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A letter to my mahk

Chicago lakefront

Mahk,

We often in silence express our gratitude and love towards one another. This time I’m going to tell you I love you out loud. I missed that chance with dad before his passing. I never once uttered I love you to him and now I do it in spirit hoping he hears it. I don’t want to make that same mistake with you.

Our relationship is not perfect. I’ve yearned for that “TV mother and daughter relationship” where they both laugh, go shopping or dining together, and most importantly confide with one another. Because of our individual trauma histories, having this type of emotional bond is hard for the both of us. The lack of communication is not due to resistance, but what was culturally ingrained that passed on to each other. We bicker when we can’t handle raw emotions. It’s how we managed these unfamiliar territories. It meant a one sided relationship where I was silenced.

The recent event changed my perspective when I was forced to confront you in tears that ended our silence.  I realized that we need each other to heal our wounds. We need love to get through our  pain. I finally learned to forgive you for not being the ideal mother that I wished for. What I’ve learned instead is to give compassion and sympathy. I know you’re doing the best you can from what you learned and suffered. I will never understand the fear as you escaped Cambodia to the Thailand refugee camps. I can only imagined what it may have been like to flee from the travesty called the Khmer Rouge.  You must have been exhausted from running and the lack of food in your stomach.

Today, I want to acknowledge you for your strength and the wisdom  you passed onto me.

As a widow you knew how tough it was going to be caring for two children on your own. You worked 9 hours a day standing as you assemble grills. Your business savvy skills kept us from financial pitfalls. Not once have you hesitated, complained, or questioned the challenges that came to us.  It is unimaginable the level of stress you may have to deal with on a daily basis. While grandpa may lack faith by calling us failures, you showed me that his words should not slow us down from achieving our goals in life.  I admire your tenacity and respect you for this.

You taught me independence at the age of 8. You told me to let go of my fears and walk into that convenient store to buy the snack that I wanted. “Don’t be afraid! Speak up!” That moment changed my life. I am a strong independent woman just like you.

Mahk, I’m so grateful to have you in my life. You’ve done so much for me more so than I have in return. I know I am not a perfect daughter and gave you grief from time to time. I hope this letter shows how much I appreciate you and the work you’ve done. Thank you for being my mom. I could never ask for someone else to replace you. Happy Mother’s Day.

Love always,

Your daughter


Phirany Lim is a Cambodian/Chinese American from Chicago, Illinois.

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