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.
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.