Closing One Bitter Chapter

The Bitterness
Did I sound bitter in my previous entry? I think it did and yes I was. Of all people, I would have expected family to stand and be counted when support was needed most. Instead, envy and wounded pride took the better of them. Instead of convalescing in serenity, Mum had to put on a forced smile to appease them. As I think back, I am truly pained by those unsympathetic and selfish behaviours when Mum was at her most frail.

True, she did not ask these people for help but that does not mean she trusted others more. It simply boiled down to convenience and circumstances during those times. Can one not have confidants in friends? Is there a rulebook somewhere that says trust only in your kin and be dispensed with friends? Until today, I still cannot understand how one can have the heart to reproach an old sickly woman who was lying helpless in her bed.

I just cannot believe that Mum had to take all those selfish opinionated comments that were purely intended to hurt and replied to it with a smile. It must have truly hurt her inside even though she tried hard to put up a brave face. For a long while, I resented these people but I have reconciled with them since and I pray that they will find peace in their lives and to take the kindness of others at face value and not with prejudice.

Is It That Easy To Forgive?
Then there are those where forgiving and reconciliation is just so impossible. They are the living proof that one human can be utterly ungrateful to another human even when they were helped unconditionally when they needed it most. These are the people I would just leave to die by the roadside after an accident, if ever I could steel my heart to do it. A stray mongrel, after being fed, would have shown more gratitude.

Mum was a simple woman. She was never calculative. Whenever her assistance was required, she would help without much ado. Imagine a seventy five year old woman who had to care for a severely disabled son and at the same time was helping to look after a recently retired man who suffered a crippling stroke. Seventy is an age where one needed to be looked after and not the other way around. That was my Mum, always putting others above herself.

For one year, Mum woke up at six in the morning to cook for me. That was to be my breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. Then she would hitch a ride to travel more than ten kilometres to help care for the other disabled man. She did not come back until late in the evening. On top of that, Mum had to do all the housework at home and our laundry as well. It went on for almost one year until I got fed up of eating the same cold food for all my meals that Mum stopped going. She did that all because she wanted to help, nothing else. She never even got a proper thank you for all her effort.

A Heart Revealed
After all that was done, they even had the audacity to ask Mum to move our things out of the house, items that we left behind in my previous bedroom after we moved to this apartment because we could not find a place to accommodate all those things. This is gratitude for you. I wonder why Mum even bothered to help them and I felt so silly for encouraging Mum initially. Where was his wife or two sons when Mum was bedridden for weeks and needed help? Not once did they come to ask if we needed assistance or anything else. How can I not be bitter?

For four weeks, until she was hospitalised for the last time, Mum ate every four hours. She had a poor appetite. She took frequent light meals. Her diet consisted mainly of soups and porridges. Those I cooked in the slow cooker just before I went to bed at night. The soups would either be black beans, red beans or Chinese herbs with pork ribs and the porridge cooked with salted pork. My handphone was always turned on for the fact that I had to set the alarm to ring four hours after Mum went to bed. I would usually wake up at 4am and wake Mum up as well for her meal. She drank mostly Enercal or Complan with two teaspoons of oats.

She Walked For Me
After her meal, she would use the walker to help herself to the toilet – one small feeble step after another. I silently cried looking at her like that. When she was well she had walked far countless times just to get the things that were needed to nurse me back to health or even things just to pamper to my fancies. I silently cried each time I saw her drag her feet and come to realise how much she had done for me without ever complaining, without hesitation. That is a mother’s love.

My greatest fear then was her falling and fracturing her hip or limbs. As she took those arduous steps I could just watch from my wheelchair and encourage her. She would go back and rest after that. By 8am the soup that had been simmering in the slow cooker would be ready and I would wake her up again. Lunch was usually lunch box that our neighbour Mr. Tan had bought from the economy rice stall nearby. Mum would eat a little and drink more soup.

The dihydrocodiene tartrate that she took for her back pain made her drowsy most of the time. It also made her nauseous which was somewhat circumvented with Maxolon. Karen Gan, the palliative care nurse from the Penang Hospice-At-Home-Programme would come every few days to check on Mum’s condition. Mum developed a pressure sore on her buttocks that I helped dress because she could not. With proper care, it began to heal. That was something uplifting. Since her pressure sore could heal so fast, I naturally thought that her body was strong enough to recover too.

I am embarrassed to say that Karen was here more often than some of Mum’s closest relatives. She would come to assess Mum’s condition, take readings of her vital signs and always had some assuring words. If Mum needed any medicine that was not prescribed by the hospital, she would bring on her next visit. She also brought extra Povidone Iodine that was applied on Mum’s pressure sore for me because I badly scalded myself near the groin one day while making a hot drink for Mum. And then there was my neighbour Soon Leong’s wife who came to help with the housekeeping and also to help Mum bathe. She came without fail until her father suddenly passed away and she had to stop coming.

This Is Just Not Right
Mum’s condition continued to deteriorate up to a point where she needed fulltime professional nursing care. That was something I could not do anymore. It was truly beyond my capabilities even if I tried very hard. That was the time I felt most vulnerable. My heart sank when Karen suggested four options. It was either staying at the Rumah Hospice, a nursing home, the hospital or employing a full time carer. Any of those choices required at least a monthly expense of RM1,500. It was not so much the money that disheartened me but the thought of Mum being alone in a dank nursing home with no familiar face to create some semblance of cosy homey normalcy that saddened me most.

I spoke to one of the two trustees of my father’s estate about the will that had gone unexecuted for the past ten years asking them for Mum’s share of the cash that my father had left behind. It could at least tide us over a few months if Mum really needed any of the nursing care suggested by Karen. I was given the run-around and in the end nothing came out of it. This was the very same person whose husband Mum had helped looked after for one year. The other trustee later intimated to me that he had squandered all the money. I could not believe my ears. These are the very people whom my father had entrusted his estate to believing that they will do the right but they did otherwise.

From the beginning, when Mum became ill, Wuan had offered to help. I relayed to Mum that should we ever need money for her nursing care Wuan would chip in. That somewhat consoled her. We had only expected her to be committed into a nursing home for a month or two until her condition improved. When she was well enough, she could come back home and we would work something out afterwards. If she did not need too much help, I could continue to look after her again.

Disappointing Mum
Still there were hints of disappointment in Mum’s face and voice when she acquiesced to the fact that she had no choice but select one of those options because I truly could not manage to care for her anymore. It hurt her as much as it hurt me that we had to come to this stage. At that time, I desperately wished I could walk again and take good care of her. Looking after an aged or ill parent is a son’s fundamental responsibility and I failed miserably in that aspect. I had many sleepless nights thinking about that then, even now occasionally.

Around that time when I felt totally helpless, Wuan took leave from work and came. It was a great relief as Wuan had been great in helping to look after Mum. Moreover the urgency to send Mum to a nursing home was eased somewhat. I am deeply touched that she cleaned Mum and changed her diapers as often as was needed. She was gentle and patient. I am sure Mum was extremely touched and truly grateful, too. She was happy to see Wuan. I was sure of that. She had looked more cheerful.

Unfortunately, Mum caught an infection soon after and was admitted into the hospital again. In the hospital, she looked better after being given two units of blood. I had told Mum not to worry. That was just one of the trials that she had to go through and I was absolutely sure that was the last. After that, she would be on her way to a full recovery. She did not.

A Reason To Forgive?
Am I still bitter at those whom I had called brother and sisters for not lifting a single finger to ease the load I had to endure looking after Mum? I did not mind looking after Mum but there were times when I would appreciate some kind of assistance, especially in performing tasks that I could not. None was forthcoming. I tried to find the answers to why I should not be indignant. It was very difficult indeed to find a redeeming factor in these people. They even took issue that their names were not included in Mum’s obituary. I cannot for the life of me find the most fleeting reason why they must be listed as Mum’s kin when they have done absolutely nothing worthy of that inclusion.

Among the first prayer I learnt when I was being catechised was The Lord’s Prayer. To me, this is one of the most powerful prayers, one that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked Him to teach them to pray. One of the verses went like this: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. I had pondered over this for a long time. It was beyond doubt very difficult to forgive those who had hurt Mum so deeply. I prayed for guidance. It eventually struck me that I should neither ask God for forgiveness nor recite that prayer if I was unwilling to forgive. I should not even be a follower of Christ if I cannot fulfil the prerequisite of this particular verse. I searched deep in my heart for a reason to forgive and again that stirred in me all the anger and reasons why I must not forgive so easily.

Over the months as I listened to profound and meaningful homilies during Mass and absorbed the insightful verses in the Gospels, I began realise that I cannot be carrying this resentment with me if I wanted to move on to lead a happier life. Harbouring hatred is an onerous task that frequently exhausts the mind of sanity and sensibilities. I want to live a simple life free from all those burdens.

Leaving It All Behind
It was not my place to forgive them anyway because as I think back Mum was the person most wronged by them, not me. If they ever needed forgiveness, they have missed the opportunity. Mum is no longer here. I am certain that despite what they had done to Mum, she always forgave them soon afterwards. That was Mum’s nature. If Mum could be so benevolent and magnanimous, there is no reason why I cannot bring myself to follow in her footsteps. The question is: Can they ever forgive themselves?

That was written on July 18, 2004. For a long time, I was undecided whether I should publish it or not. I am doing this now because I need a closure to all the bitterness that had surfaced as a result of Dad’s death and now Mum’s too. I sincerely hope that by doing so, by lifting this acrimony that I had against the transgressors off my chest it will all be washed away. I did not write this to embarrass anybody. All that was written is the absolute truth which I was a witness to. Dare to do it, dare to live with it. That is one of the maxims I subscribe to. Someone once said this: If your hands are so full of the past how can you grab the future? I am letting go of these unpleasant episodes because I want to welcome the future with open arms. The closing of this chapter is the prelude to the opening of another that hopefully will be filled with happiness and all things nice.

Each time I come back to read this, I want to be reminded to be not what they were. I must be polite, courteous and only harbour kind thoughts for family, friends and neighbours. I am trying hard. Sometimes I falter but I am doing the best I can. I pray that they will realise the error of their ways and be lead back to the righteous path. I pray that they will live to be good conscientious people. I pray that God will infuse in me a forgiving heart worthy of Him. That I pray earnestly.

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.

14 thoughts on “Closing One Bitter Chapter”

  1. The fact that you lived through that and came out at you proves your strength, by the grace of God. I’m glad you have it in your heart to forgive. I know it’s one of the hardest things to do in the world. Your mum would be proud. We’re stuck with our relatives, but thank God for true friends.

  2. Peter,
    I’m glad too to know that you have let go all that emotional baggage and have now moved on. Prayer does help a lot.

    I can’t understand the pain that you went through i.e. having relatives but none of them who actually lent a helping hand. But when my grandfather was very sick, my mum’s 2nd brother was the one doing all the talking and instructing what his other siblings should do. All words and no action at all done by him. He just stood there giving instructions. My mum and her siblings weren’t complaining that they had to clean my grandpa and feed him but me as a bystander who could only help to fetch this and that felt horrible for them.
    On the day my grandpa passed away, all of us were at his bedside but that uncle of mine was standing away at one corner. Probably too afraid to see death.

    About the trustees who absconded with your money…You should take legal action. A trustee has fiduciary duties and they are responsible to you as a beneficiary. But of course, depending on what type of trust your late set up, there are different rules about what and how a beneficiary can get. Seek legal advice. Don’t let those ungrateful people scott free.

  3. Marita,
    Forgiving is difficult but living with anger in the heart is even more difficult. I chose the lesser evil – so to speak.

    We choose how we want to live. I chose to allow ingrates dictate my emotions. That was unhealthy. Now I choose to leave all that behind. It is a great relief. Life is less complicated that way. Thank you for your advice.

  4. hi peter,

    thank you for sharing your story with us.

    i think it’s wonderful that you’ve decided to let go and move on.

    for me, i’m a great believer in the “accept and let go” way of dealing with things i can’t change. it helps me be so much happier. i wish I had known this when i was younger… would have saved me a lot of grief!

    i like the prayer that goes: “Lord grant me the courage to do the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    God bless and merry christmas!


  5. I do feel guilty when I come to this part of the prayer ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. But we are only human. Even if we manage to forgive, we will not forget. But I know He will understand that we are trying to live up to that prayer.

  6. No wonder Jesus said ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ (and not love thy relatives…) Sorry, I don’t mean to joke about this but it’s true. Total strangers can become our most trusted friends yet blood ties fail many times. When tragedies or trying situations arise, it will bring out their true colours. Hugs to you.

  7. Adriene,
    You must know how it is like to feel embittered. A grudging heart is a heavy burden to lug around all the time. I totally agree with you that life is more carefree without all these resentment. And yes, reciting the Serenity Prayer helps a lot too.

    Forgiveness is the first step. In forgiving only can we be forgiven. We owe ourselves a better life by letting go of all these negativities.

    In times of crises can we truly see the true face of those we thought we could depend on. It is a lesson that teaches us to be true to everyone in times of bliss and even more in their times of need. We must never ever be a reflection of those we loathe.

  8. Peter
    I recall a few months back , you told me
    i should try forgive and agreed it was in
    fact sometimes hard to do.
    But letting go and not holding on to the
    those feelings takes time.
    I do hope this puts a closure on those feelings
    for you , and you can move on from it.

    Btw Bay was online yesty and said you sent your regards.

    Thank you do take care

  9. Sweetspirit,
    I hope you are feeling better now. And yes, I am determined to close this part of my life and move on. You take care too.

  10. Ohhh Peter…forgiveness is hard won…you look beyond the surface of things and see the bigger picture, I can see that you do…you seek inner peace, closure, rightness with God. By your own attitudes and the fact that you know change is necessary you have already moved beyond much of the anguish…Too many of us deceive ourselves, seeing that which we wish to see, instead of opening up to God and the fact that we must change, we must bend our will to God’s…”Thy will be done” has hit home to me a great deal of late as I seek enlightenment and changes within my own life. The path is narrow…it is arduous and difficult at best, yet each time we traverse another rocky cliff, God stands with us and guides us, if we let Him. You are conscientious and a work in progress…you see beyond the mundane, the greater picture and that long term perspective we all need to be ever aware of. I think you will make it…because you WANT to…you strive for more. I often OFTEN wonder if it is our infirmities that motivated us to seek out a more spiritual path and to know God better…I wonder if, without the adversity or infirmity, would we have sought that trail…I wonder if our previous paths brought about the necessity for tragedy to strike us, as a wake up call…I wonder I wonder…I have an immune system disorder I struggle with daily, that through the years has worsened…I have always been conscientious, yet, at some point, I broke away to run wild and free, to party and do as I pleased, turning away from God and choosing to live fast…One day, everything stopped. I think in retrospect, it was a culmination and much more gradual than it had originally seemed, this seemingly abrupt end to life as I was living it. My health deteriorated…I changed, consciously and unconsciously. My priorities changed. I learned patience. I became more compassionate. I changed into a completely different person. I look back and wonder who that was that did some of the things I did…I really do not recognise her…until I look very hard, beyond the obvious, beyond the comfort zone we all erect…and step into the painful spot we all want to avoid. I found something freeing there…as I began to pray more, I was forced to be painfully honest as I spoke with God and was awakened to many truths about myself…and realized I’d never really known myself, in my self-deceit. It was a rude, painful awakening…Although I’d always tried to be ‘honest’ when I prayed, I now found that, although I THOUGHT I WAS being honest, and TRIED to be…I was actually BLIND and was deceiving myself…until my awakening. It appears to me that you have been through much of the same…as well as the struggle and torment of all the “whys” …WHY did this happen…WHY must I be this way…etc…. You have not buried yourself in self pity, you have chosen a path, a way of life, a journey toward the light that is God…You are someone I would like to know Peter Tan. I’m unsure what my conclusion really is/was meant to be here…I’ve only just awakened and my thoughts are somewhat protracted…I guess I just wanted, to begin with, to try to buck you up, to reassure you, to tell you that I think you grow as you seek to grow and I can tell that SEEK you do…Lol…Forgive me…my meandering…my lucidity comes later after my brain actually kicks in…lololol….I wish for great things for you…I think they’ll not be long in coming. Love K

  11. Peter, thank you for publishing this. You are where I hope to be one day. Please pray for me. The bitterness in my soul at the behaviour of my relatives – ungrateful towards my mother, grasping towards my grandfather, irresponsible and shifty (that’s my grandfather) — has killed my ability to pray. Your story about getting the “run-around” from the shifty trustee made my heart pound because it is exactly what I am living now. And I’ll be the first to say that my own wrath is so ugly that I no longer dare tell people that I am Christian. Thank you. Thank you again.

  12. Koda,
    Your email is masked. That was one long post. It must have taken you a while. Thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate it.

    Auntie Sharon,
    My only advice is pray. Pray that you may find in yourself the heart to forgive and move on. I will pray for you too. Peace be with you always.

  13. Thank you. I don’t have any words at the moment. Thank you.

    Bless you,
    Auntie Sharon

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