Long before I became anything else – a friend, partner, mother, or any other roles I have taken on – I was first and foremost someone’s child. I mean, isn’t that just the universal truth for everyone in this world? We came to being because our mothers gave birth to us, and we began our days as someone’s child, before we develop a more sophisticated sense of ourselves and take on more evolved identities as we go along.
This is the reason why, when I lost my father in July 2020, thirteen years after losing my mother, I hit an existential crisis. Despite being in my early 30’s, and being a mother myself, I felt both a great sense of loss, and lost. When I dug deeper into the experience, I came to realise that it had got to do with the very fact that in addition to losing the only other parent I had left, I also felt that I had lost a part of myself – the one which I had known the longest, and the very identity I had taken on long before I became anything else I am today.
Knowing this has helped me on the path of healing as I continue to make sense of my new world.
But admittedly, recovery is not a linear journey – some days are good, while some others are more difficult.
Just yesterday, I was driving my 4-year-old daughter, Selma, to the florist to pick up some flowers. We were going to get some white lilies and carnation (my father’s and mother’s favourites respectively) which I had intended to lay on their graves as we planned to visit them at their final resting place this weekend. I make this as a form of tradition the weekend before Eid every year, something I had grown up doing with my Dad as his parents died before I was born.
While on the way to the florist, Selma innocently asked, “Mummy, why are your parents in the garden?”
When we lost my father last year, my husband and I took the time to explain what happened to her – telling her, factually, that his heart had stopped working and that he had died. Knowing that death is a completely abstract concept for an almost 4-year-old to grasp, I then told her that he is now resting in a garden, and while he won’t be coming back, we can always visit him there. I thought that by calling his grave a “garden”, she would take comfort in this new place where her grandfather is resting at.
“Are your parents in the soil? Can we dig the soil to see them?” she continued innocently.
As a mother, I know that my children look up to me to be a steady force, a solid person and someone they can rely on for answers. I try to be this person, often, though sometimes, questions like those tug at my inner child who is buried somewhere within me.
This is not the first time I’ve had to reconcile with difficult questions from my daughter – and by difficult, I mean emotionally tough. Not too long ago, Selma burst into tears when she found out that we’d got to put up my father’s house for sale. She got genuinely upset, asking me why we had to sell the house off. “But Atok love this house. I love this house. Where would my cousin and I jump on the big bed then?” she asked, referencing the queen-sized bed that she and her cousin had made into an indoor trampoline whenever they got together at my father’s house.
I came to realise that my daughter is merely projecting my inner child – the kid in my subconscious who is still grappling with this new reality that she has found herself in. This kid does not seem to go away, and I don’t think she ever will.
This Mother’s Day, while I fully embrace my identity as a mother to my two beautiful children, I also celebrate the inner child within me, and my parents for being that steady presence I have learnt to emulate.
Happy Mother’s Day. Miss you everyday, Ibu.