November 1, 2020—Two days ago, my mom, Theresia Walker, transcended this lifetime, a couple of months shy of her 97th birthday. I knew my mom was leaving; I felt her saying goodbye as I recited my morning prayers. I firmly believe she was welcomed by our ancestors with such loving arms, and she is now sailing along the path to her next mission.
While I understand that death is a part of the cycle of life, Friday was still one of the most painful days of my life. I feel so many emotions, as you can well imagine. At the same time, I feel compelled to celebrate and pay tribute to my mom’s life and her contributions to mine in this Sunday post; to share my mother once again with all of you.
My mom was truly ahead of her time. She took my twin sister, Patricia, and me to see the Bolshoi ballet in Chicago when we were 5 years-old, an experience I previously shared with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections. I am sure we were the only Black family in the entire audience at that time. But that moment—seeing that company’s renowned ballerina Maya Plisetskaya—became the catalyst and inspiration for the career I have today.
My mother also ensured we made it to our dance classes, even learning how to drive when my older sister Sheila went off to college. And she attended all of our performances.
My mother was widowed when I was 11 years old. But she never let the loss of her beloved husband James define her life. She continued to encourage my two sisters and me, as well as many other people, to live life fully and vibrantly.
One of my fondest memories is my mother’s three-week visit with me in New York when I was working at the Public Theater. I decided that she would become my intern and her assignment was to invite other seniors to The Public for a tour, in an effort to engage them as potential audience members. Mom rode the subway with me to work and then sat at a desk where she called the list of names I gave her. Her script was simple: “Hi, my name is Theresia and I love theater. Come to the Public for some lox and bagels and…..” My mom ended up serving as the host for the event, and everyone had a wonderful time. At that moment, I realized that my passion for promoting group participation in the arts was a part of my DNA.
My mom also planted the seed of passion for travel in both Patricia and me when we were teens. When I formed Walker International Communications Group, I envisioned that I would travel giving presentations about my work. I am forever grateful to my mom for her willingness to travel with me throughout the United States, Russia and Australia when I had to go out of town for speaking engagements. Her support made it possible for my then-toddler daughter Theresia to also travel with us so that I would never have to miss spending time with my child. My mother had quite the adventurist spirit and never missed an opportunity during those trips to sightsee in some of the most beautiful cities of this country and the world.
On my mom’s birthday last year, I wrote a blog post about her life in an assisted-living facility focused on memory care, where she received excellent attention from her caregivers and, of course, from my two sisters. One thing was clear—as dementia diminished my mother’s ability to verbally communicate, her life force and passion for living increased.
Some 50 people attended my mom’s 96th birthday party last December, including staff, other facility residents, as well as friends. The nurses and healthcare assistants called my mother “Grandma,” and they made sure to visit her daily. My mother was so present, and her eyes were so bright. You could feel her positive energy and compassion as she listened. This seemed to be enough to help a number of people to not only feel good about themselves, but also to know that someone cared about them.
I think the most important lessons we learned from my mother’s experience with dementia is that no matter what our state of life, no matter what our physical or neurological condition, we always have the potential for renewal; we can always encourage someone else or give hope to others. We can even learn something new. This has everything to do with the arts and its persistent efforts to revitalize the human spirit, whether it be with a theatrical performance, a dance movement, the lines of a poem, or the colors in a painting. Other times art manifests in how we live our lives or, like my mom, the gracious way we treat others.
My mentor Daisaku Ikeda writes, “I hope all of you, without saying a word, will inspire people to do their human revolution (change from the inside out) and touch another’s heart.” My mother embodied those values. Her life was a masterpiece of openness, grace, thoughtfulness, generosity, compassion and love.
Thank you to all of the loving caregivers who cared for mom during the various stages of her illness. I also am so appreciative of all the love, expressions of sympathy and support from my multiple families in my spiritual community, the arts, friends and clients.
This is a difficult time. I loved my mom, with all of my heart and with my entire being. However, I know the resiliency I witnessed and learned from her also is part of my lifeblood. My determination is that my mom’s legacy will continue to thrive through me, and I will carry on her efforts to inspire people to live vibrant and passionate lives with joy and love. I am also determined to continue to pay forward one of the greatest gifts she gave me—the opportunity to experience the power, vitality, freedom, creativity and passion of the arts by ensuring that Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access are the cornerstone values of all arts organizations and cultural institutions.
Thank you, Mom, with all my love!