Updated: Jan 21, 2019
Whether by blood or water is a beautiful thing, even in its mess, loss and frustration. I grew up in a loving home, with parents who were never forceful, and an older brother and sister I looked up to.
I always saw my family as a model family, especially at the suburban town of Buokrom, where we lived. We were neither rich nor poor, luxurious nor miserly. We lived between two polarizing worlds of wellness: Less than half a mile, you would get to “Abotanso” (on the hills). Right from our balcony, you could see “Aseiho” ("Aseɛ hɔ", downside). Abotanso represented hope whereas Aseiho projected hopelessness, and I lived in the intersection of these two worlds. My idealized model family began to shift after my mother passed away in 2009. It was the first time I experienced stagnation; the first time I began to experience stuckness. My mother’s death would lead me to become part of a "new" family, challenging me to navigate between two lives as a daughter and a sister.
Abotanso represented hope whereas Aseiho projected hopelessness, and I lived in the intersection of these two worlds.
I could not quite grasp what it meant to lose a mother in the beginning. I was about 14, a year out from graduating junior high (middle) school. I remember balling my eyes out the second day of her death without understanding the emotional hurt and pain I was experiencing. Then, all I was sure of were the obvious things: I knew I would not wake up to see my mom’s face again; eat her delicious dishes or have our hearty, mother-daughter conversations. See, fellow classmates had lost a parent(s), and while I felt their pain, I never understood why they grieved so much and for so long. I just did not get it. Death is cruel and painful, but weren’t we supposed to get over it and not make it hold us hostage? They still had people who cared for them, right? What about the aunts and uncles who reshuffled their lives to be extra present for them? Weren’t my mates appreciative and motivated enough to cease grieving so much? All these questions ran through my head, fraught with naivety, ignorance and to a degree, empathy for my classmates. My own experience would bring new perspective.
Death creates a vacuum.
The death of my mother created a vacuum in my life, one that I had not anticipated would shift my worldview the way it did. I would not try to paint a perfect relationship between my mother and I. But she was a very good person, an incredibly good woman and a great mother: I did not quite acknowledge that until she passed on. Since I had had her in my life, readjusting to life without her presence was unbearably difficult. It was not just about missing her face and presence, but I was angry at myself for losing her, angry at her for leaving me and envious of those who had their mothers. It was not just missing her cooking now, but the sudden shift in roles as the woman of the house. It was not just missing someone to talk with, but falling into a state of loneliness and isolation (I would not call it as such then because I did not know that was what it was). Like one drowned with morphine right after surgery, I would not begin to feel the pain of loss until several seasons later, i.e. after moving to a new life abroad.
I was adopted by my maternal aunt (who in my indigenous culture, per matriliny, would be referred to as mother as well). This new development was challenging for me for several reasons. No sooner had I began to adjust to new life without my mother than I had to join my “new” family. I was not mentally or emotionally prepared to reorient myself to “separating” from my family and “joining” another. Another struggle lied in the blurred lines; learning to be seen as a sister in lieu of a cousin, and as a daughter and not a niece. They (my aunt and her family) were already family, and to see them differently than how I always have seemed unwarranted to me. This second struggle was exacerbated by the sense of otherness, being the obvious and hardest challenge to overcome. I was adopted with full knowledge of the status quo: a deceased mother, living father and biological siblings, who existed in my life. I bore my father’s name still and the shape of my mother’s neck.
Then there is Mother's Day.
This second struggle was exacerbated by the sense of otherness, being the obvious and hardest challenge to overcome. I was adopted with full knowledge of the status quo: a deceased mother, living father and biological siblings, who existed in my life.
Celebrating Mothers’ Day is tough for me not just because it is an annual poignant reminder of my late mother, but it also mounts pressure and brings great discomfort to me. I am always concerned that I will fall short of showing the appreciation that is due to my mothers and the mother figures in my life (I have several of those. I think that is the thing about losing a parent. You begin to find/seek it in other parents, and/or other parents seek to be that for you). I think about how I will fall short of showing the appreciation that is due to all of them. Will I hurt someone if I forget to write a nice Facebook post about them or call them to appreciate their motherly love and care for me in the most thorough way? If I choose to recognize all mother figures my mothers and the mother figures in my life, will my genuineness come through in my short messages?
This dilemma continues: Who do I put down as parents when forms did not specify? What do I say on emergency contact forms asking for “Relationship to you”? How do I reconcile the ambiguity in talking about my parents and “my parents” to friends without confusing them?
Do you feel otherness in your family? How do you define that? How do you address it? Share in comments below.