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“It’s beautiful, son,” my mother said from her bed after I read her a column I'd written detailing why I'd been absent from work the previous few weeks.

At the time, we both knew the piece would run in The Black Mountain News the following Wednesday. We also believed, incorrectly it turned out, that she’d be alive to see it published.

Pancreatic cancer, which I have come to find is a terrifying disease, took Gloria Simmons from her family in the early hours of Jan. 9. She was 63.

While the day of her death was the worst of my life so far, I can say that my family was fortunate to be there to comfort her in her final moments. There’s no doubt she felt love as she left this earth and everyone doesn’t get that chance.

I’m grateful she did.

I got up out of my chair at mom’s bedside after reading her my column and shut the door to her room, hoping to have a few private moments.

“I’m happy you’re back at work,” she said. “I know the community really appreciates you.”

Those words instantly brought tears to my eyes as emotions swelled inside me. I knew I needed to say something to her while I still had the chance.

Like everyone, my life has had its share of complications. My mother raised me and my sister as a single parent in Tampa, Florida.

My sister was always the responsible one. She never needed to be told anything more than once and most of the time she did the right thing without being told anything at all. Mom always said raising her was easy.

My mom was lucky to have her because she proved to be really helpful with the second child, and she needed all the help she could get.

As the only male in the household, I was often difficult to relate to and rebelled hard against what I saw as an unfair world. My mother used to always say that I was the sweetest baby, but then “something happened” when I was around 12 or 13.

The reality was that I was just another kid from the city trying to hide my vulnerabilities in a place where being the “sweetest” wasn’t typically the most respected quality in a teenage boy — especially in the social circles I found myself in.

As I spoke to my mom that night, my mind started to drift back to a time when I wasn’t living the dream of being a reporter in an awesome town in the mountains.

Once my sister and I were out of the house, my mom decided she’d had enough of Florida and wanted something different. She moved to Western North Carolina, a place I knew nothing about.

In 2007, mom bought a small house near the center of Black Mountain and instead of flipping it for profit, she asked me if I’d like to help her restore the home and rent it from her. This town was like something out of a movie for a kid from Central Florida and I realized that, like my mom, I could benefit from a new start.

My girlfriend at the time joined me here in 2008 and we were married in Chimney Rock in 2010. My daughter was born in 2012 and I started my job at The Black Mountain News two years later.

Behind those closed doors I apologized to my mom for making things so difficult for her and told her that these past 11 years had been the best of my life and I had her to thank for that. I held her hand and managed to say through the tears that I’d never given her enough credit for raising two children as a single mom.

I let her know that, as a father, I can't imagine raising one kid by myself, let alone two. 

I thought I saw a tear in my mother's eye as these emotions spilled out of me and I pleaded with her to remember everything I was saying. She assured me she heard me loud and clear and told me that, as a mother with unconditional love for her children, she’d forgiven me for all of my mistakes as soon as I’d committed them.

A few days later my mom was moved to the John F. Keever Solace Center in Asheville. For a couple of days she wasn’t able to understand everything that was happening around her, but I believe she remembers me telling her how much I appreciate her helping me get where I am.

Of all the things my mom did for me over the course of my life, helping me find my way to Black Mountain may have been the most significant. It turned out that a new start was exactly what I needed. 

The natural beauty of the mountains and the friendly faces of the people in the community helped me shed barriers I’d carefully constructed over the years. Living here allowed me to find myself, and I’m so grateful that my mother gave me the opportunity to do so.

The days before and after her death are hazy, but one thing I distinctly remember is the support I received from this community. Many of you sent me texts, emails, letters, cards or offered condolences in person. Several people hugged me and told me that the whole town was thinking about me and my family. 

I've never felt such a strong sense of belonging in my entire life and I sincerely appreciate every kind word, thought and prayer.  

It won’t be easy adjusting to a world without my mother in it but I find comfort in the Swannanoa Valley and the people who live here. 

So from now on when I experience something that reminds me how fortunate I am to be a part of this community I'll just whisper "thanks, mom."

 

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