Why it’s time to unghost my mother

Marcilaughlin
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
7 min readDec 24, 2020

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Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash

Butterflies invaded my stomach the first time I learned the name of my biological mother: Cecilia. A name suddenly made her real. It somehow elevated her beyond a mere concept in my mind — “biological mother.” Beyond a vague notion of an unwed 18-year-old who gave twins up for adoption five months into her odyssey of motherhood.

For weeks after learning her name from Mark, my newly discovered biological father, the Simon & Garfunkel song invaded my brain and played incessantly.

Celia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home

How many times has Cecilia had people sing this lyric to her? Does she hate the song? Or maybe she’s always gone by the name Cece, so she doesn’t have to endure the inevitable serenade.

Cece is what Mark calls her when he shares stories of their days together, back in ’67 and ’68. In the era when Mark was attending junior college in L.A. and Cecilia was a senior in high school. In the days of innocence, when they smoked joints together and attended protests of the Vietnam War. These were the days before Cecilia got pregnant and before Mark moved back to Minnesota, ending the relationship. Before Cecilia ever suspected she would be giving up twin girls for adoption, later to be named Kristi Michelle and Marci Lynn Laughlin.

Cecilia. Cece. I find myself uttering her name in my mind, and on occasion saying it aloud. For some reason I prefer Cecilia to Cece. It has more gravitas.

At 11 months Kristi and I were adopted, and armed with just a few facts on which to build a lifetime of imagination. But perhaps I have an underdeveloped imagination, because my mind didn’t rush to fill in all the details. Or at least not overtly. My sister and I grew up knowing we were adopted, knowing that Cecilia was only 18 when we were born. The only other detail we knew was that Cecilia asked that we be raised Catholic when she put us up for adoption.

When I asked Mark about this little detail, shortly after we connected through Ancestry last December, he was rather surprised. He didn’t remember Cecilia being particularly Catholic and quipped, “I can’t remember the subject of religion ever coming up between us — -not even accidentally!”

Was Catholicism something important for her parents? Was it some kind of concession?

And what drove her to give us up for adoption after 5 months? I can’t imagine such a thing. I’ve never been a mother, so I really can’t even pretend to know what that feels like. I only know that, growing up, I always felt sympathy for this person I carried around on the periphery of my imagination, who took on the shroud of an underdog. A young girl given way too much to cope with at a critical age. A girl who was possibly shamed for being a pregnant unwed teen. Did she carry guilt or regret for her choices? Did this event taint the rest of her life? Or was she able to move on gracefully, letting go of the memory of twin girls, able to trust in life and her choices?

I think I stifled my interest in Cecilia decades ago when I was led to believe from an intuitive reading that she had likely perished due to drug overdose. (I wrote about this in another blog. After that I think an air of futility seeped in. Why indulge in inquiry about a mother who was no longer alive?

Or perhaps it felt safer to NOT know. While I’d never indulged in fantasies of what my biological mother might be like, the intuitive reading made me quite aware of what I didn’t want her to be: a drug addict. Someone down and out. Someone deeply unhappy. Someone whose life was scarred by having to give up twin daughters.

But then Mark made his debut in my life, and pronounced her name: Cecilia. On the first day of meeting Mark, he told me that Cece had Mediterranean blue eyes. Like mine. And had unforgettable dimples. Like mine. And was possessed of a keen and curious mind. Like mine.

And now this “biological mother” was no longer a ghost in my mind. I could almost feel her breath on my shoulder. What if she were still alive, after all?

In the week of Mark’s inaugural visit to me in California, he indulged me with as many details as he could remember about Cecilia. But let’s face it. Fifty years takes its toll on memory. Maybe her dimples weren’t as pronounced as he remembers. Maybe her eyes were more gray than blue? Did she have a sense of humor? Did she take life too seriously? Was she ambitious? These questions didn’t have an answer.

When Mark provided me with her last name, which is not very common, I eagerly did a google search. But it yielded nothing.

Then I put Cecilia on the back burner again. Because I was reveling in this sudden entry of a new father into my life, I didn’t feel an urgency to track down my mother. Wasn’t ONE miracle enough for a while? Did I really need to seek out Cecilia? Wouldn’t that be looking a gift horse in the mouth?

So for many weeks I was thinking that I might go happily to my grave without making a move to unghost my mother. I was happy settling for Simon and Garfunkel’s version of Cecilia and indulging myself here and there with google escapades that told me that Cecilia is a name of Latin origin meaning “blind”. And that the most famous person named Cecilia was Saint Cecilia, one of the most famous Catholic martyrs and patron saint of musicians. (According to the revered Wikipedia, despite her vow of virginity, Saint Cecilia was forced by her parents to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian. But she earned her title as patron saint of music because during their wedding, Cecilia sat apart singing to God in her heart.)

Hopefully Cecilia’s fate has been kinder than that of Saint Cecilia, who was beheaded by sword at age 30. Clearly my Cecilia didn’t share the martyr’s vows. But did she ever sing to God in her heart? Or maybe she has a fiery, rebellious spirit and has spent more time blaspheming God than singing to him? I think I’d like that version.

But I’m waking up to the realization that I don’t want to make up versions, or stories in my mind anymore about who Cecilia was or wasn’t. Or rather, who she is or isn’t. And part of this awakening is due to the words of Eleonora, my Italian oracle, which have been rolling around in my head the last couple months. It is Eleonora that I credit for the manifestation of Mark in my life. It was Eleonora who prompted me, through her tarot reading during my trip to Tuscany, to go in search of my roots last fall.

When I came to live with Mark and his wife in February, I texted Eleonora on WhatsApp to tell her how grateful I was for her contribution to this unfolding miracle. She replied that she was thrilled for the re-birth that was underway for me. And she shared the following (my translation from Italian):

Soon, you will also have to dust off the figure of your mother. You must discover who Cecilia is. Then you will be able close an important circle.

I didn’t tell you much about her because your fears related to the maternal relationship were blocking the tarot reading. Focus on Mark, ok, but also think about reviving your relationship to maternity, as this is important for a woman. I know that you block this because your subconscious does it automatically to protect you. But you must force yourself to overcome this step as it will liberate you.

Her words surprised me. I was not aware of the fears she mentioned. In my response, I asked her how to close or complete the circle — especially if Cecilia is no longer alive. She explained that this did not necessarily mean that I had to have a relationship with Cecilia. “Just knowing the history of your maternal side, even if only through stories and words is fundamental,” she wrote. She added:

Nobody can substitute that. It can happen in the imagination, but that won’t bring your rebirth to completion. Reality is a different thing — you can’t deny it; to do so would be to continue suffocating the part of you that is seeking to be reborn and grow and live in freedom. But the choice is yours. No one can interfere with what you will decide to be in this last chapter of your life.

It felt a little jarring to read the phrase “your last chapter.” Hopefully it won’t be a short one. But more importantly, who will I decide to be in this chapter? My mind doesn’t have immediate answers in this moment. But at least I know who I don’t want to be: someone who stood in the way of her rebirth. Someone who was too afraid to confront reality, and complete the circle.

As I sit with this question, the words play again in my head….Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees. I’m begging you please to come home.

Come on home.

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Marcilaughlin
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

Globe-trotter, coach, master of deep conversation. Loves coffee & correctly using the subjunctive in Turkish & Italian. Happiest when opening minds & hearts.