Originally published on The Huffington Post Canada on May 6th, 2014
When Anna was 13 years old, her mother and grandmother were murdered by her mother’s abusive common law partner. Below is a tribute to her mother for Mother’s Day.
On that graduation day from grade 8, I never thought it would be the last day we spent together. I never thought that I would grow up without the most beautiful people by my side. I miss you and grandma very deeply.
I remember your vibrant smile. How you laughed at all the little things in life and how much you loved ice cream. Your compassion, love, honesty and dignity will always be remembered.
The first five years without you were really difficult. I was thrown into the child welfare system. Over the years, I moved around to three different kinship homes and sometimes lived with strangers because there was no one else. I never liked the idea of living with strangers or living with anyone but family. After all, family is our foundation. Family is supposed to jump over hoops to make sure we are safe and well taken care of. I never ended up finding a home where I felt I belonged. Don’t get me wrong, some people I met along the way made me feel like family, but ultimately, no one will replace the position you have in my heart and my life.
When I turned 16, social workers suggested foster care but I didn’t want to live with strangers again (due to the negative experiences in the past) so my only option was to live on my own. I was really scared. I didn’t know what it was going to be like and tons of questions raced through my head: “What is someone supposed to do when they live on their own? At 16? You can do that?”.
I lived in crappy places with cockroaches, fleas, and in a rooming house with men twice my age. In my grade 12 year, I finally found a nice place with very nice landlords, who had really cute kids that often found their way down to my basement apartment to say hi or chat. But I wasn’t happy in my grade 12 year. Most of what I remember was of appointments with social workers, making sure that my brother was okay, finding time to do my homework and learning how to cook, amidst other responsibilities. I did remember grandma teaching me how to fry rice with egg and how to boil noodles but I spent most of my last two years of high school living off frozen dinners every night. I wish I could have learned more when you were still here.
I missed out on a lot of fun things during those years. I skipped friends’ birthday parties because I felt awful that I couldn’t afford a gift. I didn’t go to movies or enjoy shopping sprees, like many of my peers did. When I wasn’t at appointments or dealing with legal matters, I would be at home working diligently on my homework because I remember you use to always say in Cantonese “put your best work and focus into school”. So I did. And I graduated high school with honours and a presidential scholarship with full tuition for my first year of university. I wish you could have been there to see me on graduation day.
I am grateful to all the people who have helped me and believed in me along the way. I don’t think I would be the same person I am today without them. I am fortunate that there are people out there who recognize the struggles and dreams of young people in my situation and have donated to the Children’s Aid Foundation, who have provided me with scholarships to help me achieve my post-secondary educational goals.
I have experienced many unfortunate events as a result of being an orphan — discrimination, being taken advantage of, and the stigmas attached. Watching you and grandma die was the greatest life challenge I could have ever faced. No challenge that I will encounter thereafter will ever be harder than that. At times my world seemed to be crumbling but simultaneously these experiences also pushed my own limits and resiliency; transformed my life and worldview. When I look back after all these years, I am proud of what I have accomplished and I know you are too.
It hurts me that you missed out on so much of my life, and I will always be reminded of your pride and love for me every step along the way. When I got my first job, when I got my first boyfriend, when I had my first audition, when I had my first dance performance — I thought of you. When I get married, have kids and grandkids, I will be thinking of you.
I don’t usually remember Mother’s Day until teachers or friends talk about it. I avoided it in past years because it was just too painful. But now I take it as a chance to reminiscence about all the beautiful things about you and how far I’ve come in my life because of the foundation you laid for me.
I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.