I didn’t become a mother until I was 43 years old. It is 18 years later, and I am not just a mother, but a widow. I never expected to be a mother, and I certainly never thought I’d be a widow. My husband Gregory, an architect, died of metastatic melanoma in 2007. For five years, I have been a single mother, raising Lili, in Weston, Conn.
And now, Lili has made her decision about which college to attend, and in a matter of days, she’ll be gone. I will be truly alone, a widow, and an empty-nester. I am scared, but also relieved. We did it, Lili and I. We made it to the finish line. High school is over, and we both survived, intact, closer than ever. I wonder if she is as afraid as I am about our inevitable separating, but I don’t ask. And she doesn’t tell.
A confession: Lili is the most remarkable person I have ever known. She is a survivor, having been left on a cold street in Hefei, China, at just a few days old. She spent her first year in an orphanage, or Welfare Institute. When Gregory and I met her, she was healthy, strong, independent. Here’s what she wrote in her college essay, “Two of Us”:
“My name is Wei Xinfei, but I am Lili Clement. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I am one person with two names, my identity and personality formed across two continents, in two countries; I was given birth by two families.”
She goes on to describe her birth in China, her adoption, her father’s death, and her two selves. She concludes with:
“I value what both of my births have given me. I’ve learned to love and to be loved, as well as care for others, as I was cared for. I know now that I am both Wei Xinfei and Lili Clement, and I’m proud of how far they’ve both carried me.”