A Recovering Mother

If you have been following my blog, you are familiar by now of my fondness of my Oma, my maternal grandmother, who is the main mother figure in my life.

However, I hardly talk about my own mother.

My relationship with my mother is your garden-variety mother-daughter relationship: rife with drama and love. My mom was an academic with her own private practice -- one of my memory of her was a throng of graduate students coming to her home office, working on their dissertations under mom's coaching. At a tender age of 35, my mom was (mis)diagnosed with colon cancer, and then later on Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Those led her though series of surgeries, radiations and chemotherapies. We were talking about mid 80s, when cancer treatment were very aggressive, toxic, and not as sophisticated as they are right now. I remember visiting my mom lying in the ICU, tubes and machines hooked form every orifice of her body, my 2-year-old brother screaming, too scared to see her. I went to school the next day, holding back tears, while my teachers (who surely knew what happened) acted like it was another day. That was the last time I saw my mom as she was transferred to another city for her treatment. A year later, she came back as a brand-new, healed person, but a person I hardly knew. I was ten years old.

She was dealing with the aftermath of her chemo and surgery while taking care of her family and rebuilding back her career with declining health. She would often be irate, irrational, impatience. She never showed up at any of my recitals, school events, birthdays. Once she asked me if I was going to perform again in this year's piano recital, I said, "No, maybe I am not good enough to be selected," -- haphazardly, half-testing her reaction. She picked up the phone and ranted for the next half-hour to my piano teacher of why I should be in the recital. She was never home to hear me practicing anyway, but she felt she had to do it, for me. The truth was, there was no recital planned that year. I made my mom humiliated herself. I never went back to the piano lesson.

In the few years before my son was born, my mom's health seems to decline precipitously. She suffered multiple strokes that left her bereft of the mind's agility. When I visited her at her home a few years ago, out of my sister's plea, I sorted out the regimen that she takes: synthetic thyroid and hormone replacement, bisphosphonate, anticoagulants, antiarrhythmics, analgesics, antidepressant, anxiolytics, and a whole host of others. She mistook my young son for my brother, calling him by my brother's name repeatedly in spite of my corrections. That was then, when the story comes full circle for me. She sees herself through my son's eyes and for a split second, I felt a kind of kinship to her unlike any other. This woman, whom I thought I have forgiven for a long time, is more than just any other woman. Her DNA runs in my blood, and she recognizes it as readily in my son, even with her frail mind and body. This seemingly broken and trouble-riddled woman is through which my son and I came alive.

My mom taught me many lessons, about fierce work ethics and determination, about forgiveness, about unconditional love that I found in me because of its absence. She taught me that my-seemingly-imperfect childhood leads to a resilient, compassionate me. Against all odds, when things could have taken a turn for the worse, she succeeded in raising a mother. Imperfection is, indeed, perfection -- perfection I desperately, imperfectly try to imprint on my son.

Once someone said that forgiveness is a conscious selective-memory, and I like the sound of it. A lot. While I will never forget the humiliation, guilt, sadness, and grieve, I can choose to remember the peaceful connection that we have made. Today, my memories of my mother are of those happy times, and more of those happy times to come.


  1. What a beautiful and deeply touching story, Claire. Thank you so much for sharing it, even though it must have been difficult for you.

  2. Really beautiful and inspiring.
    I have a lot of issues with my mum, from when I was very small. But recently she's had depression and is really impossible to deal with. I struggle a lot with her, and hope one day to have the same awakening as you. It's just very hard to forgive a mother who is always very mean and nasty.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Charlotte. No, it is definitely not easy, it has been quite a journey for me, too. I can be kind and considerate if someone else is mean and nasty, but not if she is my mom, who should be gentle, and generous, and caring. All of us have problems, but when it comes to our own parents, it seems different. Sending you best wishes and blessings.