'I Only Knew Her As Mom': A Daughter Learns More From Her Late Mother's Best Friend

13 hours ago
Originally published on May 10, 2019 2:30 pm

Sada Jackson lost her mother, Ileana Watson, to breast cancer in 2016.

There are many things Sada, now a mother herself, wonders about her late mom. So at StoryCorps, she sat with Ileana's best friend, Angela Morehead-Mugita, to learn more. "I want to know more about my mom, as a woman, because I only knew her as Mom," says Sada, 35.

Angela, 55, says she and Ileana were each other's emotional support during vulnerable moments. When Ileana was facing cancer for the second time – when Sada was pregnant — she broke down to her friend, saying, "I may not see my grandbaby."

And Angela remembers turning to Ileana the day she came home from the hospital with her newborn, Christopher. She'd been doubting herself as a mother.

"I sat on my couch and I had all of these beautiful things from my baby shower, and I'm just bawling. I said 'Ileana, what am I supposed to do now?' " Angela says. "And she was so clear. She's like, 'You're gonna hold your baby; all that stuff in the living room is gonna stay right there until you get yourself together.'

"That was the one thing about Ileana, she would never let me lose it."

Sada got emotional hearing that story — she didn't have her mother there after she gave birth to her son, Kendrix, who is 2 ½. "Losing my mom to breast cancer when I was entering my eighth month of pregnancy and not having that chance to call her when I got home [from the hospital] ... it still bothers me."

"But at the same time," she says, laughing, "I heard her say, 'Don't you be no sad Mama for my grandbaby.' "

Sada Jackson with her mother, Ileana Watson, in October 2014, when Ileana and her three children participated in a family Breast Cancer Walk together.
Courtesy of Sada Jackson

It was important to Ileana for her daughter to learn to be strong, Angela says. Even with her gone now, Sada can sense her mother's support.

"I'm feeling her encouraging me saying 'Now you're the mother. You're a woman,' " she says.

She sings some of the same lullabies to her baby that her mom would sing to her. "I'll do like a little [vocal] run and I'll be like, 'That was a Mom run,' " she says.

And Angela sees so much of Ileana in Sada.

"I'm watching every seed that your mother sowed in life manifest in you, in your son, in your marriage," she tells Sada.

Angela remembers how when her own mother died, Ileana propped her up at the funeral.

"She hugged me, she whispered in my ear, and she said, 'You got this. You will not break down. You will walk in there and be the legacy that your mother left you,' " Angela says.

"And so I say that to you," Angela tells Sada. "You will not lose it. You will not break down. And you will walk in the legacy that your mother left for you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Aisha Turner.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday morning, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. And on this Friday before Mother's Day, we hear from Sada Jackson, who lost her mother, Ileana, in 2016. Jackson came to StoryCorps in Kansas City, Mo., with her mom's best friend, Angela Morehead-Mugita.

SADA JACKSON: I just thought it'd be really cool to sit with one of her friends. Like, how often do you get to do that, to sit with your parents' friends and just ask questions and they don't get to jump in and say, don't tell her that?

ANGELA MOREHEAD-MUGITA: Right. Don't tell her what I said.

JACKSON: I said I want to know more about my mom as a woman because I only knew her as mom.

MOREHEAD-MUGITA: The part that most children don't see from their parents is the vulnerability. I think for the both of us, we became vaults for each other. We called them vaults. She's like, OK, I need a vault moment. As a matter of fact, she helped me when I had my son. I remember calling her the day I came home with Christopher. I sat on my couch. And I had all of these beautiful things from my baby shower. And I'm just bawling.

I said, Ileana, what am I supposed to do now? And she was so clear. She's like, you're going to hold your baby. All that stuff in the living room is going to stay right here until you get yourself together. So that was the one thing about Ileana. She would never let me lose it.

JACKSON: I got emotional when you were telling this story because losing my mom to breast cancer when I was entering my eighth month of pregnancy and not having a chance to call her when I got home, it still bothers me. But at the same time, I heard her say, don't you be no sad momma for my grandbaby.

(LAUGHTER)

MOREHEAD-MUGITA: Oh, yeah. She's like, I need my daughter to be strong.

JACKSON: Yeah. And I'm feeling that. I'm feeling, like, her encouraging me, saying, now you're the mother. You're a woman.

MOREHEAD-MUGITA: Oh, yeah.

JACKSON: And when my baby looks up to me and I'm singing certain lullabies that she sang to me, I'll do like a little run. And I'll be like, that was a mom run.

MOREHEAD-MUGITA: That's your mother.

(LAUGHTER)

MOREHEAD-MUGITA: Yep. I'm watching every seed that your mother sowed in life manifest in you, in your son, in your marriage. And I remember when my mother had passed away, she came to the funeral. She hugged me. She whispered in my ear. And she said, you got this. You will not break down. You will walk in there and be the legacy that your mother left you. And so I say that to you. You will not lose it. You will not break down. And you will walk in the legacy that your mother left for you.

INSKEEP: Angela Morehead-Mugita and Sada Jackson for StoryCorps. Their interview will be archived with the others at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIENNA TENG'S "CITY HALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.