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A Daughter Honors Her Mom On The First Mother's Day Without Her

How does one even celebrate Mother’s Day in a time like this when you’ve lost the person you’re supposed to be honoring in the first place?

Yesterday, we gathered to celebrate my mom’s life since her passing last week on April 27. She was 74 years old and would have been celebrating her birthday in two months. Yesterday’s celebration was a carefully planned production that started with a mass livestreamed on Facebook followed by a memorial celebration via Zoom webinar. My family and I, as well as my mom’s friends and the people whose lives she touched, weren’t able to see each other in person to celebrate my mom’s life. My siblings, all based in various countries abroad, weren’t able to fly home to say goodbye to their mom one final time, and because I was living on my own in an apartment cities away, neither was I able to. 

Although it was definitely not the conventional way to gather over the passing of a loved one, I was still gladly overwhelmed by the amount of love and support from family and friends all over the world. Seeing relatives from all over the U.S. stay awake past midnight and witnessing senior citizens so willing to wrestle with video conferencing technology so they can join in on the celebration of my mom’s life were testaments that showed how much my mom was loved by these people. 

A bubbly, colorful, loud, and beautifully boisterous woman, my mom Eliza Lazo Matoto was definitely something else. During the celebration yesterday, the people who spoke about her likened her to many things. An eagle, a galaxy, and even fireworks. But to me, she will always be my mama bear. She fought for me so many times when no one else would. Even going above and beyond to stand up for me no matter what. I will never forget that time she told me (way after I had graduated high school and was in college at the time) about when she was called down to my conservative all-girls high school to “talk about Pilar.”

Being worried that something horrible had happened, she personally went to my school and met with the administrator who called her in. There, she was taken to a room and was told the shocking news. 

“Pilar is getting very close to another classmate,” my teacher told her. “We are worried she might be exhibiting homosexual tendencies.” 

My mom was shocked... that she was called all the way down to my school just to be told this. With two words, she left the teacher speechless. “So what?” my mom said. “I placed my daughter here to be taught, not judged.” 

I knew that I would be in serious trouble if I stepped out of the cookie cutter they placed me in at school. I obeyed and waited patiently for college because I knew that I could be my queer self at home where it mattered most. But still, I was watched like a hawk and dragged to the guidance office only to be interrogated on multiple occasions. I used to think it was a miracle that I managed to put up with all of that but I know now that I have the unconditional love of my mom and dad to thank for it. You see, my mom was always unapologetically herself. 

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She lived her truth boldly and she’d be damned if her own daughter was not given the same opportunity. When I came out of the closet, my mom bought me boy-cut shirts and neckties for Christmas. She let me cut my hair as short as I wanted. She even took me to a tailor to have me measured for a proper tuxedo for formal occasions so I wouldn’t have to put up with those still-quite-feminine pantsuits or worse, a dress, and a night of seemingly unending dysphoria. 

When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, my mom rewired her traditional thinking and patiently learned what she could about mental illness. I will never forget the time I was having a panic attack in my room. It was our dog barking at the bottom of the stairs that brought her attention to my sobbing and hyperventilating. At this time, she was undergoing dialysis and was told not to exert herself. But lo and behold, my mom climbed up the stairs despite that and came into my room to hold me and calm me down. In between sobs, I told her she shouldn’t have come upstairs. But she sat with me and held me tight saying simply, “Shhh. It’s okay. I love you.” 

Today is Mother’s Day. I should have a handwritten letter all folded up and ready by now. I should be sitting quietly by her side watching her eyes go over each word. There should be a sniffle here and there and the sounds of happy tears hitting the paper. But the only sniffles I hear are my own. And the tears this time around are so terribly sad. I can’t put it any other way. My heart hurts. How does one even celebrate Mother’s Day in a time like this when you’ve lost the person you’re supposed to be honoring in the first place?

I miss my mom so much, but whenever I am suddenly gripped by a pain deep inside my chest, I try to remind myself that she is an adventurous soul. Her body—afflicted with diabetes and struggled with a compromised immune system due to a kidney transplant she had over a year ago—was no longer kind to her. She could no longer travel as much as she used to, not even to visit the people she loved so dearly. She could no longer crush people at sports like golf, tennis, and bowling. I’m not saying it was time for her to go. If I had control over time, I would keep her with me forever. But I know that that would be the most selfish thing to do. 

One of my favorite songs to play and sing on the guitar is “Blackbird” by The Beatles. It’s a classic that always made people sing along and it was fun to play. When asked if I would send in a video of me performing for the memorial celebration, I said that I would play “Blackbird” just out of habit. 

We recorded using a no-frills setup of just an iPhone in the apartment I share with my girlfriend in Quezon City. I didn’t think anything of it. I just knew my mom would’ve wanted me to play an oldies song and picked the one I could play best. During the memorial, my sister had transformed my video into a beautiful slideshow of my mom in black and white and it was during this time that the song meant something to me.

My mom’s adventurous soul is the blackbird, and now she flies free. I will miss her and my heart will always hurt even just a little bit. But I know for a fact that she lives on in the memories and hearts of the people whose lives she touched. She undoubtedly lives on in mine. 

Goodbye for now, mom, my mama bear, my blackbird.

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