The Absence of One Mother Gives Many

Some years ago, I took a trip around the world,

and when I came back, I cut off my mother.

Even now, it's hard to say to people.

Cut off. Mother.

Not because of the words, but of how people hear it.

She was not a bad mother, nor a bad person. Truthfully she did her best and I always understood that. And perhaps for other people that best would have been enough, but for me it fell flat. For while she did love, she was somehow absent. Not just when I was small and needed her protection the most, but when I was older, and needed a mentor and a friend.

There was a moment, somewhere along my journey, that I knew I would not see her again.


Standing in a crowded market in the highlands of India, on the edge of Bhutan. For months, each day I had I visited the same market-man and his mish-mash stall leaning into the dust and gutter. Day old produce stuffed in cracked plastic pails. Aluminum forks and pots mixed with lumpy greenish tangerines. Spices wrapped in newspaper tied with blue plastic string. He squatted like a king, surrounded by streaks of red betel nut juice and half empty biscuit wrappers, drinking chai from clay cups.

His wife, blurred. Moving, dusting, yellow sari flecked with silver threads in soft focus.

One day, as I knelt among the kitchen ware and spices, I turned to see his wife beside me. She pressed a cake with marigold petals into my hands. Warm, saffron scented, marigold blooms staining my palms. And for the first time, I noticed  the market-man's wife. Hair streaked with silver. Eyes milky. Nails uneven. Brittle. Bitten.

"She knows your sorrow, so she gives you this. For luck. Blessing." Her husband came and stood near me. His hands brushed crumbs from his hennaed beard, his eyes searching mine. His wife, bent, blurring again, as she swept the ground with a broom of homemade branches. Each time her wrist flicked, a question. Each time the dust billowed, another question. I knew what she was asking.

I knew what he meant, too: my sorrow. I knew what it was. I just didn't know that it showed, because I worked so hard to show joy. In fact I had forced myself to go half way around the world to escape my sorrow, and I was surprised that it had followed me to this remote place.

I knew then I could not escape it, not simply by traveling.

To go was not enough.

Letting go would be.

In that moment, I felt closer to my market man and his wife than I felt to my own parents. And over the next month, that woman cared for me, and I cared for her. We sat together under the jade green eaves of her crumbling house, weaving brooms from sticks, without talking, but each knowing. Her loss: the death of her children. My loss: the absence of my mother. There were no more questions to be asked. She rocked as she wove the branches together, rocked children that were long since gone. I rocked against her and as our backs slid against one another, I cried tearlessly.


When I came home some years later, my heart had already said goodbye. The words came easily. There was no agony in deciding. Goodbye opened my heart to love, to love of myself, to loving others. It was a moment when I had to decide what was true: my memories of abuse or the story I was encouraged to believe. I choose my own truth, and in doing so, empowered myself. But I couldn't keep her--or my family-- in my life to do that. It was difficult only in its finality. But the world went from red to gold in that instant. Red to gold.

My mother was artistic, funny, passionate. A traveler. An adventurer. A reader. She was very intelligent, diverse and opinionated. She was like a child, brilliant and shining in her own universe. And for these things I thank her, for I take after her and I am grateful for these gifts.


Today, I am grateful to all the mothers I have met, women who mothered me when I did not even know I needed mothering. Here are a few of them below:


Mother's Day used to be such a confusing holiday for me, until I realized that I had so many mothers to thank and to celebrate. Without these women, I think I would be afraid. Afraid of being alone, afraid of living, afraid of giving. But they've each taught me that fear doesn't conquer. Love does.

Amy Gigi Alexander

(Leave a comment, a "like", or share just below. And Happy Mother's Day to each of you, who all mother someone, somewhere.)