BY LILY KHATCHATOURIAN SAVADIAN
This article is a tribute to the woman who accepted me and loved me as her own. A woman who understood the root of love is in service to her family. Mom’s grace is exceptional in every way.
I was 56 years old when I found out that Mom was not my biological mother. Within those 56 years, I had no reason to ever doubt that I may not be hers. Her endless, unconditional love was a testament to her belief that I was the most precious being in her life.
Every mother gives much to her child. However, the power of Mom’s love transcended all other affections of the heart. Why? Because I received the love of two mothers through my mom, Emma. For 19 years, she was unable to conceive, and she prayed and paid pilgrimage to Tadeh Vank in hopes of having a daughter. She told me, one day Dad brought me to her and said, “Here is the daughter you have always wanted.” Dad had given her the most precious gift of all, a daughter that would be lucky enough to be called her bales (endearing word for “my baby”).
This was at a time when science was not advanced enough to make surrogacy and insemination possible. I am not sure why my parents did not choose adoption. Nevertheless, by bringing me, my dad gave my mom Emma a life so complete that no objection was raised, and I became her bales for life. Growing up, I felt that I was special to my parents in every way, but did not know why.
The grace of my mom is her power of love, an unconditional love. She was a messenger who always gave so much love, but still wanted to give more—because no amount of love was ever enough for her bales.
Mom’s love for me was beyond words, but it was a love which could be easily seen in her eyes. She took the role of motherhood to a new height. She gave so much love that putting it into words almost devalues her devotion, sacrifice, pain, unselfishness, patience, kindness, and trueness to her feelings.
In retrospect, I believe that she must have prayed and sent blessings to the woman who gave me life, because not once have I heard her judge others for their choices. Not once have I heard her speak negatively about my dad. And, even now that she has Dementia, when I ask her, “Who is Fedoosh?,” she promptly replies that he was a very good husband, confirming her endless gratitude for the most precious gift Dad gave her.
The secret, that Mom did not give birth to me, was kept and respected by everyone around us. It was almost like a pact that everyone who knew us—old or young, family or distant—knew not to break. I was loved by everyone and reveled in my childhood with my cousins.
I found out that Dad did not want me to know about this secret until after he was gone. I often wonder why he wanted to keep this a secret. I certainly don’t judge him, and, in fact, I praise his courage to take an unconventional route to create a family he was so dedicated to. And to Mom, there was no other man more loving and gentler than Dad. Everyone who came into contact with Dad would remember his kindness.
Nature works at its own accord. After Dad passed, Mom slowly developed Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It was a very hard decision for me to transfer Mom to Ararat Board and Care, however it had to be done for her own safety. She knew it was a difficult choice for me to make and even told me, “I know you would not do anything that is not the best for me.” To me, this was her loving way of easing my mind, by offering me solace.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia have a way of stripping the mind of all filters. She would often get fixated on the past and talk about the same subjects for weeks. She would hide her clothes and belongings in the drawers. One Christmas, we decorated a small tree for her. When we went back to visit her the next day, we were shocked to see all the decorations on the tree were missing—she had hid them all in her drawers. She would often talk to herself in the mirror, thinking the other person in the mirror was a guest over for coffee. During one of her meetings with her “guest,” I walked into her room and found her confiding to the person in the mirror that she had been barren, and her husband had brought home a daughter for her. She was telling her guest that this daughter of hers is very nice, and still comes to visit. Like many of her fixated subjects, this subject continued for several weeks, prompting me to do a DNA test confirming that she was not my biological mother.
I thought myself to be a strong person and that I would take this well. But as days and weeks passed, the guilt that came over me was unbearable. I had judged Mom for being weak, clingy, powerless and dependent all my life. I had vowed that I would never be like her. But, now I was looking at her past from another angle. This woman, whom others and I perceived as weak for being overbearing, was actually one of the strongest women I knew.
Her strength lied in her extraordinary love. In my adult years, I idolized Mother Teresa’s strength of character and power, anchored by unconditional love. Now I was realizing that I had lived with Mother Teresa all my life. How ignorant of me to have not noticed that her strength was in loving her family. Now, more than ever, I wanted to have the strength of my mom. I wanted to be half the person my mom was.
Mom’s strength of character and power, anchored by unconditional love, had silenced everyone against gossip. She took the responsibility of motherhood not only by loving me, caring for me, defending me, and protecting me but also by playing the role of a father when Dad’s work took him to different parts of the country for several months at a time.
She would not let me out of her sight. When playing with other children, my mom would come to check up on me constantly ignoring the complaints of other moms who said, “You were just there. We see her, she is okay.” She had to come see for herself that I was safe. I wanted to take the school bus so bad, but mom would walk me to and from school, making sure I was safely delivered to school, and then walk me back home. I would get more gifts than any of my other friends for Christmas, when in those days, one or two gifts were customary. She would sing lullabies and tell me stories until I would fall sleep. When we would go to the field for weekend picnics, kids would pick flowers for their mom. She always said that I made the prettiest wild flower bouquets among others. She would say my bouquets always stood out. Because in her eyes, everything I did was just right.
Everything about me was perfect to her. She would give so much love, but it seems that there was a part of her that would still want to give more. Her unconditional love for me filled me to the rim and overflowed. After I found out the truth, when I would thank her for her love and care, she would say in her jumbled words, “You deserved more, you were a good kid,” and close her eyes and nod.
Her extraordinary love does not have a measure. To this day, her authentic, endless love radiates through her presence, when she calls me bales, or in her mishmash words, sends me a blessing when I kiss her goodbye. Even now that she has lost most of her memory, her loving heart has no boundaries. Her love is something unexplainable. It was made of deep devotion, sacrifice, and pain. It was endless, unselfish, and enduring. For nothing can destroy it or take that love away—not even Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
I know she understands and feels my pain, because she does not remember me, so she tries to compensate for this hurt in her confused, endearing words. One day when I was leaving her, she thanked me and said, “Thanks for taking good care of me.” That two second sentence lives with me forever because I know she said it to ease the mind of her most beloved.
When she was somewhat still alert, she would smile at every child who would pass by, and she would want to touch them and love them. Amazingly, most kids would gravitate towards her and would smile back. After all the love and dedication she had given me, she still had more to give.
My angelic mom, you will always be there to love me as you always have. And when we meet again at the journey’s end, I will have a thousand things to tell you. I will kiss a thousand times the hands that held mine. I will ask for your forgiveness a thousand times, for my impatience with you when you were phasing into Dementia. I will have a thousand memories to share with you. And I will thank Dad a thousand times for bringing me to you.