20’s alright girl, you got breast – Oh, you got colon cancer, we got this, you know? [Sharon: Yeah.] You got this, we got this, we’re gonna do this. So I – that mentality is just – I can see it playing out. Can you share a little bit about you getting the news and up until the time when she passed? What was that experience like for you? You know, in your relationship with her and and more specifically, like, how did you then realize that: Oh, she might not beat this?
Sharon: Um, so I think I stayed in pretty good touch with them by phone. I would check in with her and stuff. But I was working at the time. I was a script coordinator on Felicity, not to brag or anything. *chuckle* [Jodi-Ann: Yas!] Right, right? Very intense job, crazy hours. And so I was very focused on-on work. I was stayed really busy, saw friends, focused on work and kept in good touch with, with my mom and my dad, I think at that time. And then again, plans trips like every two months to see her. I came to see her in June. She was kind of – she was doing okay. That was the time that my aunt was also there visiting her. We both went to her chemo appointment with her. Um, just spent time together. And then, I’d go, go back home. Or, you know, go back to Los Angeles and work, and go visit her and felt like this is okay.
And she would have kind of ups and downs during that. She had times where she was – maybe end up in the hospital…I think that would happen, yeah, when I wasn’t there for any of those times. But I would get the reports she had been in the hospital. Or, you know, cancer has spread to her liver. She had surgery at some point. So, she was definitely on a roller coaster. Her progress was definitely a roller coaster of ups and downs. Um, she was diagnosed in April and in September, she was talking about going back to work. Like, she was feeling good, she had that surgery, she thought things were pretty under control. And I was like, Great, she is gonna beat this. This is going to be like, Sweet, is what I hoped and thought and here we are. Just like the breast cancer, she’s-she’s beating this. So this rough road for her, but she seemed to be like, rising on it. Coming up, coming out on top. And then, then I got a late night phone call from my dad in October – almost, it was almost Halloween. And saying that, “Your mom took a downturn and she’s not going to come back from it.” And then I went home. I went home like two days later. And was home ‘til she passed away. Through-through the funeral and everything, I was home for 10 days. So all of that between that phone call, and her dying was like 12 days.
Jodi-Ann: Wow. *deep exhale*…Can you – when we spoke before, um, you’ve mentioned that airport story.
Sharon: I think it was in June when my aunt was also there visiting helping take care of my mom. Also, I felt again, like I was like 23 – and I, I guess I could have been of more use, but I was there just visiting. My aunt was there actually taking care of my mom. [Jodi-Ann:Yeah.] I was like, Well, I have my life. I can’t put my life on hold. But my aunt did that for my mom. But she – anyway, I can’t…I’m not going to feel guilty about that. I feel bad about it now, but I was 23 and was not helpful. Showing up and not really being helpful.
Anyway, so my, my mom hugs me goodbye. My dad’s about to take me to the airport. And I leave out the door. And, I realized I’d forgotten something. So I come back in and I see my, my mom hugging – holding my aunt, my aunt holding my mom and my mom crying. And my mom hadn’t been crying when I left, like we’re, you know, was like, sad to see me go, but we were saying positive things. It was loving bullet exchange, but you know, we weren’t a mess. And then I – when I came back in, when she knew I – when I wasn’t there anymore, I feel like I saw her kind of let go and break down and my aunt was holding her, so…and I didn’t know if she was crying because she missed me, wished-wished I could stay longer or she didn’t know when she’d see me again. Or if she’d see me again. I don’t know what exactly the tears were. But, it broke my heart and it felt like I’m seeing that vulnerability in my mom that I had not been seeing. Because she was pretty strong. She was not like a tough person, but she was very strong. She could endure so many things and face so many things at work, in her personal life, in her health. I just saw her – She soldiered through so many things, she was very strong. And to see her sort of breakdown like that was…a little bit alarming. *voice faltering* Like it-it just, I’m so tender just talking about that. ‘Cause I wasn’t supposed to see that. That was her moment with my aunt. I was not supposed to see that. So that felt…kind of weird.
And then, I think that was June, and then this is probably September? I was at work – my neighbor, who I didn’t know had my phone number, like, found my phone number. She called me – and her mother had, had died of cancer some years earlier, [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] I might have found this out later – and she’d been helping take care of my mom and helping my parents and checking in and stuff. She called me, and I can’t remember her exact words, and it was just the most, um, not nosy neighbor at all. Like, truly helpful and not like, butting in. And not trying to control anything, and not being like, “Well, they…” Not shaming them for anything, but saying, “I just need – I want to make sure you know how serious this is. And I’m not sure your parents have told you. And I want to make sure you know so you don’t have any regrets. You can make your decisions accordingly, but like your mom is not in the best-is not in good shape. Like, things are,” – whatever she said – “things are, things are serious.” And I was like, “Okay, okay,” and I immediately called my mom and I was like, “yeah, what’s really, what’s really up?” And she started crying and-and saying, “We didn’t wanna worry you.” I can’t remember all that was said. But it just, I feel like truths got told, like things, like barriers were broken down. And I was really grateful for that. I think that helped prepare me for that late night phone call I got from my dad.
Jodi-Ann: So do you feel like you’ve reconciled with, you know – here are the tools, here’s the perspective, here’s who you were then – and looking back on that now, have you reconciled? Or how do you think about how you handled it at that time?
Sharon: I try to have grace for myself from back then. I think I handled it as well as I could with the information that I had. But I also know I had an unwillingness to drop what I was doing, to leave my job, take a leave of absence, to do whatever, like, that was not a question for me. And for some other children that might have been like, “Ope, well like, I’m not gonna live in LA now,” or “I’m just gonna put this on hold. I need to like, quit my job and move back home.”
Some other people even at my age might have done that, and I did not choose to do that and that feels selfish to me, and I’m not proud that I did that. And I think it’s also the industry – the industry I was working in – I was working in television. And you leave a job in television, you may, if you want to come back, you may not be able to. Like, it’s just, it’s so competitive. And so I worked my way in there, and I- I’m sure I knew deep down if I left, I wouldn’t be able to-I might not be able to come back. Or I didn’t trust I’d be able to come back. And I’d been there less than a year at that point. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] No, I’d been-oh that’s right, I’d been there 10 months when they called me about her diagnosis. Yeah, so I’d been there, yeah, less than a year.
I didn’t think that she would pass away. If I had known that she was going to die – that she had terminal cancer and she had six months to live – I might have made a different choice, but because I thought she would make it, I thought she’d beat it, I-I made the choice that I made, again, with that information that I had.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. What did your mom do when her mom was, when her mom was going through her thing? You know?
Sharon: I’m trying to remember. They had a complicated relationship. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.]
My grandmother was 16 when she had my mom, and she was not the most mature person, even like, as an adult, not the most mature person and they had kind of a tumultuous relationship. And my grandmother would ask my mom for money and my, my mom didn’t feel like my grandmother respected her. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] And she had a lot of resentment for that. But, I think when my grandmother got, became ill, my mom wanted to show up and take care of her. In fact, like it was like, spring break of sixth grade, my mom and I – my grandma lived in Huntsville – and they, she had, she lived in a condo my parents bought for her. And my mom and I were staying in the condo taking care of my grandmother in those last days or weeks, I think it was a couple weeks. So my grandma, my mother was very dutiful to her mom when her mom was sick. And I think, yeah, wanted to show up, wanted to have that time, I mean, prob-sadly, fortunately, probably more pleasant in a way, ‘cause my grandmother wasn’t talking that much. [Jodi-Ann: chuckles] Like, could not talk that much, and so they could not fight. *laughs* They really couldn’t fight. *both chuckle* [Jodi-Ann: Ohh, this is wonderful! We’re not fighting at all.] *both laugh*
Sharon: “You’re finally docile, and you can listen to me for a change,” is probably what my mom is thinking a little bit. I mean, sad to lose her but, [Jodi-Ann: I know.] you know, they didn’t have this nurturing, great relationship, but my mother showed up for her, took care of her in the end. And they love each other. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] It was, it was a, like, a dysfunctional, fairly dysfunctional relationship.
And my grandmother – this also plays into my thinking of my prospects, for my mom’s prospects of cancers – my-my grandmother, smoked, maybe her entire life and used Sweet’N Low which is proven to cause, I think cancer in laboratory rats, or whatever it means, saccharin. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] So, we thought, of course she got cancer. And it’s, and because her body was so polluted by the smoking and the saccharin, she wasn’t gonna have a lot of defenses to fight it.
Whereas my mom, is pretty healthy person her whole life, for the most part. And so I thought in each of these cancers, it made sense for her to beat both of them because she’s otherwise really healthy. She doesn’t really abuse her body, she doesn’t smoke, she doesn’t have these risk factors. So she should be fine. Like, another difference between my-my mom’s cancer, my grandmother’s cancer to me, and probably to my mom as well.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah. So when you think about your grandmother’s story – who’s really different than your mom’s story – how does that impact you? How do you even see your own health and your mortality and, you know, even just like your health more broadly?
Sharon: It’s interesting because my, my mother grew up partly with her aunt. My grandmother lived with her sister and her sister’s family when my mom was really little. And her sister’s older, has a daughter who smokes. Both of them: picture of health. All grew up in Huntsville, Alabama.
And I think that there – I mean I dunno if they’ve done studies on this, but there’s a lot of risk factors for people who-Black folks who grew up in the South at these times because they sometimes lived in areas that were more polluted. I feel like it was nuclear pollution in that area? I know very little bit-bit about this but, there’s, you know, one strain of the family riddled by cancer. Another strain, came from the same place are totally healthy, even though one of them smokes.
And one thing my mother and my grandmother had in common with their cancer was that they’re both very young. They’re both in their 50s, late 50s when they got it. And for myself, I think, Well both of them were born in Huntsville, so they have the risk factors that come from being Black woman in segregated Huntsville, Alabama, so I don’t have that going for me. I don’t smoke.
My mom drank for a bit she had like a, I would describe it as a minor and short lived alcoholism issue or alcoholism period. I don’t abuse alcohol. I drink sometimes. I grew up in Virginia, then I was in Los Angeles and Portland, I feel like I’ve lived in healthier environments for my body than they did and I have better habits.
But I just wonder how much is genetic because again, this didn’t touch the other, the other sister and her progeny. It didn’t touch them, this cancer. Cancer has never touched that strain of the family. But for some reason, it’s gone through this line. And so, I almost feel like I’m next. I see it coming my way like, this one? This one is going to hit me next. Part of me thinks that way sometimes. And then I wonder if it’s gonna hit me in my 50s, ‘cause it got both of them in their 50s. But yeah, I don’t. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Big question.
Jodi-Ann: How do you cope with that? Like you described it, you know, to me earlier as having this lasting fear of getting cancer? What does is it like to live with that?
Sharon: I compartmentalize and don’t think of it *chuckles* [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] most the time. But some-something’s you’ll never catch me doing, like, microwaving in plastic? I will never do that. I’ve voiced-I know they say you’re not supposed to any, no one is supposed to stand in front of the microwave when it’s on, but I especially make sure I’m like, trying to make sure I’m nowhere near it.
So, I just try to do little lifestyle things that will decrease my general risk of cancer. I try to drink water, I try to eat vegetables, I try to exercise, I try to, try to keep my body healthy and stay away from what are to me, like, obvious risk factors. Also, like sweet-artificial sweeteners, like I don’t use toothpaste with artificial sweeteners. So, all like the plastics, the sweeteners, all that stuff I try to religiously stay away from and then otherwise just try to keep my body healthy. And then I just don’t think about it. *chuckles* [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] That’s how I, that’s how I cope. Compartmentalize.
Jodi-Ann: I, listen – I hear that. And, but, you know what, just to, like on the flip side of that, right, like when I got my diagnosis, I was so mad. [Sharon: Mmm.] And I remember in the doctor’s office, I was like, “I was vegan for four years. I’ve run marathons. I do,” like and I’m listing all of these things that makes-makes my body healthy. [Sharon: Yeah.] And I kept sayin’ like, “and me? Me? You’re talking to me about being paralyzed ‘cause of a tumor?”
I was, I was, I don’t want to say enraged. But I think what shattered in my head is that life is about cause and effect. [Sharon: Yeah. Yeah.] Sometimes some shit just happens. I, after that outburst that I had in the office, I just kind of released myself, and like wanting to protect myself in a way that Did I-did I do something wrong? Like, did I-I make this happen? Is it my fault? And I was just like, Fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes shit happens. And I just didn’t want to, in my brain, like come up with cause and effect.
Sharon: You said there probably wasn’t your case.
Jodi-Ann: And just like sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s not. And it can be maddening, trying to figure it out, you know. [Sharon: Mmhmm.] And so like, you know, I too also have this lasting like, just kind of fear of cancer, getting cancer again, that kind of runs in the back of my head, like, Oh, something hurts right here. I have cancer. *chuckles* But, and the way I, the way I rationalize it is, as someone who has a high engagement with the healthcare system, because of my history, I will probably have a cancer diagnosis again, because I’m more monitored than someone who never goes to the doctor. *chuckle* Sharon: Mmmmm.]
Like when they think about your story, like because of your mom because of your grandmother, you have, or maybe have, a higher engagement with the healthcare system or think about it differently than other people.
Sharon: A little bit, Yeah. Yeah, I had to be screened. I had to get a colonoscopy earlier than most people. And then a mammogram earlier than most people because of the family history.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah.That’s why sometimes it’s important to, I don’t know, it’s hard, like, sometimes you want to run away from these things. [Sharon: Mmhmm.] And sometimes you have to actually run towards it to help protect yourself in some way. I don’t know.
Sharon: Yeah. And what you’re saying about cause and effect is making me think like I-I feel like I made an agreement with myself that I want to increase my likelihood of not getting it, but I know I can’t prevent it by anything I do. [Jodi-Ann: Mmmm.] I can’t necessarily prevent it. And so I’ve made this agreement like, here’re the things I’ll do: avoid, you know, microwaving plastics, avoid the sweeteners, and like some, you know, random things, and I’ll generally keep my, try to keep my body healthy.
That’s all I’m doing. I’m not going to try to kill myself to not get cancer. I’m not going to try to cut out-so I’m not gonna cut sugar. I know sugar is a tox- [Jodi-Ann: Yeah. *chuckles*] that quote unquote toxin,*chuckles* I get too much enjoyment from it. So I still want to live. I still want to enjoy foods. I want to enjoy activities. I want to imbibe. I want to have wine, beer like, celebrate. I want to live more or less normally and not sacrifice so much. Because then if I were to sacrifice all this stuff and then still get cancer, I’d be pissed. Like you were pissed.
Jodi-Ann: Yeah, it’s like, Damn, I could have just been sitting at home watching TV, [Sharon: laughs] not running all these damn marathons. *both laugh* And so the way that doctors rationalize it for me, and I hear it somewhat in your story as well, is that you know, it’s because you’ve done all these things that you can, your body’s more prepared to manage, to manage it. [Sharon: There you go.] Because you’re strong quote, unquote, like air quotes here, but physically strong, like I created a strong body, [Sharon: Yeah.] the damage that the surgery does to my spine and the-the paralysis that I’m facing, I can manage it better than if I was unhealthy. [Sharon: I think that’s really true.] And in your situation too like, okay, I want to have just a clean body. [Sharon: Mmhmm.] Right? And if something happens, maybe I’m better prepared to manage it, but at least you’re just at least trying to like set yourself up and what you can control. [Sharon:Yes.] And that seems just very mentally healthy *both chuckle* in general. Here’s my lane. I’m gonna do these things. *laughs* [Sharon: Yes, yes.]
Sharon: I also feel like, just respect for our bodies is important. It’s a struggle sometimes, especially if we feel like our body has betrayed us. I don’t know if that’s what you feel or not. But I know that some people feel like it for various reasons, for various ways, their bodies have betrayed them. But, like, having a relationship with your body can be important in combating disease, maybe in fending it off sometimes to an extent, and in combating it, to have the integration between your mind and your body. ‘Cause I think people who abuse their bodies because they don’t really see their bodies or respect their bodies, that-that I think bodies can become breeding grounds for disease and it’s hard to combat them because there’s not that-that agreement with your body to fight together [Jodi-Ann: Mmmm.] or whatnot.
But I try to have that. I don’t know if my mom had that. I don’t know if my grandmother had that. I am doubting my grandmother had that, but I don’t know. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And again, she died when I was 11 so I really didn’t get a chance to know her very well. We were not, we’re not close. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] So I’m trying to cultivate that. And I try to work with my body but then I feel like if I am in touch with my body and then if I do get cancer, I’d be like, What, why what happened?! [Jodi-Ann: What, we talked about this? *laughs*] You failed me! We had an agreement! I was treating you well, I was respecting you, how could you get this? It’d be a struggle, but maybe a different kind of struggle if that happened?
Jodi-Ann: No, I totally hear that, I was like, Ah, we talked about this, what’s going on here? *both chuckle* But you know what I think about what you’re saying around this mind body connection too, it’s also of where-where we put trauma [Sharon: Mmmm.] and how trauma shows up mentally, how it shows up in our body [Sharon: Yeah.] and how it shows up over time. Where did you put your-your pain, your trauma from your mother’s passing? And why do you think it kind of bubbled up and surfaced after the breakup that you told me about?
Sharon: I tried to cry a lot. I definitely wasn’t like, Ooh, it’s fine. Like I remember I didn’t cry much at the funeral because I was crying for the ten, nine days that I was home before the funeral. So I was just receiving everything, processing, crying constantly. So I was just letting everything out through tears, talking with people. I think I took some walks or that I exercised a little bit. So, I think I externalized it. I didn’t-I didn’t try to keep anything in because I was around people who were safe to talk about it with friends, [Jodi-Ann: *sighs* That’s amazing.] neighbors. Yeah, my dad. So I talked it out a lot. I sort of let it out in that way. Including, you know, even if I was angry, the sorrow, the anger, the everything; I had people I could talk to about it. So I think I let it out in those ways. I also led my life a little bit differently after that. I think I was, a little bit-I became funnier. I think a lot of people, that happens with a lot of people.
I became funnier, I became more like edgy. Like I had like a like a new dark side or like a, maybe a-a dark humor more of a dark humor to me and became maybe a little bit more of a risk taker and maybe a little bit more daring, but still being socialized as a woman in the 80s in the 80s and 90s. Being socialized as a girl. I think there’s some things I didn’t attempt conversations. I was way too afraid to have, definitely cry if people yelled at me. I don’t know. I still do that now. But anyway, when I got dumped by this, my first only relationship in my life, I was 39 years old. She dumped me I was 40 by that time, was dumped into 2018. It was after that though, I think, again, I was telling you, in our previous conversation, I had the foundation of that like everything can be taken away, the bottom can drop out, you can lose the most important person in your life, that can happen at any time. And then on top of that, to have tried to keep this relationship alive to try to show all my love and try to be so devoted and try not to rock the boat, try to keep this person that they can still drop me, [Jodi-Ann: Mmmm] made me realize how fear based a lot of my behavior in my life had-had been. Even if I had a resurgence, a surge of fearlessness are more risks, risk taking after my mom passed away, that quieted down in my 30s and I became more fearful I operated out of fear, I think way too often. So after that breakup, I was like, Well, fuck it, who am I trying to protect by not having hard conversations? By not confronting people on stuff? Who am I trying to protect? It’s not helping me, if this can happen, it’s like the worst thing I could imagine happen anyway. Who What am I who am I avoiding stuff for and not like I’m gonna go around like fuck everybody, I’m gonna say-tell everyone what I think of them [Jodi-Ann laughs] but if it was making me unhappy, and it was making me sick or like anxious, I started to say something. I started to address it, if this person like, “Hey, I don’t like our dynamic, I like the way this is going”, I would *chuckles* address stuff, I would speak on things for my own sake. And I would, I would not put other people’s potential feelings above my own as much. And I think that the groundwork of my mom’s passing and losing that most important person in my life, that was the groundwork for this second wave when I was old enough to be ready to be that person I needed to be. Be that more courageous person, honestly, that I needed to be. The groundwork was laid. So when that happened it was like, all came together and I became much I think I’m a more confident person. I’m more outspoken. I’ve become – for the first time in my life, I was called an “angry Black woman” on Instagram [Jodi-Ann: chuckles] from the Instagram comments. [Jodi-Ann: You’re like, “I’m here.”] And I’d never been called that before. [Jodi-Ann: Like, YES – I’ve arrived!] Yes, exactly! *both laugh*
Sharon: Exactly. Yes, that’s who I’ll be. That’s who I am. Because why am I being silent? For anybody else’s sake, why am I being silent on stuff, and this is for for my on my own behalf but also in other people’s behalves, I’ve lived in Portland forever and I’d see a Black person being harassed by white person if I just see like stuff going down or like a woman of any color being verbally abused by her boyfriend whatever it was, I was like kind of there like with the phone ready, ready to say something. I just will say something really easily now before I become kind of scared silent, often, [Jodi-Ann: Mmmm] and now I will say something I just put myself out there. I’ll take that risk on my own behalf on someone else’s behalf. Because what am I going to lose? I’m so afraid of losing something before and I’m not afraid of losing something now.
Jodi-Ann: That’s powerful. [Sharon: Thank you, yes]. You stepped into a whole dimension of power.
Sharon: Hmm. Yeah, I guess. Yeah I guess I have.
Jodi-Ann: So as we talk about identity to, now stepping into Oh, you wanna call me an angry Black woman. All right. *both laugh* ‘Cause that even being a sign of that transition, ‘cause no one would have called, you still Black woman everybody wants to call Black women angry and you’re like, Now I’m gonna give you a reason to, right *both chuckle*. And so in thinking about identity, you’re biracial [Sharon: Mhmm]. Your mother’s Black woman from the south, your father’s white, you know, as we think about your mom’s presence in your life, you know, can you share a bit about like how identity, your racial identity, and being biracial fits into losing your-your Black Southern mother?
Sharon: Yeah, she yes, she was a big part of my identity. Part of it was like, just me being seen with her. Like, if I was out with my mom, I knew we made sense. Anybody who saw us, I didn’t think about that a lot. But if someone asked me or if it came up, I would just I would, I would know people’s reactions to it or people’s lack of reactions to us. We fit, we go together, you can see resemblance. Age, you know, there’s an age differential because my mother’s very clear. When I go both parents, and I grew, I grew up in Virginia, right near where I live now. It was like, sometimes looks and sometimes like, whatever. Um, but with my mom gone, I still have all that she passed down to me. I saw all the appreciation of all the music that she shared that she would play the things that are important to her and like her references like I have. I have a lot of her and I carry that always. But going around with my dad minus my mom. I think I mentioned we, my dad and I, this way before my mom passed away in 95. We took a bike tour in Germany for two weeks. Yes it’s two full weeks. And I found out at the end of it. I was 17 years old, and my dad was like in his 40s, someone thought we were a couple and I wanted to vomit. Like how, RIP. What? That blew my mind.
Sharon: When I was a kid and I’d have a friend come over like a white friend come to spend the night my dad would take us to the video store, we’d be browsing for videos. And there was one time someone thought that my dad was my friend’s dad, not my dad. So my dad and I don’t make a lot of sense or people do not assume the correct relationship, when my dad and I are out and about together. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah]. When, when it was the family, I think it made sense because I look kind of like a, you know, a shade in between the two of them, whatever. As a family, we made sense. My mom and I made sense. My dad and I, just together people don’t know clearly don’t know what to make of us. People don’t know what we are. I still have myself I have my whole identity it’s in it’s in me. And I know who I am. But I’m so aware of the what’s not being telegraphed to others, that there’s not an accuracy and how we’re perceived to other people with, when my mom is not part of the package in the scene.
Jodi-Ann: So how does that impact you, especially in the context of, of why she’s not there?
Sharon: It just makes me be like, I don’t care if people think like, [Jodi-Ann chuckles] I just like, shrug it off and like not think about it. And then it’s also a reminder of that. Ugh, that parent who was like the most painful parent for me to lose, my-my dad and I have never been that close. We’re still not even close now even though I’ve moved back here to be closer to him because he’s my last surviving immediate family. Um, yeah, it’s a reminder like, this is who I am. This is who I’ve got. Okay, this is I have, this is what I have. And so yeah, that’s why I don’t try to think about it too much. And the other weird thing is that my dad remarried two years after my mom died, and so, and he married a very dark skinned Black woman, much darker than my mom. And so when I’m out, out and about the two of them, I’m also where people are, or I look, I look nothing like her [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], especially people with white people. It doesn’t even matter. Like, they’re still assuming I’m her daughter. I know white people are assuming that I’m this woman’s daughter. Even though we don’t look alike at all. *laughs* So that’s something I’m aware of like, so you feel like, oh, like, or they’re like, Oh, yeah, that’s, that’s interracial family. That’s their daughter. Like, I’m aware that people are probably assuming that, that’s my mother and when I was not a big fan of hers, that would bother me. But we’ve kind of made our peace and it doesn’t bother me as much now, but for most of the 20 years they’ve been together. I was like, No, it’s not my mother. Hope no one’s thinking this is my mother’s not my mother. I’d be like really angry about it. *laughs* really grumpy about it.
Jodi-Ann:I want to see you and you’re like, in your quarter-life crisis. 25/26. “You’re not my mother!” *laughs*
Sharon: Nobody better think she is, she’s not! *laughs*
Jodi-Ann: You’re like, “I don’t care what people think. I don’t I don’t care what people” *Both laugh* “You’re not my mother!”
So, you know, in adulthood now, like, how does your mom show up for you? You know, how is she still present with you? You feel.
Sharon: I think she’s still present in the way I just for no good reason care about children. [Jodi-Ann: Mmmm] When I lived in Portland, I worked for a nonprofit, my last few years importantly work for a nonprofit. It was a youth orchestra. And I got so much out of just being around those kids even when they’re being weird complaining about the sandwiches, that I’d gotten a volunteer to make. [Jodi-Ann chuckles] What do you want? They didn’t appreciate my efforts. Do you want your own sandwich Timmy, like I and I would like tease them, we would play I-I just so enjoyed children and that was like a hallmark of my mother. She really enjoyed children. She was a school social worker. She would volunteer at her churches Vacation Bible School every year. She really enjoyed just talking with children. And I think I carry that in me because I really don’t get that from my dad. My dad is not that person. Um, I try I think I care I try to carry my kindness and my, my strength my-my toughness, mice, my soldierness. I carry that from my mom. I carry that forward. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Because I-I’ve definitely been confronted through confronted by health challenges, career challenges, personal life challenges, emotional challenges, and I feel like I have I have my mom’s strength in me. To face-to face that, I feel like she handed that down to me. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah]. Yeah.
Jodi-Ann: Thank you, mom.
Jodi-Ann: So for folks who are listening who might share your experience in some way or your identities or there’s some part of your story that resonates with them, what do you want to share with them? What do you want to say to them?
Sharon: I would say to them, you, you’ll get through it. And also, I’m thinking of like, how I got through it, I got through it with friends. Friendship has always been important to me, I also got that from my mom. My mom had lifelong friends and I’ve seen her best in her friendships her whole, you know, her whole adulthood. And that’s, I think that’s what got me through, like that I was able to process this stuff, release this stuff with friends. So, and I was able, somehow to still be like a decent friend through that, I’d have I developed this friendship skills even when I was going through my trauma. I still could kind of be a friend and, but like receive that love my friends, but also, like still show up for my friends. So I would say invest in friendships. If you’re if you’re having experienced like mine, invest in your friendships, lean on your friends, open up to your friends, don’t bottle anything up. And then if you have a father who moves on, who gets remarried, don’t be gaslit and don’t let people negate your emotions. That was a huge betrayal for me is that my dad didn’t act like it was a big deal that my mom had passed away and I should just accept this person automatically. And no space was made for me and where I was at, because my dad can find another wife, I can’t find another mother. So I’d say don’t don’t let people invalidate your feelings. Some of the experiences like mine, which includes being an only child, you may find yourself alone in that boat, your parent, your other parent, may abandon you and you’re alone in that boat mourning this parent of yours or whatever it is. Don’t let anyone invalidate your feelings and like lean just so heavily on your friends. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] That’s what got me through. My family was didn’t really show up for me in my mom’s the loss of my mom, not really, not long term. My family didn’t show up that much my friends did though. That’d be my personal advice.
Jodi-Ann: *Exhales* Listen, I’ll take that. ‘Cause even in listening to that, and reflecting on my own experience, the way friends showed up for me, I just remember crying sometimes in the hospital, like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that love had these possibilities, that people could just show up for you, people who have no obligation to you in that kind of familial sense. And that also came with a lot of guilt around, Shit. [Sharon: Mmmm] I don’t know if I would do that for other people. And that’s something in the past few years that I’ve been working towards, of how can I pay that forward in some way? How can I allow my experience to open me up to show love and show up for people that maybe I just know you a couple, I met them a couple times, *chuckles* you know, like how can I be a better friend to people that maybe I don’t even know like that, you know? [Sharon: Yeah]. When you think about, you know, what you’re sharing with folks who even share your own experience? Do you find yourself, you know, relating to people differently, supporting people differently that maybe you wouldn’t have been able to without that trauma and experience that you’ve had?
Sharon: Oh, absolutely. In the summer of ’97, I had an internship in LA and there’s I think, like six or seven of us and there are four women, and one of them, her name is Brenda. She went on to be a successful TV writer. Her mom was diagnosed with cancer. I can’t believe I can’t, this may be why I feel guilty about it, but her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe she knew how serious it was ‘cause she got phone calls. This was 97. She would get calls at the apartment. She went back, she left the internship and she went back there to be with her mom and her mom passed away. And I remember like, even when she had that phone call, like, I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to comfort this person. I knew how for my mom was to me by you know, it was like from my mom to be on death’s doorstep like her mom was like, like we knew even that phone call to let her know that her mom wasn’t going to die. I didn’t know what to say to her. I didn’t know how to comfort her. And even now, I just might in my-my wisdom of having gone through this trauma. It’s not even about what you say. It’s not about phrases. It’s about just me looking person in the face, saying are you okay? [Jodi-Ann: Yup]. You wanted to sit like making sort of offers? And I would say I don’t know. I don’t know if this phrase was said to you a lot. But like, Is there anything I can do? Or like, what can I do? I think sometimes that’s overwhelming.
Jodi-Ann Burey 45:42
Jodi-Ann: Yeah! Yeah I cannot assign 20 people responsibilities here. *laughs* [Sharon: Yes!] Right? *more laughs* “What can I do?” Jesus. Do you know how many decisions I have to make right now? *laughs*
Sharon: Right? Or, “Is there anything I can do?” Yes. [Jodi-Ann: Yes!] Like, sure. *laughs* [Jodi-Ann: Figure it out!] ‘Cause I think – I think people go to that because, I want to be helpful, ‘Cause I want to make sure they know – I want to make sure they know I want to be helpful. But they don’t understand how, what the-the onus that puts on the person you’re asking who is – doesn’t have, doesn’t have the strength, brain space, [Jodi-Ann: Yes.] is just trying to survive. So I definitely – I don’t think I said that then, and I definitely do not ever say that now. *both laughing* I’ve learned that much.
Jodi-Ann: You know what, you know what opened and changed my experience? Very – this is probably, this was six days after I got diagnosed – I was with a friend, and I was just crying. And she goes, “What do you need? What do you need?” And I was standing there like, but the rage was rising in me. [Sharon: Mmm.] What do I need. What do I need. I need to not have cancer right now, like, what I need, what I need. And she keeps asking me, she goes, “You know, I know someone who’s paralyzed. Do you want to talk to her?” And I was like, “No! I don’t want to talk to your friend.” And so, and she was like, “What can I do?” And I just kind of broke through. I was like, “You know what I need right now? I need somebody to clean my house. I-” And I was just listing all these, like, super boring, mundane things that – I think, what I was trying to get at is, I have to deal with this huge crisis. I have to also manage my life. [Sharon: Yeah.] And so when I had this outburst…I guess, like, a lot of change happens to me in-in outbursts *laughs* [Sharon: Same!] but I was like, “I need somebody to clean my house.” And she’s like, “I got it.” And she hired someone and came and cleaned my house for five hours.
Sharon: Wow, she was on it!
Jodi-Ann: Yes. And she’s like, “We’ll pay.” Like her and her partner, like, they paid for it. And 1. Like getting someone to pay for something for me was just like very hard [Sharon: Yeah.] *laughs* as a Black person. Like, “No, I got this. I can do it myself.” [Sharon: *laughs* Yep. Yep.] And I literally was in my apartment watching this woman clean. And I was like, that’s it. It doesn’t have to be some big act. It can be something super tiny, super mundane, something that just helps you manage your life. [Sharon: Yesss.] That is how people can show up. And I need people to just assign themselves to just thinking: what would I need right now? Or – What-what can Jodi-Ann, like, not have to think about right now? [Sharon: Yes.] And I think that’s, that’s where it’s at, like, you know, sometimes, people with cancer is this big thing and yes it can ravage our lives. And we’re still people. [Sharon: Yeah.] So just use some common sense and-and be empathetic of, of, how do you show up in life right now with this context of cancer and, and, and mortality and all that. That’s just part of us. You know?
Sharon: I feel like that’s where, like, the casseroles or, like, all the food, in-in wait, at wakes, or after funerals – where that came from. Like, A. We have basic human needs. Need to eat. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Need to grocery shop. And if people take away our need to grocery shop, or our need to have – or our need to cook for ourselves, which I think – and again, like, people who bring out, people who bring that sort of, either, doing this as part of their culture, or because they’ve been through it themselves, and they know like, I didn’t have the strength to cook. So here’s this for you. Like, When that happened to me? I couldn’t go grocery shopping. I couldn’t cook. So obviously, I know this is what you need. And yeah, I feel like things like cleaning the house, grocery shopping and food…those are like automatic go-tos. But then there’s the element of how much do you know this person? Do you know what they eat? ‘Cause you don’t want to bring food that’s not going to be used, the person doesn’t eat. So, and again, that’s where I feel like the investment in those friendships and, like, knowing your friend, knowing what they do and don’t like, where you can seamlessly come in…and like –
“This is happening. Can I go grocery shopping for you?”
And then hopefully with minimal input, they just know what you need. And today I can get – like, manage their grocery shopping trip. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah. *laughs*] People that know you well, will know automatically what you – what you eat. What you need. What you would benefit from. Because that’s the ideal is you’re-you’re being brought food, that is food that nourishes you, that you like. And you’re being brought groceries that are products that you use. That’s when like, I feel like, kind of cocooned and taken care of versus like, people are throwing these nice gestures at me, but like food I don’t eat, products I can’t use. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] “Thanks. But no, thank you.”
Jodi-Ann: I love that, like, element of like, “Can you seamlessly just support me?”
Thank you so much for being here.
Sharon: Thank you for asking me. Yeah, thanks for allowing me this space. I appreciate it.
Jodi-Ann: And so, I always think anytime we share our stories or chat with people, there’s always an opportunity to give, um, and elevate other things that make us happy or comfort us in some way. [Sharon: Mmhmm.] And so if you have recommendations for our listeners on someone they should know, something that they should read and something that they should listen to.
Sharon: The first person that comes to mind – okay, know, read, listen to – that they should know and be aware of is Erica Hart. She is an educator. I follow her on Instagram. She’s prolific on Instagram. I think she’s, I think she’s a she and they pronouns, sorry. Also a cancer survivor, a double mastectomy cancer survivor, who just kind of, like, I feel, like, taps us on the shoulder about stuff that we even as Black people, like, celebrate – like Beyonce and whatnot. She brings a thoughtful critique to a lot of things and just reminds us of – that we’re not a monolith. Reminds us of trans lives. Reminds us of fatphobia…all kinds of things, all kinds of awarenesses. And then she, she educates on the subject of sex. Erica Hart – somebody you should know.
Somebody you should listen to – the podcast called The Read. [Jodi-Ann: Oh yesss.] *both laughing* That brings me a lot of joy and laughter and comfort and just like – I’m just, like, nodding my head a lot. Um, it’s fun, but it’s also pretty real. It’s – doesn’t hold back. They’re just being themselves. They’re just being their Black selves in America and I just love that so much.
And read…my thought – I was thinking about this author the other day, ‘cause I think the Black authors we talk about all the time are Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker – like, the big ones. And they’re fantastic. But someone, a Black writer, who no one hardly ever talks about, who just about – who’s out there writing fiction is Gloria Naylor. [Jodi-Ann: Oooo.] Gloria Naylor. I read her in college for the first time. The book was called something “Hills”. And it was about – sort of – this class division within this Black community. The people who lived – if I remember correctly – up on this hill versus the people who lived, like, down below and their interactions. So, like, Black upper class and Black working class, all of it, and there are no white people in this book as far as I remember. And that was just, like, a revelation to me in college. To read a book about all Black people and no white people. And it’s about class not race. Like a book about Black people that didn’t involve race, but class was – *laughs* [Jodi-Ann: Ohhh.] A very good writer, from what I remember, that uses language really well because, I feel very curmudgeonly and old right now saying this, [Jodi-Ann: laughs] but so many books written these days are not written well. They’re artless. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] It’s artless language. And she used language well. She constructed sentences well. She painted word pictures well. So Gloria Naylor.
Jodi-Ann: Yes, I’ve just googled it ‘cause you know, people forget that they have access to the internet. *both laugh* “What can I do about racism?” I’m like, “Uhhh the internet.” Okay. *both laughing* [Sharon: Right]? Gloria Naylor – last name N-A-Y-L-O-R. And the book is Linden Hills.
Sharon: Linden hills. Thank you!
Jodi-Ann: Yes. Okay, I gotta check this out. [Sharon: Yes.] Awesome. Thank you so much.
Sharon: Thank you, Jodi-Ann. I’m so glad you’re doing this. I’m so glad – I’m excited to listen to this podcast to hear other people’s cancer stories. ‘Cause I really only know mine. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] No one else in my Black family has had cancer except my mom and my grandmother. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] So, I-I am looking forward to – Black cancer and Black people has been, like, you know, as obscure to me in my life and my personal life, as it has for a lot of our listeners. So I’m really – excited is the wrong word – but I will be listening in to hear other people’s stories because the more stories that we know, the more we can share and support our families and friends. So, I think it’s really great what you’re doing.
Jodi-Ann: Oh, my gosh, thank you so much. [Sharon: ‘Course.] And that’s the show.
Jodi-Ann (as host): Black Cancer was created, produced and edited by me, Jodi-Ann Burey. Thank you so much, Sharon, for sharing your story.
To make sure that this and other Black Cancer stories become center to how we talk about cancer, you can like, subscribe, rate and, please, leave a review wherever you find your podcast.
Find us online at https://blackcancer.co/ and on Instagram @_black_cancer.
Trauma comes with endless wisdom for ourselves and for those around us. Tell someone you know about Black Cancer.
[Music fades to snaps and drum beats]
Jodi-Ann: I want to ask you about one quick thing and then I’ll let you go. We just spent an hour chatting about your mom and you never said her name.
Sharon: *Gasps* Yeah, I didn’t. Huh! I get maybe, like, our…like knowing…hmm. Wow. I think A. It’s her, my identification of her, is my mother, not as her – of her as, like, a citizen and a person of the world. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] Even though I did refer to her work. I refer to her work and how she showed up for other people. So it wasn’t like I only think of her as my mother and not a person outside of me. I – it’s also because I know her name. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] So I’m thinking, Oh, well, it’s just like implied. I know it [Jodi-Ann: so you know it. *laughs*]
Jodi-Ann: What does that mean to be able to be with someone to talk about someone and, like, never have to identify them by name to somebody else who doesn’t know them? I don’t know.
Sharon: It’s not the same, but it makes me think of how you can – and I don’t know if this happens to you – but you get into, like, long conversations with strangers, like half an hour, 45 minute long conversations with strangers and we never get each other’s first names. But we are like so, like, [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.]
Jodi-Ann: And then you’re, like, sittin on the train with them – you talk for 45 minutes, and you’re, like, “I’m sorry, what’s your name?” [Sharon: Yeah.] *both laugh*
Sharon: And sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I know we’re at the point where I could ask their name. Maybe I just like, won’t. It’s okay. And, like, does it-does it matter? I guess in my, I guess the question is, like, does it matter?
Jodi-Ann: I don’t know.
Sharon: I mean, my mom – my mom’s identity, and personhood does matter to me. But her actual name, I guess, in the context of this conversation, I guess, obviously didn’t seem to matter to me? [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And obviously, had you said it, “What’s your mom’s name?” I would, I would be like, “Why do you need to know that?” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] I wouldn’t have hid that, you know what I mean? Right?
Jodi-Ann: And I think about that, like, do I want to say, “Oh, what was her name?” I don’t know if that – if that matters. In some traditions, right? You want to call-call in the names of your people. [Sharon: Yeah.] And in other traditions, or even just outside of cultural traditions, it’s like, I don’t even call my mom by her name. I call her mom.
Sharon: That’s another reason like why, yeah, I didn’t call my mom Yvette
Jodi-Ann: You know, and so, and I think I have a lot of friends who don’t even know my mom’s name. Maybe they just call her mom, or like, Miss Burey, or, you know, by her last name. [Sharon: Yeah.] I think it’s, it adds a level of complexity to just be with someone, to talk about someone and keep that within you and not needing to…
“Her name was da-da-da…”
It feels like it takes it a little bit out of your own story, because you don’t call her by her name.
Sharon: Right. Yeah, I think and I think your first question was like, was about her but my relationship with her right? [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And so, I think it was like, “Tell me about your mother, like, what she did – blah blah blah”. If it had been, like, asking for, like, bio data on my mom, I might have been, like, “Yeah her name was…” Actually, you know what? I’m lying. I might have been like, “She grew up in here. She went -” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] I don’t think I still would have said her name.
Jodi-Ann: And I think that’s special. Like, you hold that. I’m not asking you to share it. I- just, I-
Sharon: It really doesn’t come up.
Jodi-Ann: This doesn’t naturally come up. Because your relationship to her is beyond what was written on her birth certificate. *laughs*
Sharon: And even what’s on her gravestone. I actually visited her gravestone – it was the first week I was here – like, staring at her name, like, Yeah, this is her name. This is – this was not like who she was. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] This is her name. But then that-that’s contrasted with, like, the importance of, like, “say their names” and all these – with the people who died at the hands of the police. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] We want to say it. We don’t want to forget their names. But then I think, since this is a whole different context and it’s so about relationship, and the growth, and the lessons and stuff…the name doesn’t seem as important. I don’t think I even mentioned anybody’s name. I don’t think I mentioned any people except Felicity. *both laugh*
Jodi-Ann: You know, I was at a Black Lives Matter March and someone, when they’re talking about Breonna Taylor, like, say her name…they were just like, “SHE WAS A PERSON.” [Sharon: Yes.] And that just – it hit me in my chest. She was a person. [Sharon: Mmhmm.] And that’s enough. [Sharon: Yeah.] And I think that’s – that what underlies like, “Say her name, say her name.” Like, she’s a person. And then you know, thinking about your mom is like: she’s a mom.
Sharon: Yeah. Like – also a person. I mean – [Jodi-Ann: She’s a person! *laughs*] People like Breonna Taylor, versus, like, or a statistic wrote: “a Black woman was killed.” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Because then it’s like she just doesn’t have a face. She doesn’t have a name, she doesn’t have a face. So in that case, naming those people is so important to keep up, to keep their personhood. To remind us that they are human beings. They are people. But then in talking about this sort of extracted experience…it’s about my mom’s personhood, for sure. My grandmother’s personhood. And mine. But…it’s, like, it’s sometimes only the storyteller. Only the name of the storyteller is known. In this case, like, I’m the storyteller of them. And my name was known, but their individual names were-were not known. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Yeah. But then if I did, like, if I’d opened with, like (in British accent), “Yvette Eldridge was born a long time ago…” [Jodi-Ann: Yes. *laughs*] It would have been, like, cold and British to me.
Jodi-Ann: Just, like, randomly just British. It’s just British. *both laugh*
Sharon: It’s, like, so formal. (in British accent) “Yvette Eldridge lived a long life.” No. Like, whatever. *laughs* It-it seems weird. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Yeah, her name was Yvette.
Jodi-Ann: Yvette. Yvette Eldridge.
Jodi-Ann: She’s with us.
Sharon: She’s still with us. She’s still around. Definitely.
Jodi-Ann: And your cat that’s been running around the closet. *both laugh* [Sharon: Yes.]
[End of recording.]