Even well into my adulthood, I did not understand parents who said that their reason for not wanting to die was that they didn’t want to leave their children. Why would they worry about leaving their children? Their children were healthy and would live. They, the parents, were the ones whose lives would cease to exist.
When I became pregnant with Daffy, I was thirty-seven years old, and Danith was forty-two. Once we felt confident about the pregnancy, we began to picture our lives with our daughter. After we daydreamed about her milestones, including the day she would get married and later become a parent herself, we began to do the math. And we panicked. What if we got to be too old? What if tragedy found us early? What if we died while she was a freshman in college? What if our lives ended while she was just big enough to ride a tricycle? She would be alone. It didn’t matter that we had family who would raise her. Our love for her was too deep, too profound that we doubted anyone else’s love for her could be comparable. So who would take care of her? Who would protect her the way we would?
I possess two old black and white photographs of my biological parents at their wedding. In one, they are standing side-by-side. My mother was short, like I am, and her face was wide. My father, dressed in a western suit, was tall and dapper, and his nose was especially pointy for an Asian. I’ve heard tidbits about them from my aunts and uncles — my mother was formidable and well regarded in her town. My father was a police officer, and he died during a civil war. Soon after his death, my mother lost her life from a shrapnel wound. I was about one year old and my brother was about six years old when our parents died.
Until last year, I hadn’t given much thought to my biological parents. I hadn’t grown up under my mother, so I could not imagine who she was. I couldn’t imagine the texture of her skin or the cadence of her voice or even the life lessons she would want to teach me. She existed as one dimension, and that was all. When I did start to contemplate my mother, I did not picture her cradling me or bathing me. Instead I saw the moment preceding her last breaths. I felt her panic and fear, not fear of her own life ending, but fear for my brother and me. Who would care for her children after she died? Who would commit to feeding and clothing and loving them? Along with her fear, I felt her guilt for leaving us behind. She was our mother, and she would not be present to protect us.
Today is my last day as a thirty-something. Tomorrow I will officially become middle-aged. In the past two weeks, I’ve begun to see wisps of wrinkles forming on my hands. They are subtle, and I’m sure that only I notice them. I feel myself aging in other ways, too. Consuming sugar too late in the evening will keep me up most of the night. My right knee occasionally aches when I climb the stairs. And I can’t readily recall titles of movies I’ve seen.
If my biological mother could hear me, I would like to thank her for giving me life. I would like to apologize to her for having not given flesh to her existence until last year. She is real, just as her love for me is. I would like to tell her that the mother who raised me did the best she could. I would like to say to her not to worry about me. I would like to ask her to wash off any guilt she feels for having had to leave my brother and me. I know that she would have stayed with us if she could. Lastly, I would like to share with her other lessons I learned in the first half of my life — it is because of her that I know more now.
- Everyone wants to be appreciated and respected.
- I am lucky if my problem can be solved by handing over my Costco Visa.
- Gorillas mourn the death of their children, too.
- Stories I heard about labor pain are untrue. (I remember very well the pain from delivering Kiri.)
- Life is a crapshoot.
- I like who I am most days.
- Death is final.
- Danith adores me.
- No matter how much science is involved, a more powerful force is ultimately responsible for creating life.
- I am capable of loving unconditionally.