We said goodbye to Flori this week. After more than 15 yrs in the U.S., she decided to return Home.
Flori was a mail-order bride. She is not embarrassed to acknowledge this. She said she did it for the same reasons as other women: to find a better life or to get away from the life they had. When her first marriage failed; she remarried Mr. T. She had hoped that this one would last. There was just one hitch. Flori had an adopted daughter in the Philippines and she wanted her husband to adopt her daughter and bring her to the U.S. After more than a decade, Flori got tired of waiting for him to act on his promise. In the meantime, he had become emotionally abusive and Flori eventually divorced him.
In the meantime, the adopted daughter in the Philippines had grown up without her Mom. The grandmother who took care of her is now ailing. Her daughter had graduated as a Nurse and is about to start her own life. Flori had to decide whether to stay in the U.S. or return home. In the U.S. she had a good job at the university and was an active volunteer in the community. She could have been happy here.
And yet she couldn't bear the thought of not having been the mother she could have been. She now wanted to be there for her daughter and her mother.
I am the Prodigal Mother, she told us. I hope it is not too late to return, to make amends, to start a new life. I did what I had to do and I thought it was going to work out. But now more than ever, my daughter needs me. My mother needs me. I am coming home.
Flori's story touches me deeply. Stories of Return do this to me. I think it has something to do with a Yearning and Longing that we all share -- to re-connect, to remember our promises and commitments, to return to our roots, to follow the Call.
It is also the story of the thousands of OFWs, migrant workers, immigrants who involuntarily leave the Philippines for supposedly greener pastures. The women leave their children behind to be raised by other family members. Long-distance parenting. Surrogate Parenting. Parenting via balikbayan goods sent home.
It is the story of women who put their names and photos in mail-order bride catalogs and websites. Looking for Mr. Right or Mr. White. Looking for the American dream. Looking for love. Looking for amelioration. Looking for hope. Looking for happiness.
Flori wanted me to share her story because she wants to share the lessons she has learned from the consequences of her earlier choices. In her farewell talk to her friends, she admonished everyone to learn how to love, how to care for one another, how to stay married, how to serve God and each other. She reminded her friends to be faithful and committed to the pursuit of God.
Even those who are not religious or Catholic (like me) resonate with this. But perhaps only because Flori has touched all of our lives in small and big ways.
When Flori first heard that we are organizing the Babaylan conference she didn't know what a Babaylan is. But when we started talking about what a Babaylan does, she started to remember that her mother is a healer and at times has taught her how to do hilot. When I learned about all the things she does in the community after her 9 to 5 job -- doing elder care, home care, assisting friends in need, doing bookkeeping, house cleaning, babysitting -- all in the name of serving her community, I knew that she also had the healing gift. She, too, is touched by the spirit of the Babaylan.
Welcome Home, Flori.