My mother went back to school in her 50s. First for her undergraduate degree, then for her master’s degree. All while working full-time.

She had always been self-conscious about only having an associate’s degree from college. After divorcing my father, the professor with multiple doctorates, my mother bloomed. She got her degrees, she learned how to swim, she embarked on another career.

She was training and studying to be a social worker when she died. I still have her flash cards, some of her study guides, carefully outlined in yellow highlighter. Some of the most helpful articles I read about grief were from her school materials (she always was so considerate). That’s another layer of tragedy in her loss: How many more people could she have helped?

My mother might not have considered herself an intellectual — my father certainly didn’t consider her one. But she was smart. So smart. And what’s more, she had an immense amount of heart. And that combination is really what the world needs.


Illustrations by Mercedes Leon
Commissioned by Charlene Lam in memory of my mother Marilyn