Yesterday at church, K read the responsorial scripture. It was Psalm 121, one of my mom’s favorite Bible passages:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
When Mommy passed last October, I said I’d write something. I did, but never posted it here. It was her obituary. I wound up writing it the week of her memorial in December, a small, private affair held at my church. A few feet from where K read from Psalms yesterday, Mommy’s ashes sat ensconced in a gold and pink urn a week before Christmas Eve.
I wrote the obituary with an IV needle stuck into my left arm, on my laptop, receiving Rituxan therapy. I was in the Infusion Center at my hematologist’s office. In comfy, reclining chairs, there were a few other patients: resting, reading, snuggled under blankets. Most were women with scarves or beanies covering their bald heads. The men had on baseball caps.
When my nurse came to check on me, I broke down in tears. It was surreal, I explained, writing an obituary, for my mom, who died of cancer, in a room full of patients, fighting cancer.
By the time the nurse removed the needle, I was done. The obituary was printed in the service program, and went live on the funeral home website. Here’s what I wrote:
Doris Flemming went to be with the Lord on October 23, 2022, after a long battle with metastatic breast cancer. She was 73 years old.
Doris was born on September 17, 1949, in Greenville, SC, to Ruby Lee Baker. She was lovingly adopted by Luvenia Williams. She lived with Luvenia, her parents, Garfield and Hattie Boyd, and cousins Catherine and Freddie throughout the 50’s. Doris often recalled with great happiness the warmth, sunshine, and friends she had living in Greenville, and it always held a special place in her heart.
After the death of her grandparents in 1960, Doris moved with Luvenia and Catherine, who had become her big sister over the preceding decade, to Montclair, NJ. Leaving the Jim Crow south as part of the Great Migration was a major culture shock as she had only attended segregated, underfunded schools previously. After a few years of feeling unmoored, she found joy and full acceptance when her family joined a small, storefront Holiness Pentecostal church and came to the Lord at 14 years old. From that moment on, as she was proud to proclaim, Jesus became her greatest love.
In 1968, she graduated from Montclair High School, where she discovered a love for art: drawing, painting, sculpting, charcoal, and calligraphy. She enrolled that fall in Essex County College, with plans to become an elementary art teacher. However, while working in the Financial Aid department, she met a fellow student, Joseph A. Flemming, and in 1971, the two would marry. She left college and completed training for administration and computer data entry at ManpowerGroup. She landed a job at Merrill Lynch in NYC. After working there for a few years, she left due to illness. Doris and Joseph would move from Newark to Linden. She became heavily involved in her new church, Apostolic Outreach Assembly, pastored by her father-in-law, Joseph Flemming, Sr., with her mother-in-law, Bernice Flemming, the assistant pastor.
After years of prayers for children, Doris gave birth to Joseph in 1978; Alisha, in 1982; and Joscelyne, in 1984. Doris enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, becoming known to many of the neighborhood kids as the “Kool-Aid Mom.” She taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School for years. She also earned a Bachelor’s in Theology from Eastern Bible Institute.
Subsequent to her marriage ending in the late 1990s, Doris began a new, loving, and exciting role as Grandma: changing diapers, giving bottles, and watching Sesame Street all over again. Her most joyous times were when she had her grandbabies filling her home with laughter, rambunctious play, and love.
In May 2015, Doris was diagnosed with breast cancer. It would be wrong to say she lost her battle because she never stopped fighting. No matter how sick she was, she remained dedicated to the Lord and the life He had given her . Through her, we know what resilience and perseverance look like. She passed away in the early hours of October 23, 2022, after having been surrounded by her kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews the night before.
She was preceded in death by her biological mother Ruby, adopted mother Luvenia, sister Catherine, and daughter Joscelyne. She will always be missed and remembered by her son Joseph (Jennifer); daughter Alisha (Keiron); her grandchildren: Joseph, Justin, Oliver, Zoe, Greg, Marcus, Micheal (Austyn), Ashley, Rachel; son-in-law, Manny; and a host of cousins, nephews, nieces, and friends.
I will never stop loving you, Mommy. Ever. Miss you more than words could ever express.
- My mom’s favorite Biblical chapter? Psalm 91.
- One of the songs sung at the memorial (another favorite):