A Mother's Journey: Growing First, Then Loving

Mala Fernando spoke with her daughter, Ashanthi Gajaweera, during a recent visit from Sri Lanka.

Mala Fernando spoke with her daughter, Ashanthi Gajaweera, during a recent visit from Sri Lanka to Rochester, N.Y. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps

Mala Fernando got married in Sri Lanka on her 22nd birthday. She was an adult by then — but not in her husband's eyes. Mala discussed those days recently with her daughter Ashanthi Gajaweera.

"It was tough," Mala said. "He used to treat me like a little girl. I told him, 'I'm not your daughter. I'm your wife. Treat me like a wife.'"

The couple left Sri Lanka for England in 1972, then settled in the United States. And about 10 years later, Mala's husband started to joke with her about what her life would be like if he died.

She should marry again, he said, joking that Mala would be happiest if she married a businessman. Mala's response was that she would simply not get married again.

"Then after that, he just died about two weeks later," Mala told her daughter. "He got a heart attack and he suddenly died. And then, within that year, I grew up so fast."

"Because you didn't know how to write a check before that," Ashanthi said.

"Yes. And I was so proud of myself," her mother said. "I found myself as a person for the first time."

Mala moved her family back to Sri Lanka in 1982, after her husband died. A few years later, Ashanthi reminded her what her father had said — that she should get married again.

Ashanthi would be leaving for college soon, and she was worried her mother would be lonely without her.

"So you looked into this newspaper," Mala said.

"The 'Proposals' section," Ashanthi said. "Boy, we got lucky."

Mala fell in love with a man who had placed an ad — Nimal Fernando.

"That was the time I really felt, this is how you fall in love," Mala said.

Mala and Nimal have been married since 1985. And now they have a large family: In addition to Ashanthi and her two sisters, the couple raised two sons from Nimal's first marriage.

"Nobody would ever call you a little girl anymore. You're really a very independent and incredibly strong woman," said Ashanthi, who is raising two children of her own.

"You're my hero."

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo. Recorded in partnership with WXXI.

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