It hardly feels like you’re gone. When it was official, strangely, I felt like an orphan all over again. In an instant, it felt as if my childhood receded into the ocean’s arms, and I felt a loss as to how to get that childhood back.
You and I had unusual beginnings. Rather than seeing each other’s face for the first time in a hospital setting, we met at a Chicago airport after my long journey across the world. From day one, we worked on understanding each other and developing a relationship — a relationship accompanied by many, many long talks with you trying to get me to open up. It wasn’t always easy, and we had rocky times. After all, we were two people who had already formed our identities. It wasn’t always easy for either of us, but nothing of worth ever comes easy, does it?
For the first few months I cried for my foster mother, a woman I thought was my mother because she was the only mother figure I knew at the time. But as someone who themselves had a tumultuous childhood, an inconsistent home base, and a mother who seemed to come and go like a flickering candle, I think you tried to understand and did your best to guide me through these times.
A consistent fear I hear from those considering adoption is, ‘What if I don’t love them as if they are my own?’ I never felt that way with you. We had our typical parent and child strife, but I knew you loved me just as much as the three beautiful sons you birthed from your own body. As a child, you always told me, ‘While I gave birth to your three brothers, it was you I picked.’ So, when people express these concerns of unequal love, I can testify a mother is more than just blood. They are your protectors and your happiness. They are your lifeline and a bank to deposit your hurts and worries in.
Growing up, I would face my bullies because I was different. Because my color was different, and because I was not perceived as ‘American,’ I would often be made fun of, left out, told to go back to my country, and yes, even threatened. You would offer to sit on these bullies. We decided against it for legal purposes. Instead you taught me to stand up for myself, and that I was no different or less than others. You taught me to speak my mind, to be strong, and to be confident. You taught me to be proud of who I am. You taught us all to be opinionated — opinions you could have done without many, many times, I’m sure.
Mothers are an impenetrable force who protect you, give you advice, and comfort you even when you’re an adult. You always protected us, and at times overly protected, but it stemmed from love. You always had tips and advice. As children and even adults, we didn’t always pay heed to them because you taught us to be our own person and make our own decisions. But there were moments where your lessons stood out.
I’ll never forget the cold winter of my twelfth year. We went to Target, and it was very busy so we had to park far. As we were going in, I pointed to a blank disabled parking spot and exclaimed, ‘I wish we could park there, mom.’ You jerked my hand and said, ‘You shouldn’t say that, Kam. People don’t WANT to park there.’ It’s a lesson I didn’t fully understand until I myself would be forced to start using those blue-lined parking spots in my mid-twenties. On that day your words overcame me, because it was then I fully realized parking there was not a reward, yet a milestone I so deeply hated.
You taught us every room should have something red in it, which subconsciously I guess I did listen to because my home’s main accent color is red and, well… my hair is red.
Among the sharpest memories I have of you is watching you dress up as you put on your makeup and jewelry, while you retold the stories behind your Australian marcasite watches and your times in Australia as a young woman. I remember watching you cook and you teaching me organization, whether it was putting together our epic annual garage sale or cooking for over 200 people for the many confirmations and graduations you hosted. During these times, you and I were an inseparable team and together we did all the cooking and cleaning for these large events. These examples are largely why I’m so organized today.
You and grandma taught me how to give through food, and the art of inclusivity and open door policy — a philosophy I hold dearly and employ today. I will remember you for your incessant love of country music and all the songs we would listen to together. It was always playing in the van or while we were cleaning, and sometimes we would take an extra lap around the block if our favorite song came on. Though I don’t really listen to country music today, except for the old 50s and 60s classics, it seems to be the only genre I know every word to.
I will remember you for our nightly ritual of hot chocolate, especially in the winter, as we watched Golden Girls, Beaches, Stella, and classics like Sound of Music, Show Boat, Little Women, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and then some. Oddly, this year, I said when I’m in town we should watch them again and drink hot chocolate, to which you said, ‘Nah, I really didn’t really like those classics like Sound of Music. I just watched those to spend time with you.’
One of the most loved memories I have of you is our Christmases as children. You worked so hard to give us the world and many times stayed up until 3 a.m. wrapping presents. You gave us more than we needed, and certainly more than we deserved, but it was your way. You wanted us happy.
You always thought of us first, even with your decision to be a stay-at-home mom. You wanted to be there to raise us. You not only raised us, but managed to touch many other children along the way through the multiple babysitting jobs you took on to make ends meet. Sometimes you took on as many as 10 additional kids, and it was often a thankless job. Being a stay-at-home mother is one of the biggest jobs in the world, and it often goes unnoticed. It’s a sacrifice of personal desires, and through it one can lose a sense of who they are. Sometimes, even as a child, I could see this on your face, as you cared for many over yourself day in and day out. But it seemed you were determined to make a better life for us — better than what you had — and you did.
Going through your belongings the past couple weeks, while sitting in your chair, seemed out of sorts. I guess I don’t quite see you as gone yet. I kept thinking, ‘We shouldn’t be here,’ and at any moment you’d come in and say, ‘Kam, don’t throw that 10 year old Tupperware away… Josh, Ryan, or Kathleen may want that.’
I looked through old pictures of you in Australia and wondered who you were — your dreams and your hurts. When you decided to leave Australia, I wondered if it was because you found something, lost something, were searching, or running away. Whatever the reason was, I admired your leap of faith in traveling across the world towards the unknown. Perhaps you taught me a little of that. It’s what I feel when I try something new and challenging, or take off on spontaneous road trips and travel.
Seeing what you saw every night from your living room chair was sobering. As you got older our shadows began to merge. When I began using a cane, you began using a cane. When I went into a wheelchair, you began using a chair. And as my immobility increased, you became immobile yourself. Witnessing your mother’s degrading mobility while knowing intimately how she feels seemed unnatural, and I hated knowing exactly how you felt. I hated knowing the fear you felt every time you struggled to stand up. And all the insecurities and worries that come from taking a single step, or performing basic tasks many of us take for granted. You and I spoke of it, but often it was an unspoken understanding. Dependence and immobility can be among the cruelest, as well as lonely. Many times I wished I could be there to help you through it. I truly hated how lonely you felt.
You frequently wrote poetry wondering where your mother was. We never had to worry. We never had to feel like you weren’t there, or that you would leave for long periods of time. Our relationship wasn’t always easy, but if there was one thing we knew, it was that we were your life. Your love was real, and I know the heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find unconditional love. You had compassion, your own sweetness, and a pure way of looking at the world with quirky humor, which would cause you to laugh at your own silly jokes before you could even got them out — something Jason tells me I do all the time.
I’m sorry if there were stars you wished you could have touched but never seemed to reach. But know you were instrumental in helping us reach ours. You did your very best, and motherhood was your greatest achievement. Though it will take some time to realize the magnitude of losing a figure so instrumental in influencing what you became, your memory will simmer in our hearts and minds as we celebrate your life and memories. Even though I’m sad you’re no longer with us, don’t worry about me. The tools you gave me will guide me through life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kam Redlawsk. You can follow Kam’s journey on Instagram, Facebook, or her website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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