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The “Be Great” Plea

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

A promise made. A promise kept.

’Be Great’, two words that anchored a grieving mother and created a movement.

I’m up babe, you know the drill. The sun is tucked away somewhere else and has refused to shine light while kindly abiding it’s time. I’m writing in the familiar wee hours of the morning where the birds are still sleeping and even the crickets are too sleepy to chirp. A peaceful, serene, quiet, and darkened sky bids me to write to my only son. Yesterday was bittersweet as I pulled out photos of you in preparation for your 20th Birthday in anticipation of a post-humanious celebration just 6 days away. Lovingly examining each photo, I breathe in the memories of your delivery on December 11th, 2000. I trace my fingers over my overstretched belly, you were a scheduled delivery giving me time to coif up, complete with lipstick and freshly styled hair, I was soon to meet my little fella, a legend I carried in my womb spending countless hours rehearsing to your ears that you would be a mighty man of strength and character. I sang to you in my belly, played with you by rubbing my tummy to make you squirm; reading and singing to you was as ordinary as taking my next breath. It was finally time to meet the little man I had dutifully carried for 38 weeks. Scheduled, you were, but you managed to come out at your own pace. Your father fainted upon your arrival, I just waited for the gusty belting crying that would soon escape those lungs. Out of my womb a legacy emerged full of vigor, purpose and dogged tenacity. Sent from heaven through the portal of my borrowed womb to change the world in a short time and leave that same world in the allotted 18 years keeping the legacy entrusted to the one and only Curtis Israel Gray intact. Well done my son.

I picked up another photo, bringing it to my lips to kiss the non-human surface; paper with an image pressed to my lips, without warmth or response, but it is all I have left and has become a frequent ritual. I could never stop kissing you and Destiny smothering you both with limitless love, often kissing you right under your chin or burying my lips in those deep dimples; little indentations of utter cuteness. My little Man. I was satisfied, one girl, one boy, mission accomplished. You had me stretched out so far, I couldn’t fathom carrying another breech baby as both you and your sister decided “right-side” up was a better alternative to entering upon the world’s stage feet first. That common bond in the womb was the beginning of your relationship. She led the way and you followed, and so it was throughout your lives, until you fully embraced your calling and dared to embrace it wholeheartedly thus paving the way for the legacy you leave in your wake “Just Be Great”.

These words have become a honing beacon which guides me back to you when my path is dark and the turbulence upon the sea of life threatens to pull me under. When my way is heavy, full of uncertainty and doubt, and I feel I can’t go on, I can see your face as it was on April 10th, 2019. You had sauntered into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and dipped your head to explore its contents, door ajar and undecided about what to eat. I walked into the kitchen and as I often did, I watched you in humorous admiration. You acknowledged my presence by lifting your head from the fridge still bent over but pointedly looking in my direction. You needed to say something to your mama, and you did in that dry matter of fact tone you used when you had settled intently on something.

You were speaking and you wanted to be heard. The words were purposeful and intentional, you didn’t have time to soften them with niceties, you needed to make me understand. Cut and dry and to the point. “Ma, I need you to promise me you will be great”; you waited for a response; my neck snapped back looking at you as you pointed out that somehow I wasn’t great, pfffff! The look on my face caused you to prod and break it down with a greater sense of urgency, “I need you to promise me Ma, that you will be great”! Finally, I said, in my mother tone, “boy what do you mean? I am great!” You then shook your head as though I wasn’t getting it. “Ma, you work at Publix, you got your Chef thing going and now you are doing insurance, you just need to pick one and be great”. I responded, “Curtis that is because I am a REAL single parent now and I need multiple streams of income, why do you think I’m heading to this conference tomorrow? It’s so I can be great”. You then tried to soften the blow as you often did, displaying those dimples, “Ma, look at you, you’re all in your feelings, come on now, who else is going to tell you this? It’s gotta be me right? Now say the words, I WILL BE GREAT”. In a muffled tone, I reluctantly replied “I will be great”, but you were not satisfied….”unhun ma, you can do better than that, say it again...I’ll be great...come on say it”. I let out a sigh, my ruffled feelings smoothing out because you had this big mischievous grin on your face like you had won the lottery. I puffed out “Okayyyy boy, I will be great”. You looked like the cat who swallowed the canary. You needed that reassurance from me, it was your way of letting me know you knew your time was short and you needed me to be more than ok, you needed your mama to Be Great! I get it son. It was my lifeline. You knew dark days were ahead for me, and what your death would do to me; you could see that without that beacon, the promise to be great, I would have lost my way. You made me commit to it and not let go. Thank you my baby. How sovereignly unique was that? A marked moment in time that has saved my life and the sanctity of my mind. You assured me that day that you knew you would be great! You wore that assurance like a tailor made garment, you were comfortable owning that reality. That is the legacy you left, words that will echo throughout the eons of time, “Promise me you will be great ma”. I solemnly promise my son, and I will.

Loving you forever and a day



Carmen A. Gray

(c) 2021.All rights reserved. Except from “Letters from Mom to Curt, A Parents Guide to healing after loss”.

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