Memento Mori

KENNY He didn’t know it was possible to just go home, and that there would be people there, and it would be okay.
— Homecoming

In the absence of their parents, Edith and Kenny close ranks to try to protect each other. Dad’s completely checked out, and toward the end of the play, the siblings realize that he may, in his own way, be mourning his wife by distancing his children. The home is a strong symbol of family in the play, and in the last scene, we see Kenny, Edith, and Benji go in to a family dinner without Dad. Unlike their father, the young people manage their grief and broken family by forming a new community and redefining their home and family on their own terms.

Even though EDITH shows the kids dealing positively with their loss, Dad’s grief-stricken situation is one not uncommon among Asian-Americans, especially those who have emigrated to America. C1 board member Elisa gave us a heads up on poet Julie Feng’s thought piece on how Asian-American communities are affected by mental health illnesses such as depression and the attendant stigmas attached to admitting to suffering. Julie links to studies that highlight connections between mental health disorders and factors like immigration, acculturation, assimiliation, and inter-generational trauma.

One interesting connection between these factors and the play is the way Rey plays with the characters’ isolation — Edith and Kenny, though geographically isolated, retain a strong connection to Mother and to their house, land, and Benji; Dad’s isolation keeps growing as he runs from his mistakes and is self-imposed. Feng aligns with Kenny and Edith, advocating connection and communication as ways to combat the stigmatization of mental illness and grief. She says,”Parents, guardians, spouses, siblings, friends, teachers, doctors, and counselors need to be vigilant. They need to believe the people in their lives. This is a problem than can be fixed – as long as we actively decide to do better.” Throughout EDITH, we see the kids strive against all odds to stay together and stay bonded — from Kenny and Benji surreptitiously passing notes in class to Edith breaking out of school to reunite with her brother.

Comparing Edith and Kenny’s continuing connection to their Mother to their fractious relationship with Dad makes this quote by Dr. Lourdes V. Lapuz, a psychiatrist from the University of the Philippines, stand out. Writing about the importance of mothers in Filipino culture, Dr. Lapuz said:

A person grows up in the Filipino culture with one paramount assumption: that he belongs to someone. When he presents his self to others, it is with his family that he is identified. He belongs to the family as a whole as well as to it’s members. Between the parents, there is a further choice as to whom one belongs. Almost always, it is the mother. The loyalty, allegiance and the sense of obligation are stronger with her than with father. One must never cause her hurt or displeasure. The greater attachment to the mother is, of course, inevitable not only because of biological circumstances, but also because of the prolonged intense emotional nurturing of received from her. Here is where to belong gains the meaning of to be loved, cared for, and protected.

Though Dad ends the play unreconciled with his children, Kenny and Edith seem to understand more about themselves and what brought them to this point as the play ends. Kenny leaves open the possibility that Dad will join the family again: “He’ll come in, eventually.”

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