As Mother’s Day is approaching, I would like to honor my mom who had gone home to be with our Lord last November. Until now, months later, I can still feel the ache and yearning in my heart. It’s like what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler said:
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.
One can’t help but feel that a loved one’s passing is always inopportune. My mom was only 66, still young.
Life and death are inseparable; you can’t have one without the other. To live is to eventually die (except for Enoch and Elijah, I suppose). Death is an inevitable part of life, painful as it is.
Let me go back to the start. The day I knew our lives were forever changed. The day that still leaves a tug in my heart.
My mother had a terrible accident, which left her with a couple of fractures and a dislocated bone on her left ankle. On December 30, 2019, we rushed her to the hospital. At the ER, I even saw my former student from a long time ago, but I wasn’t in my right mind anymore, so we only had a short exchange.
After long hours at the ER, filling out forms, and talking to the administration office and nurses, Mom was eventually admitted and brought to her room. At about 10 in the evening, the orthopedic surgeon checked in on Mom and swiftly fixed her dislocated bone. I realized that night that Mom had a high pain tolerance.
Aside from her broken bones, the doctors found a host of other diseases. My mom was the type who detest going to the hospital, even just for a check-up. We long suspected she had been unwell for quite some time, but nobody could persuade her to go for a physical examination.
The operation wasn’t scheduled yet as she still had to undergo a blood transfusion and a series of tests to clear her for surgery. Other doctors were referred: Internist, Endocrinologist, and Cardiologist.
Mom and I “celebrated” New Year’s Eve in her hospital room, with a show of fireworks. The nurses woke us up in time for the countdown. The hospital was ideally located, where we could behold the spectacle. Fireworks could still leave me in awe even at my age. However, Mom was not amused at all, she just lay in bed. I coaxed Mom to sit up to watch with me, but she was adamant. My heart ached for her, but I continued watching the luminous explosion of colors, lighting up the endless black sky. Fireworks were coming from different directions. I also devoured the cake my brother and sister-in-law brought us earlier.
Mom had to be moved to another hospital for her operation due to several reasons. Finally, on January 14, 2020, two weeks after being checked into the hospital, she underwent surgery. It took almost 12 hours, I think! Including staying in the recovery room. I paced inside the room, went out several times to walk around the building, lingered outside the operating room, watched TV listlessly, chatted with friends, and prayed almost the whole time. My aunts from the US also called to check up on Mom. I updated my family occasionally. But by past midnight, I was unable to keep my eyes open anymore, probably from stress, exhaustion, anticipation, anxiety, etc, I fell asleep. Sometime later, someone opened the door, and I woke with a jolt. But before I could ask if Mom’s operation was over, the nurse had disappeared. I dozed off to sleep again. After what felt like the longest time I had to wait in my whole life, the orderly and nurse pushed Mom back into the room. She was confused, trying to move so much, that I had to call the nurse to calm her down.
Fast forward two weeks later, she was subsequently discharged; it felt so good to be back home. We set up what would be Mom’s room downstairs. My aunt sent money for her wheelchair and my brother and his wife were the ones who looked for the best one for Mom. I was still full of positivity that Mom would be back on her feet in no time.
Then the pandemic happened! This made it harder to have doctors’ check-ups. Mom’s therapy was unfortunately stopped (which made me so sad; she was already improving). We had to resort to my bringing the results alone to her doctors after her blood tests without them being able to really see and examine her. Soon, we also had to make use of online consultations. Those were difficult times for the family. When restrictions were less severe, Mom had been in and out of hospitals.
Since her accident, my heart’s desire was for her to be healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I pleaded to God for her to live a longer life. To be able to walk again. To get to play with her grandchildren. To perhaps see me get married one day. I prayed fervently with Mom every morning and night. But in the course of time, my prayer changed. I knew I had to surrender her to God, ask for His will, and trust Him completely. It was heart-wrenching. I thought I was prepared, but I guess nothing could really prepare you for that. You’d still be in shock when the time comes.
In our last prayer together on the night before Mommy passed away, I asked God to relieve her from her pain, to breathe life into her body. Little did I know it would be her glorified body already.
There was deep sorrow but at the same time, I had joy in knowing that Mom was finally at home with our Heavenly Father. No more tears, pain, and suffering. Mom’s close friend described it precisely: “a change in address, but this time it’s permanent.” And as one of our dear church sisters said, “she has transitioned to something more beautiful.”
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” — 1 Corinthians 15:53–55
We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. — 2 Corinthians 5:8
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. — Revelation 21:4
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
I thank God for giving me the opportunity and privilege to spend as much time as I could with Mom during her last years. But in the end, you’d still wish for a longer time, even though when she was around it felt like time was all we had.
Being human, I still long for her presence, to be able to talk to her just one last time. I can’t even remember the last time I saw her smile. I think it was when Dad bought her a bouquet of flowers for her birthday.
I got so used to telling her almost everything, even stuff she’d rather not hear. Almost all day, every day, I would lie down on the sofa, talking about my worries, small wins/accomplishments, dreams, trivialities, and anything I could think of. I used to joke that she was my psychiatrist or therapist. Towards the end of her life, there wasn’t much she could do but listen, to music and my incessant chatter. It was as if if I stopped, she would also cease to be in this world, in my world.
As I reflect on Mom’s life, she truly lived fully for God, something I hope I could also strive for. She was the one who introduced my siblings and me to the faith.
After Mom’s passing, I couldn’t sleep for several nights. I tossed and turned in bed, ruminating. My brain just wouldn’t shut down; until I had to turn on the lights and wrote down my thoughts, I had many “what ifs.” Regrets flooded my mind. Things that I should have done or done better. It even came to the point where I felt it was all my fault that she was gone. That I didn’t take care of her enough. That I was so mean to her. That I didn’t make her feel loved more. Eventually, I had to surrender all of those to God as well. I had to remind myself again and again that in God’s sovereignty, Mom is already at home with Him in heaven. There’s nothing I could do to bring her back. She didn’t just go somewhere to return after an indefinite period. I had to accept it. To continue mulling over things beyond my control would be torture.
Mom’s death also caused a wave of nostalgia in me. I longed for my childhood days when it felt like I didn’t have a care in the world. I listed down some of my favorite memories of Mommy:
- Watching movies and TV shows with the whole family, like MacGyver and Perfect Strangers. We would even imitate the characters.
- Helping me with my arts and craft projects at school. We would use mini shampoo and conditioner bottles from Dad’s trips abroad to make people for dioramas.
- Accompanying me to my ballet and piano lessons (neither of which I can do anymore, but there were lessons learned somewhere along the way).
- Taking us to church. She also had me join Superbook and Flying House clubs.
- Listening to Christian music, especially Marty Nystrom’s In Christ Alone album, which songs I still know by heart until now.
- Mom being all around for us sibs. I learned how to change a lightbulb and do other useful stuff at home from her. She was like By Golly, Ask Molly.
Following her passing, I also succumbed to binge-watching. I knew it was not a good way to cope, but it helped me not to overthink. The more suspenseful the program, the better! I finished all five seasons of Money Heist in a matter of days!
Christmas came and went, then New Year, but none of us were much in a celebratory mood. Everything was just so strange. But still, we got together as a family. We even dined in restaurants a couple of times, something we hadn’t done much (even before the pandemic).
Mom being gone also left me with a feeling of purposelessness for a time, though it was just a brief time. I got so used to taking care of her and being by her side almost all the time, that I didn’t know what to do at first. Of course, there were still errands and chores to be done, but it was still different.
There was one time, just to elicit some laughter, while we were about to have lunch, I joked, “Oh, let me ask Mom if she wants to drink Ensure already,” as I was in the habit of doing before. Both my dad and younger brother disapproved of my humor.
2021 could be our family’s toughest year yet, as we received blow after blow. But still, something good came out of all of these. I can still rest in God’s love, grace, sovereignty, faithfulness, and goodness.
(This turned out to be incoherent, as I just added whatever came into my mind. I also included some thoughts that I already posted before.)
To end, let me share some quotes on grief:
She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.
- George Eliot
It takes strength to make your way through grief, to grab hold of life and let it pull you forward.
- Patti Davis
Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.
- C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
And once the storm is over you won’t remember you how made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.
- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Looking forward to our sweet reunion with loved ones who had gone ahead, Mom. Until that day, I’ll try to live my life to the fullest, like you did.