8Asians is celebrating Mother’s Day all week (Pssst…Don’t forget, it’s May 8th!) by doing what we do best: writing about the women who raised us, nurtured us, taught us, spoiled us, protected us and occasionally for some, drove us up the wall. We love our moms and wanted to share personal stories as a tribute to their hard work.
About 8 1/2 years ago, my mother suddenly passed away from complications due to open heart surgery and diabetes. Up until a few months before her dying, we had had a very tumultuous relationship. I was clearly her favorite, and like what many Asian parents do to their first sons, she pinned all of her hopes, dreams and unrealistic expectations on me. She spoiled me rotten, catered to my every need and made sure that I was taken care of. (More after the jump.)
However, she also grew up in a household where her father and other relatives gave her constant physical and emotional abuse, and there were many emotional issues that she was never able to resolve. Looking back and knowing what I know now, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the constant abuse. She was overly obsessed with how she was perceived by others. When my sister and I failed to meet her impossible expectations, especially as my sister and I became teenagers, she acted out in the only way she knew how: with physical abuse until we got too tall and big for her to hit, then with emotional abuse that affected me for years, even after I left home to go to college. It wasn’t until I left for college that I realized that not all Filipino or Asian parents were abusive. The vast majority of my Asian and Filipino friends came from loving homes where the kids didn’t live in constant fear of being beaten, ridiculed, or even killed for some self-perceived slight.
It wasn’t until I began therapy for 2 years to sort out how the violence she went through manifested in her relationship with me that I began to see her for who she was, as a human being with flaws and mistakes but who also deserved love from her son. Even if she was unable and unwilling in the classic American way to deal with her own history of abuse, I personally had to make peace with my childhood relationship with her and forgive my mom.
My relationship toward her began to change slowly and imperceptibly, from one of absolute fear towards her until I realized that I had also gone through some post-traumatic stress disorder myself, to one where I saw her as a woman trying to raise her kids the only way she knew how. While the way she raised us was extremely messed up, I accepted that it was messed up, I stopped rationalizing it, and I relegated it to the past. More importantly, I had forgiven her and began to move on with my life. We talked to each other as adults, and when she gave me advice, I listened to her instead of brushing her off like I always did before I went through therapy. She accepted my partner at the time as my partner.
What was most telling for me was that in the days up until her surgery, she had been telling people how afraid she was of dying. For some reason, whenever I was alone with her, she never brought it up. We talked about things as they had always been. However, at the same time, we didn’t really talk about the future, as if we both knew that she wouldn’t be a part of it. She laughed about my choice of books that I would read while she was sleeping. There were times when we would both nap, she in her hospital bed, I in my chair, and always she would wake up before me, staring at me with a beatific smile, like she was trying to record those moments and etch them into her memory.
The last day that I saw her while she was still conscious and lucid before her surgery, when I had to leave, I gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you,” she said, “and check your driving.” Those were the last words she said to me. A testament of love, and a last nag.
It’s weird that for the longest time while in therapy, I desperately wanted my mom to be like all the white American moms I had seen on TV–a friend, not a mother. That’s not what moms are supposed to be. Parents, especially Filipino and Asian parents, will always be parents even when the kids are now adults.
I realize now that I was given a profound gift, a gift of forgiveness that I had given to myself and to my mom. In the last 6-8 months before she passed away, our relationship truly blossomed into one of respect and love and it’s something that I treasure and appreciate.
That’s why I called this, “My Mother, the Human Being.” I now remember my mom not as some archetype to be feared or adulated without question. She was a woman who survived incredible odds to give herself and her family a better life. But she was also human, who made mistakes, who at times was impossible to live with, but who was ultimately deserving of love from those closest to her. I like to think that I gave that to her, and that I learned to love her unconditionally.