Courtesy of Josephine Yurcaba

I Visited My Mother's Grave For The First Time After The Women's March, & Here's What I Said

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It was incredibly gray outside in Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday morning. As soon as we saw the cemetery's entrance with the small fountain in front of it and the Arlington House at the top of the hill, all of the memories flooded back: In October 2012, we buried my mother's cremated remains, and I hadn't returned since. But on Saturday, I went back to Washington D.C., for the first time since her funeral, for the Women's March On Washington, where I joined about half a million other women in the march to demand that the incoming administration respect the rights of those who seemed targeted during President Donald Trump's campaign. On Sunday, after the largest post-inauguration march in history, I visited my mother's grave for the first time since she died.

I didn't return to Arlington after my mom's funeral almost five years ago for a number of reasons. When I first graduated from college and started working as a journalist, I was just too poor. But my biggest reason for not returning was because I had no idea what I would say.

My mother was a goddamn force, to put it lightly. She served in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm, which is when she and my father met, and then when she left the service to take care of me she didn't really ever stop working. She always held odd jobs and she was always involved in our community. A survivor of domestic violence and substance abuse, my mother helped out at a halfway house for young people with drug addictions. After Hurricane Katrina, she left and volunteered for the Red Cross for a week in New Orleans. If she were still alive, she's definitely someone you'd describe as woke-ish.

Courtesy of Josephine Yurcaba

"Josephine," she would say to me, if we were having a conversation about things we wished would happen or would change in the world, "If you put your sh*ts in one hand and your wishes in the other, which one fills up faster?" It was her way of telling me that if you wanted something, you couldn't just wish for it — you had to go after it immediately, or it wasn't worth much at all.

Since the election, I've struggled with my next steps. As someone who writes about and dedicates myself to social justice issues, I felt like I had failed when Trump was elected. As a sexual assault survivor, I felt ignored. On some nights, after yet another woman had accused Trump of sexual assault (he has denied all 13) and the consensus on Twitter was that she was just doing it "for attention," I would curl up in my bed and cry and wish my mother was there to rub my back in the way she used to. But, even more so, I wish she had been there to tell me to snap out of it.

Image Courtesy of Josephine Yurcaba
I have a tattoo down my spine of a sentence from a letter she wrote to me. I chose its placement because I used to tell people she was my backbone — the source of my strength. It says, "The other night when you and I were talking, I looked at you and knew you'd be incredibly strong one day."

My mom was the first person to tell me that emotions are valid — not just my own emotions, but others' too. When I was bullied in high school and attempted suicide, she didn't call me a "wimp" or tell me to "suck it up," or any of the other language that is characteristic of right-wingers right now. Instead, she said, "You will not be treated this way," and filed police reports against the young men and women who were leaving violent voicemails on my phone at night. Instead of saying, "Stop blaming everyone else for your own problems," she said, "We will get through this," and attended therapy sessions with me. When I would leave for school in the morning, she would say, "Go get 'em, Jo."

I have a tattoo down my spine of a sentence from a letter she wrote to me. I chose its placement because I used to tell people she was my backbone — the source of my strength. It says, "The other night when you and I were talking, I looked at you and knew you'd be incredibly strong one day."

Image Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor
The energy I felt at the Women's March was what I used to feel when I would watch my mother get up, put on the jeans she'd owned for five years, apply some bronze-colored lip gloss, and hold her head high as she went to her job at the time or a Narcotics Anonymous meeting or to volunteer at a halfway house.

And after attending the Women's March on Washington, where I was surrounded by some women who reminded me of my mother — they were community organizers, they had suffered abuse, they refused to give up — I found that strength again. The energy I felt at the Women's March was what I used to feel when I would watch my mother get up, put on the jeans she'd owned for five years, apply some bronze-colored lip gloss, and hold her head high as she went to her job at the time or a Narcotics Anonymous meeting or to volunteer at a halfway house.

I approached her grave in Arlington's columbarium slowly on Sunday morning, as if I were meeting with a friend I hadn't seen in five years. I felt as though, if she had been there, I could've looked her in the eyes, as an equal force for change. Through tears, to her grave, I said:

Hey. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to visit. I miss you.
I marched for you yesterday, and for myself. I marched for you and for all of the women I know who taught me to listen to those who say they're hurt. I marched for you and all of the women who told me that silence is never an answer.
Thank you for giving me the tools to fight like this. It's been really hard recently. Things happen every day — good and bad — that I wish I could tell you. I think I'm ready to move forward again.
Thank you for teaching me empathy, and to never discount someone else's or my own emotions. Thank you for teaching me to always take the high road and to never be silent simply because someone else would prefer it that way.
Thank you for teaching me the meaning of respect — when it has been earned and to whom to give it and when to understand that I'm not getting it at all.
Thank you for teaching me to love, with everything I have. I love you.

My mom used to lie next to me and hold my hand while I cried. "Take it one day at a time," she told me.

Image Courtesy of Josephine Yurcaba

When I visited her, I placed my hand on her grave, because it's the closest I could get to holding her hand again. I told her I loved her again. I wiped my tears, and I left, ready to fight, yet again, in a way that I hope would make her proud.