Broken Neck, Broken Hearts

As the years go by, the memories become blurry. Faces once familiar are now devoid of features. Their names are associated with the kindness that they had showered, or their villainy, instead of their physical forms. All that remain are the obvious ? clawed hands, atrophied limbs, one three-inch surgical scar on the neck and some discoloured photographs. Nineteen years is a long time to be paralysed.

What happened that sunny day in October 15, 1984 will forever be etched in my mind. That day, I dived into a swimming pool and drastically changed the course of my life. That day, I nearly died. That day, I discovered myself all over again. That day, I broke my neck.

The first three and a half months after that were spent in the hospital in faraway Kuala Lumpur. Mum never left my side throughout. It must have pained her more than me. As I write this, I begin to understand the anguish that Mum went through the months after my accident.

She became the hands that I no longer had control of. She became the nurse who dressed my pressure sores. She became the caregiver who cleaned me after every bowel programme. She became the masseur who eased the sore muscles that were steadily wasting away.

The hard labour of looking after me was not the source of her grief. Mum never once complained. Her maternal instincts had always been intact. What broke her heart most was seeing me in the condition that I was in, seeing her dreams for me, and also my own, whittle away with each passing day that I lay incapacitated on the bed with no sign of recovering. Still, Mum never gave up on me.

I owe my life to Mum not only because she gave birth to me. I am alive today because Mum made the impossible possible. With martial exactness, she would go about fussing over me daily. For more than eighteen years, she kept up the routine. I am truly blessed.

I am where I am today because Mum refused to surrender me to the forces of destiny. I regained some semblance of independence despite the severity of my disabilities because Mum dared to hope. And I know how determined Mum was to make a pilgrimage to the Feast of St. Anne at Bukit Mertajam annually to pray for my recovery.

Mum was always there for me, through thick and thin, through treacherous and stormy, through pain and agony. Mum was always there irrespective of the journey I took. Mum always supported my decisions. The times when I fell back, she would gently nudge me along. The times that I cruised with ease, she would still watch from the distance, making sure I was safe and sound. Mum was even there for me when she herself was critically ill and nearing her end. After accompanying me for nineteen years, Mum was called back to the Lord, and now, I have to continue my journey without her anymore.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

11 thoughts on “Broken Neck, Broken Hearts”

  1. i came to know of your site thru “the star”. i’m very touched by the love that was shown by your mother and the courage and will that you had in you to survive. i’m sorry about your mom.

    your accident in the swimming pool reminds me of my dad’s friend. my dad and a couple of his friends were fishing by the sea and were packing up to go home when this particular friend said he wanted to take a swim. he dived into the sea from the rock and that was the last time they saw him alive. they searched for him when he didn’t emerge from the water. he died of concussion as a result of hitting his head on a rock submerged in the water. the sad part of it is he was about to get married in a few weeks’ time.

    i guess things happen for a reason.

  2. Things do happen for a reason indeed. If we look hard enough, we will surely learn something from it. The most pertinent lesson I learnt from my spinal cord injury is: Do not dive into a shallow pool! Most importantly, I learnt that my mother’s love for me knows no bounds.

    While my disabilities have robbed me of mobility and independence, it has taught me to appreciate life and see things in a new light. I have met some very caring people, more than I would have if I were not on a wheelchair.

    Perhaps this is God’s way of telling me to slow down, smell the flowers and appreciate every single moment that I have. And that is exactly what I am doing.

  3. i don’t remember how i found your blog before, but my gf told me of your blog again. so, here i am, going to be a regular visitor of your blog. the first time i visited here, it made me remember things i’ve pushed aside after 2 years.

    i myself have lost someone dear to me. my beloved dad. it was cancer. and i just wish to share with you is that parent’s love is something greater than life. and i don’t only mean my dad’s, but also my moms’. she has to walk the journey without my dad now. my dad’s death would have definitely broken my mom into pieces. but she knows she has 3 more children who she loves them very much.

    things we would do for them seems very little than what they have done for us. but we just gotta live life how they would want us to… to be a better person. they don’t ask from us anything, they just want us to be a better person…

  4. Hi Peter, I visited your site after reading about you in the Star. Really enjoyed my visit. I am very touched by the love your mum had for you, and also the gratitude you have for her. No wonder you miss her so dearly. But I am very happy to hear that she is safe with the Lord. I will be praying for you, that you will continue on this courageous journey that you are taking. I appreciate your expressions and your sense of humour, and I love your little “Prevent Spinal Injury – Look Before You Leap” box. That just shows your strength and confidence – which no doubt your mum helped build in you. God bless you and like I said, I will be praying for you.

  5. Anarkhi,
    The most difficult thing I ever did was telling Mum to let go. While I would have loved to keep her by my side forever, the pain of seeing her suffering was just too much to bear.

    Perhaps, I had wanted her to be around a while longer so that I could try to repay her for the thirty seven years that she had selflessly mothered over me.

    You are so right when you say “they don’t ask anything from us.” Mum never asked for anything but she had freely given without the need to ask from her.

    I remember Mum asking me to go home when I had wanted to spend the night with her at the hospital. I knew she had wanted me to stay and accompany her because she knew her time was almost up, but she still found the strength to care for me. Such is the love of a mother.

    Thank you for your prayers. Yes, I miss her so very dearly, still. I am not ashamed to say that as I am writing this I have tears in my eyes as I think of all that Mum had gone through to make life better for me. Continuing my journey through life without Mum will certainly be lonesome and less colourful. She had made those paths that we had taken so much more interesting. Thank you again for the prayers.

  6. I came to know your site through “The Star”. I am sorry to hear about your mum passing on and at the same time I admire the strength and will both of you had throughout those difficult years. A mother’s love knows no bounds towards her child and this is the only unconditional love on earth a person could give to another – her child. I can imagine how you will miss her but she is now an angel who will continue to look over you wherever she is now. Although I have children of my own,I still miss my mum for I live thousands of miles away from her. She is approaching 80 years of age and I pray every day that I will be by her bedside when the day comes. Good luck and all the best Peter.

  7. To our mothers, we will always be their adorable babies. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be close to Mum those last few weeks. Although I could not do much, I think my presence have consoled her somehow. At times of crisis, we always would like to have people close to us nearby. I know because I have gone through that and Mum’s presence was very comforting. I sincerely hope your prayers will be answered. All the best to you.

  8. Hi, Junny here. I seldom read In-Tech but somehow, the cover-picture of a familiar chap in red shirt stirring the batter caught my eye. I heard of your mum’s passing from my brother n sis-in-law (Thambi & Chye Tee). My condolences. Being there for your Mum sure meant alot to her & you. May all the beautiful memories remain.

  9. Being there for her was the least I could have done. You surely know how much she had sacrificed and gone through just for me. It is always very difficult to lose someone dear, but I will recover, eventually. Mum was such a wonderful person. She is a hard act to follow.

    You know, whenever Mum and I chatted abt the people we know, and your name cropped up, she always had something good to say about you. Now I do not have a chat “buddy” to chat about the good times anymore.

  10. Your Mum passed on at age 78 and she was with you for a good 37yrs. I lost mine when I was 15 and she was only 58. Twenty-nine years on and the thoughts and memories still stay fresh.

    You have many friends, though none could claim to be the `chat buddy’ your Mum was to you. Well, you can just drop me a line, bila-bila sajalah.

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