Today T and I have the dreadful task of clearing out mother’s apartment and hand in her keys to the superintendent. For two days prior we (my sister, T and I) already took out loads of garbage and donated a ton of stuff. Today we have to finally say goodbye to an important part of mom’s life – her home.
Back up about 100 days, my mother, a seemingly healthy 74 year old non-smoker was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She decided to forego the conventional treatment plan consisting of radiation and chemotherapy. The disease took her from us in a little more than 100 days.
Her apartment looks empty and sad now. Without her furniture, her decorations, the smell of her food and the sound of her washing dishes, this is just a box made of drywall. The only thing that stayed the same is the scenery outside of her window. So I walk to it. Leaning against the railing on her balcony I imagine that I am mother.
She had about seven good years in this apartment. This is where she felt comfortable and warm (sometimes too warm, especially after cooking a big meal for us). After living and moving across several continents in seven decades mother finally landed here – a seniors’ housing apartment in Cambridge. She was 7 minutes from her son, walking distance to her church and community centre. A river and a park is nearby. A perfect piece of paradise.
In this little nook of the world she tried her utmost to be happy and content. After her divorce she moved back to Canada from USA. At first she pinned her happiness on the happiness of her children. Then she grew to realize that she has to claim her own fulfillment. So mom joined all the activities she can handle: pingpong, badminton, mahjong, taichi, ESL, church, fishing trips, bingo, senior home dinners, etc.
In this way she was successful in staying busy. In fact oftentimes I would call her up and mom would say she has to run out the door. Mom also took annual trips either to Europe or China. Being together with her family gave her the greatest pleasure. Feeling unloved or abandoned by her family gave her the most amount of hurt. At her apartment she also momentarily stewed in the bad memories of her divorce.
This unrelenting victim mentality may have contributed to mother’s disease. An unwillingness to let go of past injustice and grudges often manifest itself in forms of accumulative ailment. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.” (Thank you Master Sifu).
If we all get judged on how well we lived our lives I believe mother would get a decent score. She became independent and figured out what she wanted. She had the strength and perseverance to strive for her happiness. She gave selflessly to her children an family. She connected to her community in Canada. She kept learning and stayed curious till the very end. The only thing that prevented her in getting a perfect score is her inability to let go of the past.
After mom passed away, beside the deathbed T heard mother’s voice in her head: “Tell sister I love her. Protect your mouth. Proud of Mabel.” Surely T left the room too early. Because mother always finishes her sentences with the mandatory phrase: “Sorry, my English no good.”
Like a tiny boat in a stormy sea, mom’s life saw many epic waves and incredible maelstroms. At the end of her struggles her boat finally came to rest in a cozy and warm harbour called Cambridge. In this comfortable space mother felt loved and connected. As her boat is about to depart for another journey to a different dimension mom watches the shore with longing gaze. The sun is about to set on the golden pink village. Dinner smokes rise from the chimneys and candle lights shine through the windows. Laughters and distant conversations of her family can be heard intermittently. Mom’s boat is leaving. She knows she must. Her adventure here is over. Another journey must begin.
Family, Love, Beauty, Warmth, Friendship, Belongingness. Let these be her final memories of her time here. This is her son’s prayer.
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To my wonderful son in-law Zheng Wang.
I understand the hurt of losing your dear and valuable mother has felt like a dagger in your heart because you loved and appreciated her with so much devotion.
Her endless love and carrying that she shared and entertained us with will be in our memories forever.
I loved her character and family devotion to her children and family. Which includes all of us.
She has structured you her son and Min, her daughter to be as strong as a bull and smarter then Einstein, but most of all to believe in yourself and live a valuable life.
Zoe, will always be very precious to us and I know her soul and spirit is still among us for eternity.
Family love is stronger then diamonds.
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Thank you Luc for your thoughtful words. I feel her presence and know that she will appreciate you thoughts and remembrance of her life.