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Outliving My Mother: A brief history of lost and found.

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Trigger Warning: Death of parent

By all intents and purposes, children are supposed to outlive their parents. Except that my mother passed when she was 35 years-old, and I was 10. It was so sudden and we were all caught unawares, left sifting through the wreckage of what remained.

I didn’t quite understand the loss at the time, but I knew it would be big. I could not have anticipated the void that would envelope and consume me for almost 2 decades. I’m not one to wallow in self-pity. But it was hard to escape from the immense sadness and grief that no one had the words for or ever spoke about.

I recall the day, I see my father so clearly, hunched along the hospital corridor, head in his hands; I recall the pitying look my relatives gave me as I walked to see her one last time; I recall feeling winded, feeling the world become a fog around me. And then the tears that I did not seem to have control over.

And then the anger. Anger at Every. Thing. Every. One. Anger watching others cry, at others who did not cry enough. Anger watching her clothes be divided among my aunts. Anger at my father. Anger at my friends for having mothers. It was a mess. I was a mess.

And just as suddenly, I found myself thrust into a role where I had to hold it together for everyone. To hold it in and be strong for my younger siblings. To hold it in and be the strong child so my father wouldn’t have to worry about us. Not to mention that being THAT kid without a Mom gave you instant celebrity status, with everyone watching you for cracks, watching for the tears, anticipating them, so that they’d be ready to rush to help. I decided I would refuse to cry in public.

I couldn’t have known then that the more I buried, the worse it’d be. Teenage-ing was a nightmare. How the heck does one use a pad? Or buy one. Or dispose of one discreetly? How do you wear bra? and when? (I was the only female among my siblings). I never asked for help because, who had the time to help me? And as I grew older, I was painfully aware of the disparity between my mother’s (who was by now deified and placed on a pedestal by my relatives), and my achievements. It felt like I was living in a shadow of a ghost. Never good enough, never smart enough, never pretty enough. It felt like I had tried my best to stumble through my life thus far and obviously fell short. I would always fall short of my mother; I would never make her proud.

In the end, it wasn’t the not-wallowing, it wasn’t the faux strength, it wasn’t the charging through that helped. In fact, what I thought made me look stronger, only made me weaker, more confused and lost.

In the end, my path differed greatly from my Mother’s, but what remains are the values I felt defined who she was – her determination, her resolve, her stubbornness, her independence.

In the end, I learnt all about being a woman from my girlfriends who kept pace and never judged, and the value of a woman from my husband – who never allowed me to compromise my worth. I learnt to forgive when I had children of my own – how inexplicably difficult it is to be a single parent.

So. Dear 10 year-old me. It gets worse. It gets a lot worse. But give yourself the room to grieve. To be. To accept that you don’t need to replace your Mother, you don’t need to fix your family. Know that your family isn’t broken, it’s just different. Know that everyone is trying their best, especially your father. Know that family is more than blood. Know that healing comes when you allow it. Know that in the end, you’ll move forward despite the pain and you will come out ok. Some roads are rockier, some journeys are longer – but you’ll get there. And you’ll make her proud. And the really important bit, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone, not even her. You’ll be ok.

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