Hidden in Plain Sight: Healing from an Emotionally Absent Mother

Originally featured in Patheos/MostlyMuslim

I saw you today.

You were standing in your bedroom by the window. I saw your face—the curve of your lips, the turn of your nose, the soft pores of your cheeks. You were quiet while I soaked you in. So beautiful. Just the way I remember. Your soft hands, I can almost feel them.

I moved in front of you and stared into your eyes. Those vacant eyes of yours. And then I spoke…

You irritated me. All you did was talk about the past, like a broken record. The whole world moved on, but you. Life passed you by, and you hardly even noticed.

You didn’t even see me. I was invisible to you. You didn’t even know who my friends were. How could you, it’s not like I could invite anyone over. The few times I tried, you embarrassed me. You kept pacing the house, like you always did. I hoped they wouldn’t notice, but they did. Normal people don’t walk back and forth aimlessly. But your pacing was normal to me, until they made me realize how abnormal you were.

And then you made it worse. You paced your way into my room, where I tried to find some privacy. And you stopped. And you stared. And I kept talking to my friend, pretended you weren’t standing there. And then she whispered, “Why is your mom staring at us?”

I couldn’t even watch my shows in peace. You’d keep walking in front of the TV. Or you’d flick on the light switch as you paced towards the kitchen. “Turn off the light, Mummy!” You’d pace back. Flick off the light. “Thank you.” Then you’d return, flick on the light. “Turn off the light!” You’d pace back. Flick off the light. Over, and over, we played this game. You just liked to annoy me.

I was a starter on the basketball team, but you never came to my games. I was anchor woman on the track team, but you never came to my meets. I played a solo in the school orchestra, but you weren’t there to applaud me. You never came. I learned to expect nothing, not even hope.

But I miss you.

And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I pushed you away when you’d try to hug me. I’m sorry I pushed you away when you’d try to kiss me. I knew you loved me. I just wanted you to *see* me. Like, *really* see me. But I knew you couldn’t.

“She’s depressed.”

That was the answer to everything when it came to you. And somehow, that was supposed to make me feel better.

I’m sorry I rebelled. You suffered enough. You didn’t deserve any more pain. I'm sorry I caused you pain. I was just lost and confused.

But you saved me.

When I hit rock bottom, you reminded me. “This dunya is full of problems,” you said. “Look at my life. I lost my husband, I lost my mind, all I do is cry. Life will give you problems. Don’t create more problems for yourself.” For the first time in my young life, you guided me, and we cried together.

Because we *both* lost.

I lost my childhood and you lost your motherhood.

I remember. When I was small. Before you got sick. You used to take care of me. You fed me with your soft hands. You sang me Urdu lullabies. You picked me up when I’d fall down.

I remember.

But you got sick.

And it’s not your fault.

I can’t imagine what you went through. Having a nervous breakdown. Being hospitalized. Away from your children for months. Put on medications that would numb your emotions. Losing control of your mind.

You could no longer experience the joy of watching us grow. Being an active participant in our lives. You couldn’t advise us on how to be good wives and mothers. How to run our households.

You were weak, but you made us strong. Because of you, we learned independence. We became self sufficient. We got ourselves up for school. We packed our own lunches. We did our own laundry. We made our own appointments.

We got married. We got jobs. We finished college. We took care of our families. We struggled, and we succeeded.

Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal

But I miss you.

I know you’re in a better place. Free from suffering. All you experience now is happiness and euphoria. It gives me peace that you’re at peace. You deserve it. More than anyone.