IF there is one thing I would remember my late mother for, it would be her caring and giving nature, matched by her fierce, independent streak. To her, everyone came first — her husband, children, relatives, staff, even the animals she kept (her cats, chickens, ducks and fish).
When she was first diagnosed with diabetes in her early 40s, she kept it from the family. She also didn’t tell us about her daily insulin injections until an episode that landed her in the hospital. Only then we learnt of her condition.
She was upset, not because she got admitted, but because she knew we would fuss over her. She didn’t want any of that. She had her pride.
I recall how she struggled to remain independent when her health gradually deteriorated, from uncontrolled diabetes to end-stage renal failure, dialysis, stroke, diabetic coma, being wheelchair-bound and later almost fully bedridden.
Despite it all, her thinking remained sharp.
The early days of caring for Mum was challenging, more so because of the many unknown factors we had to deal with. We were afraid of making mistakes, so we were extra careful to the point of being paranoid. It became more manageable when we roped in more family members to help.
Though Mum could walk short distances, she was in a wheelchair for trips to the hospital. That made handling her less stressful.
During one routine check-up, she had wanted to go to the toilet. As always, I would first check the handicap toilet before she used it. I would bring along wet tissues, a hand sanitiser and a toilet roll.
Mum had always wondered why I had that peculiar habit of using the toilet before her. That day, I forgot to lock the door. She wheeled herself in to the cubicle, pushed the door open and found me cleaning the toilet for her. She was shocked. She never thought anyone would do this for her. It was a menial task, she said, but I told her no task was ever too much for Mum. She was so touched that she cried. I couldn’t help but cry too.
She was pensive the whole day after that. I thought she seemed more tired than usual. When I asked her about it, she assured me that she was fine.
A few days later, she told me to take a break and go on a holiday and spend time with my family. She said she appreciated what I had been doing for her and that I should also give others an opportunity to take care of her.
For a moment, I thought she was not happy with me, that I had somehow offended or hurt her. Mum assured me it was nothing of the sort. She could see the strain of caring for her taking its toll on me. She noted that I didn’t laugh as much or told her as many funny stories. She wanted me to go out and have a bit of fun and return with stories to share with her.
So we hatched a plan. We got her an easy-to-use handphone. We would call each other whenever we felt like it. As it turned out, we had come to look forward to these calls and chats. I started to travel whenever an opportunity came and spent more time with my children, who are my constant source of joy and strength. Every time I returned from a trip or an event, I would regale my parents with tales of that episode. They found my stories entertaining and amusing.
They loved my stories of the children the most.
Looking back, when my mother asked me to let others care for her, she gave me an opportunity to rediscover myself. By being apart, we connected better with each other. We spoke to each other more and our bond strengthened. Even when there wasn’t much to say, the daily “Good morning” and “Good night and sweet dreams” became second nature.
I consider these among the best gifts that my mother had given me, among the sweetest of memories I have to remember her by. Every time I think of these moments, I remember her smile and my father’s laughter as they listened to my stories.
I miss you Mak, and I celebrate Mother’s Day with these memories that I cherish dearly.