It’s hard to believe it has already been a month since you left us. Feels like it was just last week we were all by your bedside; singing to your favourite Carpenters tunes, feeding you meal after meal, stroking your hands reminding you we’re around, staying up all night with you when you just couldn’t sleep as a result of steroid doses.
When Dad called me that night you slipped into a critical condition, I froze in utter fear. I wasn’t prepared at all. Not now, not this early; was the only thing I had in my mind. I booked the first flight out of Melbourne the next morning as Dad flew to KL that night itself.
It was the worst flight I have ever had in my entire life. Eight whole hours of pure agony; completely cut off from the outside world while all the while knowing that you might leave anytime, anytime at all. I prayed, and prayed hard, if only you could hold on.
I kept revisiting the day I left KL. You were lying down, with a blanket of needles on your body as you were scheduled for acupuncture that morning as part of the traditional Chinese medicine treatment you held on so dearly in hope when Western oncologists waved the white flag on the relentless progress of cancer in your body.
Uncle was waiting outside the hospital with my luggage all loaded into his car. I held your hand and gave you an awkward hug all the while trying not to bend any needles. I gave you a long, hard look knowing it would be another six months before I’d see you again. I couldn’t remember what we said, but that motherly smile you gave stuck in my head all throughout.
I walked out of the hospital doors with a heavy heart, towards uncle waiting in his car. Little did I know my two-week stay with you in the traditional Chinese medicine hospital would be one of my last memories with you. “Don’t worry about mom,” uncle told me on the way to the airport, “Live every moment while you’re there in Australia. Your mom would’ve wanted that.” Every inch of me thought six months would just come and go, and then we’d be reunited again. I was so sure of it.
Eight hours did go by, and soon I found myself running past doctors and nurses, hospital beds and wards, stopping short just before the door to your ward in Palliative Care.
You were all smiles when I walked in. I clasped your hand in mine, while immediately noticing the tubes attached to you and your swollen right arm as a result of the upper arm fracture you suffered from the fall you had back in the traditional Chinese medicine hospital. My heart sank.
I remember just saying, “Ma.” I know you’d recognise me, but you were hardly able to speak. Neither was I, for your motherly gaze and that smile you wore was more than enough to sent me choking with emotion, tears, and a lost for words.
You were both attentive and alert, and had the complexion of a perfectly healthy person. How you managed to pull through the night before; cold, lifeless and gasping for air, only God and his grace knew. But the next few days we spent together in the ward with you as a family, dad, sister and I, was one of the most fulfilling periods in my life.
I’m sure you’d already know this, but we have the most amazing relatives around. Your sisters, despite their hectic office hours, braved through the notorious KL traffic to visit you every single day. So did cousins and grandparents who frequently tagged along whenever they could. Every day without fail, your ward would be filled with friends and relatives as we decorated the windows and walls with origami cranes and hearts, filling the room with love, songs, laughter and happiness all the while trying to keep that lovely smile on your face, which really wasn’t hard to maintain at all. And all these simply wasn’t possible without such warm and touching family ties.
“This room is full of love,” Dr. Tan would say as he concluded his morning check-up on you, looking around at all the hearts and cranes on the walls he continued, “Can you share some with me? I lack of love.”
Due to your brain condition and lack of energy for speech, you were slow and remained mostly quiet — in speech. But one of my fondest memories of you during those days with you was the little nods and expressions you’d make whenever we’d try to communicate or ask you something. There were times you’d mutter hilarious single-replies that sent everyone in the ward into laughing fits. You’d greet every visitor with that generous smile of yours and even occasionally with a soft “Hello.” whenever you felt a little better.
Mom, such positively is what you instill in others without much effort, even when you’re the one who is bedridden. Your spirit and willpower is without a doubt, the strongest in anyone I know. No one I know has the capacity to pull through six years of such a damaging disease without a single complaint. But you did.
When doctors took you off steroids later that week, you fell into a deep, serene sleep. That night, aunt celebrated her birthday with all of us in the ward in front of you. Everyone was there, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and all. You were so tired you slept through the whole party. Photos of aunt cutting her cake with you sleeping away in the background still bring tears to eyes to this day.
You never really did wake up. We never really found out how conscious were you. You did manage a sip or two of milk the next morning with your eyes closed. But you looked so serene sleeping away all day and night we felt it was bad to wake you up.
You were deep asleep when you took your last breath.
It took awhile for us to notice something was amiss as you spat out water you failed to sip on. We started calling out to you, shaking frantically for you to wake up.
I ran out to the nurse’s station, choking with tears and disbelief, stammering at a bunch of nurses, “My mother. Breathing.”, I swallowed hard, “Stopped breathing. Please, come!”
It was the 9th of April. And we were all by your side.
With six years of cancer under your belt, it was a miracle you were in little or no pain at all.
Your wake was unlike any other. Not that I have attended one before, but close friends of yours came up to us saying there was definitely a joyous air surrounding the otherwise solemn aura of funeral parlours. “I wouldn’t worry about your Mum now,” Aunty Gui Li told me and Shuyi, with a slight smile as she gazed towards you.
It was like a grand finale of a theater play; where all the cast make a grand reappearance on stage and when we’d feel a tinge of sadness upon knowing that the show has come to end.
Characters of the stories you have been telling us of your childhood; your adventures with high school friends, of your popularity among boys in school, all showed up in real life. People we’ve never met before walked up to sister and I, “I sat beside your mother way back when we were in Primary One,” a former classmate of yours would tell us, “You should know that she was an amazing friend to me.”
Mom, Melbourne’s such a lovely place. I wish you could see the things I see, go to the places I’ve been. It’s a whole new world out here, and I’ve opened my eyes to a lot of things. I had been looking forward to you coming, wishing I’d be able to show you just how beautiful Melbourne is. But that’s okay, Dad and sis will still be coming over after my finals and I’m sure they’ll very much enjoy their time here.
Dad’s at the height of his career. His efforts in his field are starting to garner attention throughout the country. Something I’m surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner, given how dedicated and meticulous of a man he is. You know him better, Mom. After all, you’re the one who chose him.
Shuyi’s doing great, too. She’ll be doing her A-Levels really soon and frankly, nobody’s worried about her given her track record in academic success. I see a lot of you in her, Mom. And and that only means she’ll be shaping up into a fine young woman by the time she completes her studies in the UK.
Don’t worry about us, Mom. As you can see, we’re coping fine. We take comfort knowing that death is just the end of one life, but the beginning of another; a beginning of something more.
Sometimes we’d grief or cry, but that’s just us trying to adapt to that void; little things we’d come across on a daily basis that inadvertently leads us to be reminded of you. You were, after all, our mother. And there’s no denying a mother’s place in a child’s heart.
But Mom, though you are no longer with us, your spirit and legacy will live on.
Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.