I’m Sorry, Mama

Last night, like most nights this holiday season, I went to bed at 3:30 a.m. I had not heard from any of my family about my mother’s condition since she was hospitalized on the 23rd. In this case, no news was not necessarily good news. I had difficulty falling asleep and was constantly tossing and turning, throwing off my blankets then pulling them back after a few minutes. At 5:00 a.m. I woke up for no apparent reason, so I went to the bathroom. I tried to get back to sleep, but was terribly uncomfortable–it was like the worst hot flush attack. I finally dropped off after a while, woke up at 8 a.m., and left home to buy some art supplies and other materials for my classes in January. When I got home around 2:40, my phone started going off, buzzing like crazy, and that was when I saw all the messages coming in.

Apparently, my mother passed away at exactly 5:01 p.m. Manila time, which would have been 5:01 a.m. here.

As the proverbial black sheep and bohemian, I should, by all rights, be duplicating the Irish celebration of Margaret Thatcher’s passing and singing that particularly celebratory song from the Wizard of Oz. Out of respect for my dead mother, I will not.

I am thankful that she passed away quietly. I know she believed she was doing the right thing all the time.

Do I mourn her passing? No. She has lived a full life and must have made peace with her demons.

Do I celebrate her life? Yes. After all, she bore me and raised me as best she could.

Will I miss her? No.

I am glad that others will miss her and mourn her passing. She deserves that. She has devoted so much of herself to so many other people. She has made so many others feel like they were her daughters, given them advice, hugs, warmth, help, whenever they needed it.

I’m sorry to say that I cannot share that feeling because I never did get those hugs, warmth, caring, and help when I needed a mother most. She was a mother to many–to my sister, my sisters-in-law, family friends, relatives. But not to me. Somehow, that connection never was established between us. Every time we were together, I was wary, knowing that, given enough time, sparks would be set off.

My sister-in-law says she talked of us often, talked about how proud she was of us. That’s nice to know now. It should be comforting, in a way, I suppose, but it doesn’t really change a thing now. Others’ memories of my mother will be very different from my memories, but that’s okay too. They saw a face of hers that she chose not to show me.

I’m sorry, mama. Ours was not the mother-daughter relationship anyone would envy. But because it was what it was, I became more determined to be my own woman, to be independent, especially of you. Our relationship has made me stronger, because it was not an easy one to survive. But I have, and I am me. I define myself by my own terms. I am not defined by my children or my failed marriages or my family. I am defined by what I choose to make me happy and fulfilled and successful.

I wish I could say more good things about you. You sacrificed your career for your kids. You moved heaven and earth to keep your husband alive and healthy for as long as he lived–and it was long. You helped other people as much as you could. You made yourself the consummate doctor’s wife, except for the part where you refused to attend many social functions. You proved to everyone that you could be what you wanted to be without the help of anyone else. You kept the house absolutely clean, we were always clothed, and we always had good food (sans salt, pepper, mayo and butter because they were bad for papa). We had every material thing we needed–you made sure of that. And you kept yourself busy making sure all that was happening, and happening efficiently. I know I learned how to be efficient from you. I learned how to be a perfectionist, but not to let it control my life. I learned how to be meticulous with details. I learned how to be independent… And I learned that I needed a lot of loving, and warmth, and hugs–and that I had to find them elsewhere because they were not going to come from you. That was more important to me than anything else–than all the material things you made sure we had. Unfortunately, it was too late for us.

Strangely enough, this is more painful that I thought it would be, even if I’d gone through it. I thought I had closed that door, but hearing what other people have to say about you just rubs it in more painfully.

So, again, I’m sorry, mama. I’m just glad that you had people around you during you last days who loved you, cared for you, and will miss you very much.

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