Next Thursday is my mother’s 88th birthday. We are having a family celebration on Sunday which is also Mother’s Day. There is much to celebrate. Last year my mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. We expected the worst. I did. What with the descriptions from the doctors on all the dire possibilities. After her surgery, she seems well enough. We have been back to see the surgeon twice. Each time, we waited for hours to see him for a few precious minutes. And each time, he examined her rather superficially. Then pronounced she was fine and he would see her again in six months. I am celebrating the fact that my mother is well enough.
But I don’t take any day with my mother for granted. Which is why everyday is Mother’s Day. Because everyday is a bonus. When I get a call from our helper Siti, when there is a knock on the door at night or early morning, my heart still skips a beat. I have come to expect the worst yet hope for the best. Of late, my mother has taken to kissing my hands. Last week, she even asked to give me a kiss on my cheeks. Her Asian inhibitions in expressing herself are all but gone. She communicates matter-of-factly. What she doesn’t understand or disagree, however trivial or serious, she says so. Lightly with no apology.
With each passing day, she is more childlike. Our parents take care of us when we are children and we take care of them when they are old, when they in turn are like children. I never had the chance to fully care for my father as an old man. Now I do with my mother. However childlike, she still exhibits some of the controlling streaks which were the hallmarks of the mother I knew when I was growing up. With a fiery temper, she was not easy. Being fairly ignorant of the ways of the modern world, she could be the biggest road block to any progressive change in the household. Looking at a photograph when she was younger, I see the stark contrasts. She was loud, now with her surgery she is soft and speaks with difficulty. She was often angry, now she smiles easily.
My parents stayed with me. When my father passed on, I realised, among all in our immediate family, I would be taking care of my mother. I never felt it was a burden. With time I see it as a blessing. That I get to take care of her. I look forward to seeing her when I wake up. Saying goodnight to her before I get ready for bed. It is a daily routine for her to have breakfast with me. And she will be sitting on the bench and waving at me when I leave for work. She is now very forgetful but when I mention I will have dinner with her, she remembers and will even remind Siti. Several years ago, she stopped crying. I never knew it was possible. But she did. She never cried since. Even in the most impossibly dark hours. I never told her she had cancer. But she went through all the medical examinations and then the surgery with a quiet courage. I think she never doubted she would survive the surgery.
With Siti’s help, I am learning to take care for someone much older. Learning what it takes to bring someone in a wheelchair to the park, the shopping centre and most importantly, the hospital. Did I foresee this phase of my life? Living with my aged mother with a helper? No. It comes naturally. I know of friends who are estranged from their parents. They stop communicating with them. I count myself lucky to have found an evolved peace with my mother. Looking at her, I just see a vulnerable human being who trusts me. A few weeks ago, while I was wheeling her through Bishan Park, we hit a curb. She was suddenly pushed forward. I asked her if she was frightened. She replied, “No, you are here.”