Portugal native, Felícia Dias narrates her life story through the lens of time, diving into her evolving relationship with self-worth, experience of becoming a mother, and realisation that every woman’s story is worth honouring--including your own.
I thought to myself, “if there was a fire, or if there was a theft, what would I be most sad to lose?” That's when I remembered that I have four watches. They are not watches that I wear every day. Actually, none of them work and each belonged to different owners. They are stored and displayed in a frame in my home, along with the names of the ancestors to whom they belonged.
It started off in a very simple and mundane way, actually. After my father's mother died, I was visiting my aunt who had some of my grandmother’s belongings. When I saw the watch, I asked if I could keep it. I wanted something that belonged to my grandmother, but that wasn’t the only incentive. I wanted something that she wore every day, something that was part of her day-to-day routine. Something that she may have looked at multiple times a day with not much thought. A witness to everything that she went through.
The same situation happened with my husband's grandmother. After she died, there were a few of her belongings left up for grabs. Again, I asked if I could have her watch. So the second watch that I got actually belongs to my husband's side of the family. I thought, “well, I have my grandmother's watch. It would be interesting to get my husband's grandmother's watch, too.” And so I asked. When I told my mum that I had both my grandmothers’ and my husband’s grandmothers’ watch, it led to my grandmother on my mother’s side giving me her watch as well! A few months later, the same grandmother came across her mother's watch, so my great-grandmother. She immediately thought of me and that’s how I was lucky enough to receive the fourth watch.
You know when you’re a child and people ask what superpower you would like if you could have one? Well, for me, it would be to be able to touch things and see through time. Just imagine, if I could touch these watches and see through time. See what my grandmother went through, how her life was and the experiences she had, the heartaches and the joys. Because when we get to know someone deeply like that, we really come to love and understand them. But when we get to know our ancestors, we also get to know ourselves better. For me, it's important to have something tangible, something that I can touch. It becomes more real. So I feel that this object makes this ancestor become more real. They become a bigger part of my life. Because they did exist and they are not just a memory. They were here and they have shaped who I am throughout the generations.
My name is Felícia Dias. I grew up in Portugal. All my ancestors, as far as I know, are Portuguese. I was born and raised close to most of my family members. My parents and I lived about 50 kilometres from the rest of the family. Most of our family live in the second biggest city of Portugal, which is Porto, and when I was about eight years old, we moved to a city further north called Braga where I grew up. I would say that everyone in my family has played a role in my life, but mostly my parents.
My parents were the people who raised me and taught me my values. They became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just a few years after the Church was organised in Portugal, which was only in about 1974/’75. They had strong Christian values and raised me in them, namely, how to feel joy and peace through Christ and how to have an eternal perspective.
Other members of our family didn’t share the same faith. However, that fact never meant they didn't play a big role in my life. Actually, I feel a very, very strong connection with my father's mother and have always respected her for the amount of love that she had for all of us. She had 14 children, only 10 of which survived. She told me many times that she would take all the children that God would give her. I could see how much she worried for each child, for each grandchild, and for each in-law and how she would always respect everyone. Coming from a more conservative and Catholic mindset, there were things that would not have been easy for her to accept, like when people lived together without being married, or if someone had a different sexual orientation. However, she always showed you that she accepted you no matter what. She never let us feel judged.
You often hear that you don’t understand what a mother does for you and what a mother is until you become a mother yourself, right? Well, that is true. And to those who are not mothers, maybe they will experience these things in a different way. I can't speak much to that because my experience is being a mother and, therefore, that's what I can speak about. But I understand my mum so much better now. We talk about being a mother, what a mother is and what a mother does and what a grandmother means. I've learned a lot more about it as I've gone through the experience of becoming a mother myself. Now, I worry about what I am passing on to my children, what I'm giving them and how much of that comes from those that have gone before me.
Times change, cultures change, places we live change but what our family means to us doesn’t change. Growing up, when I heard that older people lost their mothers, I thought “Ah, but it’s okay, you know. They knew they were old and they knew that their parents were going to pass away at some point...” But I've learned now that your mother, or that person who has been a big influence in your life, that person that has been there for you, your father or grandmother or whoever you’ve leaned on when growing up - they will always be that person. No matter what age they are, no matter what age you are, no matter how much time has passed, they will always be very meaningful to you.
When I had my daughter Elisa, I struggled a lot because I didn't have my mother to lean on. At the time, my parents were in Brazil serving as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and so, in the end, due to various complications, my mum was not able to be here. My daughter had some serious issues with eating and we were hospitalised because of it. As a mother, if you can't help your children to sleep or eat, it's... it's extremely difficult because those are the basic needs and your instinct is so strong that if you can't supply those basic needs... It is… I'll just say the word “hard”. It is much more than that, but it's very hard. And so as I went through that, I really struggled. However, this turned out to be a very special experience, especially as I talk about time and something tangible like the watches.
There was, on more than one occasion, where my daughter would smile at nothing. At that exact moment, I would think of my father's mother, my grandmother, the person from who I got the first watch from. I had this really clear feeling that she was there and that she was watching us. That she was proud of me and that she was happy to see her posterity. That brought me comfort. Whether you believe it or not (that our ancestors who have passed still live), I believe she was there and that she came to visit us. She made her presence known and felt. That really lifted me and brought me a lot of comfort in a time of need.
I talk a lot about mothers and grandmothers and being a mother because becoming a mother has become a really big part of who I am. Growing up, I always thought I would be more career-oriented and then I had a child. They have become my world and my meaning and my everything. Being a mother has been a process of self-discovery because I had imagined and pictured myself in a different way. Then, all of a sudden, I had a child and it made me question my identity and the ideas I had about myself. It completely turned me around.
Throughout my life, I've struggled a lot with self-worth. Growing up, my mum said that I was “uma chapada de luva branca em Deus”. The literal translation from Portuguese is “slapping God in the face with a white glove”. It’s like a clean hand in a perfectly white and pure glove, you know, and just like “here you go, God” because I couldn't see who I am. I couldn't fully understand what it means to be a daughter of God. And that's something that my mum has a very strong belief in. She knows it deep in her heart and wanted me to feel the same way.
I've struggled a lot with seeing value in myself and seeing value in the things that I've done. I was never enough, I was always lacking, disappointed with myself. Whatever I did, even my biggest achievements such as finishing law school, living in Angola, interning with the UN, living my faith, becoming a mother and so many other things that people may have thought were achievements, I did not see it myself. For many years my story didn't feel important to me. Not until I was able to stop and look at what I have become because of the experiences that I’ve had. They are unique and they've made me who I am. And I know that there are thousands of other women out there that are going through similar things like me, that are struggling with similar things that I am struggling with, and that they need to hear that their stories are valuable. Sometimes we can’t tell it ourselves, we need someone to look at our story and tell us how unique and special it is. Someone that is able to see it through different eyes so we can truly see what a masterpiece we've become. Because we are unique and we're not comparable to any other person in this world - in the past, present or in the future.
I don't consider my story to be extraordinary, but it might sound extraordinary to some. When we listen to the stories of other women, those stories help us learn more about what our affections are, what our story is and in that process will help us find ourselves. I have really, really benefited from this.
It is important that we remember that we are all different. It's important to remember that God has created us individually. Sometimes I remember that and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I believe that strongly, other times I struggle with it. When I struggle, I go back to that belief again, that I am important. I am. In my own little small world, my story is worth telling. And my life is worth living. I can't see the bigger picture right now but I truly believe that one day I will. And when I do, when I see the bigger picture, when time no longer matters and I can see through the eternities, the before and the now and the after, everything will make sense.
Pre-production: Krischelle Joseph
Interview: Krischelle Joseph
Assistant interviewer: Emily Pauna
Transcription: Louise Paulsen
Writing: Krischelle Joseph
Editing: Zinta Jauntis & Amy Epps
Audio: Emma Reyelts
Photography: Felícia Dias