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To Grieve or Not to Grieve: A Daughter Ends Her Silence on a Mother Who Never Was

To Grieve or Not to Grieve: A Daughter Ends Her Silence on a Mother Who Never Was

Shabnam Samuel
  • We need stronger South Asian stories of loss and regret, of taboo subjects like divorce, abandonment, mental and physical abuse.

My mother who was 84 passed away a month ago. The call came while I was at work. She in India and me in America. The distance, symbolic of the divide between us, was there all our lives. It was expected, given her health, but still…

How do children of divorced parents grieve? How do you let your emotions flow through you and recognize them for what they are? Do you even have any emotions? Are the children who never knew their parents, even allowed to grieve?

Growing up in India in the 1960s when my parents divorced, it was an incident that was swept under the rug as soon as it happened. By not talking about it, it was presumed no one knew about it. I lived with my maternal grandparents and grew up distanced from my mother in the same town. Our Indian culture doesn’t give us the space to talk about our individual stories. We are a collective society and our stories have to be collective too. 

Our relationships are built on assumptions and expectations. We each have this idea on how the other person should be and that is what we hang on to. We as Indians grow up with messages of conditional love, shame and the need to hide. The need to hide taboo subjects like divorce, abandonment, mental and physical abuse. Issues like this do not meet a standard for social acceptability, this correlates to the fear of rejection and loss of family and community support.

I have never called my mother, mom, mummy, mama, amma, ma or anything.  By addressing her by any of these words, would have meant, letting the new world that she had moved on to, that she was my mother.

Growing up in India in the 1960s when my parents divorced, it was an incident that was swept under the rug as soon as it happened. By not talking about it, it was presumed no one knew about it. 

It was not a decision or a choice that I made. The choice was made for me. The elders knew better. I knew the truth. But the world at large around me pretended that they did not know the truth. No one looked me in the eye and told me who I was. Everyone went about leading their lives. The surface of the sea had no waves. The waves, the tidal waves and the whirlpools were all inside of me. And that’s where the silence began.  

The silence works on stripping you of all the feelings that you have, the words that you want to say and the questions that you want to ask. Community bonds are strong, it is difficult to break those bonds and upset people by sharing details of the past. So, to keep the honor of the elders, the parents and the society, a child is sacrificed at this altar of honor. Never mind if the child is seven or 37.

This needs to change. We need stronger South Asian stories of loss and regret. We cannot just always talk about my dad the doctor, my kid the scientist or my brother the lawyer. We need to talk about women and men and children, who are fractured, who are broken, who have made a mistake, anything… this imperfection needs to be “allowed,” needs to be brought to the forefront. Every broken or flawed individual has a right to live, to exist and to have the world know who they are.

Today, I write to prove that I exist.

I am ending this with a poem which I wrote on my mother and is part of my book.

She looked at me with those eyes

Those brown eyes

Those eyes that I saw everyday

In the mirror when I brushed my teeth

In the mirror when I combed my hair

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Did those eyes recognize my face?

Did those eyes see her own eyes, reflected in my eyes?

Did she see the question in my eyes?

Did she have the answer in her eyes?

Oh Dementia do I see you reflected in her eyes

Or is it the reflection of a shadow of regret that she hides behind.


Shabnam Samuel is the author of best-selling memoir, “A Fractured Life” and is an international motivational speaker. She is also the founder of the Panchgani Writers’ Retreat ( www.panchganiwritersretreat.com), based out of Panchgani in India. The retreat incorporates mindful living along with creativity and wellness following Ayurveda principles, with yoga, meditation and writing workshops. Shabnam is a student at the Kerala Ayurveda Academy in Kerala, India. When she is not writing, speaking or learning, you can find her cycling somewhere in the suburbs of Maryland where she has lived for over 30 years.”

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