“If you have one parent who loves you, even if they can’t buy you clothes, they’re so poor and they make all kinds of mistakes and maybe sometimes they even give you awful advice, but never for one moment do you doubt their love for you—if you have this, you have incredibly good fortune.
“If you have two parents who love you? You have won life’s Lotto.
“If you do not have parents, or if the parents you have are so broken and so, frankly, terrible that they are no improvement over nothing, this is fine.
It’s not ideal because it’s harder without adults who love you more than they love themselves. But harder is just harder, that’s all.”
HAPPY. That is the one thing I know my folks had always (told me they) wanted me to be.
Well, I once overheard my dad tell my brother that everyone had to live with the fact that I was a bitch to my brothers’ ex-girlfriends. And my mom had called me her “darling demon daughter” more than once. I’m guessing these two had some more wishes for me than just to be happy. :p
When my dad passed away 10 years ago, I never went through the grieving process. My mom had stage 3 breast cancer, a half-beating heart, diabetes, and high blood. I had work to do, literally and figuratively speaking. I had no time to stay in bed and cry myself to sleep for days. The best I could do to comfort myself was to forget about my dad, and just focus on keeping my mother alive.
It’s what my dad would want me to do, I told myself. And I still believe it. My dad said he prayed and wished that he would die before my mom does because he wouldn’t survive without her , regardless of how much he loved his kids. He got his wish. And I wasn’t about to let it go to waste. So I took care of my mom for 10 years. The only time I let myself remember my dad was when life got truly f*cked up.
When my mom passed away last January, it was the first time I truly encountered real grieving. See, when my father died, I still had a reason to live. My mother needed me. And even though she was sick, she was still well enough to be a mom. I may not have a dad anymore, but I still had a mom. And like many children, that was more than enough.
But when my mom died, suddenly there was no reason to do what I have been doing for the last 10 years. Every day, in the last 10 years before she died, I said a prayer of thanks every morning. The world could burn down and I’d still be a pocketful of gratitude simply because my mom was still alive.
Sure, true, I have brothers and sisters that I love so much. I have loving cousins and amazing friends. But I am hardly the best sister or best cousins or best best friend or even just the best friend to all these people I love and who love me. But I can say, without an iota of a doubt, that I was the best daughter. Ever. That was me. The great daughter. It was my thing.
When my mother died, I became nothing. After she died, there was no need for gratitude. No need to do anything in earnest. No desire, no goal, no future to plan for. No need to ask anyone for anything. Being a sister or a cousin or a best friend was not enough. And right now, it would never be enough.
For many months, I fed daily on anger, sorrow or just plain numbness. Even as I consciously took steps towards “helping myself move on,” grief engulfed me. The “happy hormones” I used to get from football lasted only until I’ve left the pitch. Drumming only reminded me that I never got to play “Birthday” for my mom. Doing groceries was torture—I used to do my mom’s groceries and she loved grocery cookies from Singapore. Trying to cook made me feel guilty over how I’ve never cooked breakfast for my mom. Dating turned into job interviews that I would never be able to tell my mom about ever again. My posts on Facebook became harsher, violent, seditious even, now that there’s nobody scolding me into deleting my latest political post.
I was sad and angry and carelessly carefree. Not quite what my folks had in mind for me. And that’s when it clicked.
One day, I asked myself how my dad must feel now that my mom’s dead. HAPPY, most likely. Coz he’s gotten her back all to himself once again. And then I asked myself what my mom must feel now that she’s dead. Well, she’s always been lonely since my dad died. I know she didn’t want to die of cancer, but then, she also missed him so much. So I know she is HAPPY to be with him in the afterlife.
And here I am, stealing her happiness, when she should be celebrating with her One Great Love after 10 years of avoiding and envying old couples in public.
“Do what you want, do what makes you happy,” she’d always tell me, sometimes in tears. She always felt sad and guilty, I know, that taking care of her was stopping me from building a life of my own. From being happy ON MY OWN. And here I am, making her feel responsible anew for my depression and apathy towards life that they both fought so hard to give me.
It didn’t all come to me in just one day, one week, or even a month. It took me some time to accept (REPEATEDLY) that my folks aren’t rockin’ happily in the afterlife because I wasn’t, I couldn’t be happy, or at least do something that would make me happy.
I am not happy now. NOT YET. But I am doing my best to be the person my parents wanted me to be, raised me to be. Not just kind, not just God-fearing, not just responsible and loving and smart and daring and everything that I was before I let cancer — my mom’s cancer — change me into a miserable, paradoxical shadow of the Irene that my parents loved and had such great hopes for.
It’s a work in progress. But it’s moving forward. I AM moving forward. Towards a BETTER me. A HAPPY me. And I am starting by saying Thank You to the Universe for not just giving me one, but two parents who loved me more than anything in this world. And I am not about to let that go to waste. ♥