On the Loss of a Mother Who Lives

When a parent forces you to bury them while they still live and breathe

Yen Lo
5 min readApr 8, 2024
Simon Pegg as Shaun and Nick Frost as Ed in Shaun of the Dead are playing video games on a sunny day as rays of light lighten the area behind them. Shaun is smiling. Ed is a zombie.
Simon Pegg (Shaun) and Nick Frost (Ed) in Universal’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’

I couldn’t sleep.

The edibles and the herb didn’t do enough to keep me sleepy. It was hot and I was hydrated enough to feel like a racehorse. Then, I did what any normal person does when I get back to bed: I got on my phone.

I saw a text message from my mother, and though I normally ignore these until I am able to get a lot more rest (and that’s if I respond at all), the snippet of the message that I could see showed a death in our extended family. I was a little wary because talking to my mother often leads to her narcissistic rants and deviations where even my stories are opportunities for her to focus on how amazing she was. She interrupts me far too often and depending on my refusal to compromise my principles and morals on a topic, she will yell or raise her voice as if I’m not an adult. I thought that this conversation might be short and different because this was about a death. I also sent a text telling her I needed to get back to bed, so we needed to keep it short. That’s where I screwed up.

What a foolish thing to do. Immediately, I regretted making the call because I could be sleeping. That said, I had a joint and I wanted to smoke it, so I figured I could smoke it while learning more about my aunt’s death. Instead, my mother complained about how she wasn’t notified of the death until recently. That should have been my first warning to abort this attempt at being more than just a distant and aloof (and very indifferent) daughter.

Eventually, she shares her thoughts on Ukraine and Palestine after a few more light-hearted topics. I have avoided addressing her on this, mainly because of her denialism regarding the bombings of hospitals in Palestine. Again, I should have ended the call right there, but I was noting less ignorance coming from her, so I wanted to keep educating her. If you have a narc parent, I need you to understand that, though you may make this mistake, maybe you can learn from mine. Please don’t even give them the chance to speak. End the conversation or call and go do something more productive with your time.

I am beyond disappointed that the woman that birthed me is so cavalier in the face of a genocide of the Palestinian people. You can’t pick your parents, though, am I right? I figured the atrocities committed in Palestine would eventually be undeniable even to her. She did sound more enlightened (not by much) and willing to listen, but when I told her about some of our acts of resistance, she yelled at me. Apparently, the world has always been like this (that winning Boomer nihilism) and outrage and advocacy are a waste of time. This is her way of coping with her cowardice.

Look, no matter where you stand on this, you should at least be able to call for a ceasefire and for peace. We do not want to see Palestinian parents mourning their dead children, bodies mangled and broken, their eyes looking into nothingness because there’s nothing behind them at all. That’s a concern for any human with compassion and empathy. It’s also human to want to end this genocide so that the Israeli hostages can be go back home to their families.

Her concern was that her job would be at risk if I was actively advocating for a ceasefire everywhere I could. I stood my ground and told her I will not apologize for anything I’ve done because my money is going to weapons and military support for a military and occupation that is as evil and cruel as the brutal apartheid regime of South Africa up until its demise in the 1990s. Furthermore, we’re supposed to be Christians. Silence is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t silent in the face of injustice or suffering. Why would He endorse silence in the face of the savagery the Palestinian people are enduring?

My mother disagreed and then hung up on me. I couldn’t even mourn the loss of peace or civility between us. I couldn’t mourn because I did my grieving for what I never had and what I will never get years ago. That’s how I was able to find freedom and peace.

After kicking myself for even talking to her on the phone — again, she is often relegated to texts that I answer whenever I feel like it — I remembered that much like the heroes in a zombie movie or television show, I was trying to see and find the humanity in the living “dead”. The hero will often recognize that their relative or loved one is indeed a revenant, but they sometimes hesitate when it’s time to save themselves or their living family members from the danger their beloved revenant is about to inflict. The living dead will cannibalize strangers and family. There is no distinction — and this is what it’s like to have a narcissist for a parent.

I’ve fortified my home against the revenant, and we all know that this is our own zombie to deal with. We love her, but we know that we can only love her from afar. We can only mourn her from afar, too. We may keep her in a shed in our hearts like Shaun did Ed in Shaun of the Dead. We may let her roam around outside the fortifications we’ve made mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, but she is still a zombie. She only knows how to feed off flesh and family is not an exception.

I do forgive her and I will continue to forgive her for me and my faith, but our relationship is dead — deep down it is dead, if it ever truly lived at all, and I have ceased grieving. What I am grateful for is that my children were able to listen to the interaction and recognize what it’s like to stand up to a bully and monster without backing down or even getting upset. I get further and final confirmation that there is no redeeming her — it’s not my job to redeem her anyway — and I can continue to heal by putting distance between me and my zombie.

Sometimes fortifications are not enough. Sometimes we need to end the relationship completely (effectively “killing” the zombie) or we need to abandon the zombie to whatever wild paths it will take alone. The mother I thought I had was infected and turned a long time ago. I was just too blind to see that.

So, what next? Well, as usual, I will enjoy my peace and this hiatus from having to acknowledge her existence. I am grateful for these interactions with her because it allows me to see clearly as I continue to grow and mature the way God intended. I am grateful because seeing her for who she is like this allows me to see her for what she isn’t and never was.

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Yen Lo

Not concerned with propriety. Liberation now. Contrarian by design. Black mother. Somebody’s daughter. Guerrilla in the mist. Imperfect Christian.