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Uzo Aduba On Balancing Joy And Grief After Losing Her Mom Shortly After Getting Married

After the loss of her mom last year, the actress talks wading through grief, finding love and leading a PSA to bring about new discoveries in cancer research.
Uzo Aduba On Balancing Joy And Grief After Losing Her Mom Shortly After Getting Married
Matt Sayles

Since 2018, Emmy award-winning actress Uzo Aduba has been an ambassador for Stand Up To Cancer. After watching loved ones battle with the disease, from aunts to cousins and friends, she had seen enough to know that she wanted to help in efforts to find a cure. And then things got “personal” for the star. Aduba’s mother, Nonyem, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and in November 2020, passed away from it. The mission became even more profoundly important to the star.

“My seat has changed. I was sitting before in the back seat and now I actually have a front-row seat,” she tells ESSENCE. “I really didn’t know the real size of it until I was living with someone who had cancer.”

These days, the actress is working with Stand Up To Cancer and Count Me In to share a special message through a new public service announcement. It encourages cancer patients to take part in sharing their experiences and health information in an effort to accelerate the pace of cancer research and bring about new discoveries.

“There is real, real fortune [in] sharing your story with the illness, but also sharing your information,” she says. “You don’t even know, that might be the brick that will build this house towards a cure.”

While she focuses on such important work, Aduba also recently celebrated her first year of marriage. She announced in September that at the same time last year, she wed cinematographer Robert Sweeting. The bliss of being a newlywed was impacted by the loss of her mother nearly two months later. When asked how she was able to wade through those two contrasting emotions, joy and grief, she said it was possible with Sweeting’s support.

“I mean, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it without my family. Definitely not [without] my newfound family, my husband who is the greatest support of my life,” she says.

“That day was so beautiful because I was marrying the best thing had ever happened to me. And the best thing that had ever happened to me, my mother was the only other person I’d ever said that about before, got to be there see it,” she adds of her wedding day. “And so I was really grateful. I am able to reflect on some of the really beautiful things that my mom was able to witness in the flesh because I do believe she’s still seeing all of it.”

That includes her latest Emmy win last September when she won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for playing Shirley Chisolm in FX’s Mrs. America. Had the ceremony not been virtual, Aduba wouldn’t have been able to be at home with her mom to celebrate.

“I was able to be at home because a really special person who got me to where I was, was able to attend and that was pretty awesome,” she says. “So, I reflect on that. That was 10 days after we had just gotten married. So it’s like, there were a couple really great things that she was able to be part of that I’m grateful were able to happen, particularly in that final chapter of life here on earth.”

“I kind of cling to that,” she adds. “I also have to say, I don’t wish cancer on anybody. Not anybody. But there is, I don’t even know if you call it a blessing, but there is this shift that comes with it, when you get to say a lot of things you want to say. We got to say ‘I love you’ a lot. I know that woman loved me and I know she knew she was loved. That’s how my mind has moved through the grief.”

She’s also been able to move forward with a new appreciation for life. She says she’s learned the importance of giving grace to people who may be going through something, as she was going through plenty in the last two years along with the rest of the world amid the pandemic. In addition, she understands the necessity of not taking take things in life too seriously that it sucks out the joy. She also has realized that she’s a lot stronger than she ever imagined.

“There is nothing that scares me. I’ve run marathons. I have chased this career and a marathon seemed like it was going to be maybe about the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I know now that it is small in comparison,” she says, noting her recent loss. “I’m stronger than I think I am and I’m not scared of anything. There’s nothing that scares me and I just want to enjoy it at all. This time is not guaranteed to any of us. Just enjoy every minute of it.”

To learn more about this PSA visit, StandUpToCancer.org/CountMeIn.