My mother had a brilliant mind, a love of weather, meatballs and Lladro and a deep interest in others. She was equal parts irreverent, empathic and efficient. Her smile could light up a small Balkan state. She got shit done. Be it a rectal exam, a fiery fish fry or rapid-fire prayers to St. _______. To others, Dr. Sybil Rao was a South Indian Badass. To me and my sister, Nita, she was Mama, Mom, and then Greenie, a nickname derived from her inexplicable love and fascination for Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve.
Greenie left her family in Mangalore, India and immigrated to the United States when she was barely twenty years old. She completed her residency, got married, made a ton of friends, and developed a lifelong fondness for Little Italy, Chinatown and Broadway. After Nita was born, Greenie and my father moved to Richmond, VA in search of a better life. I was born shortly thereafter. Though we lived in the same suburban house for decades, Greenie made sure that we traveled the world, taking us to India, Spain and to her favorite New York City every single summer. I went to plays and concerts, tried every kind of food the city of Richmond had to offer and could count on Greenie on the side of the lacrosse field, clutching her rosary, having rushed from her last patient to make the game.
Though she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and worked full time as a doctor at the Veterans’ Administration, not once did I question the fact that we, her family, came first.
Greenie died suddenly nearly two years ago. It’s been life’s grand devastation. Yet Greenie continues to guide my life, her smile continues to light the way, she will forever by my heroine.