“Mama always said, dying was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.” – Forrest Gump
My mom died shortly before Mother’s Day in 2014. Although two full years have nearly passed, I still think of her every single day and we all miss her terribly. For several years prior to her physical death, Mah-Mah suffered from progressive dementia so our family had already been preparing some for the pain of her passing. Nevertheless, anyone who has lost a parent knows that you’re never really ready for that exact time to come. Alzheimer’s was a horrible disease, indiscriminately robbing my mom of her capacity to think, communicate, and function normally. She eventually suffered a stroke, lost her ability to swallow, and succumbed shortly thereafter.
During her memorial service, I spoke of the lasting memories I had of my mom–her extreme talents, unmatched resourcefulness, unrelenting patience and self-discipline, and love for her family. I told stories of how she was the matriarch who could heal any hurt, stretch any dollar, sit at someone’s bedside for hours, and give others everything without taking anything for herself. All those who met her were made better for having known her. A part of her still lives in me every day and for that I feel a nagging compulsion to always keep her memory alive. Thanks to all for letting me share this with you.
My mom was born in China in extreme poverty. During World War II, her family was displaced into a remote village while fleeing the Japanese invaders. A deadly plague subsequently swept through her village killing many of the inhabitants. My mom lost her mom and one of her older sisters. By the grace of God, she somehow survived. Several years later, she met my dad and the two of them took a great leap of faith by immigrating to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream. Our family legacy lives on through their steadfast courage and loving perseverance.
I remain so ever thankful for the 81 years my mom spent here on earth. Many have had their parents for far less time than that. But we all have regrets about our lives with our loved ones, and with my mom I have many. I regret that she and my dad were never able to truly enjoy their well-deserved golden years together. I regret that she was never able to fully experience my daughter growing into adulthood. I regret that the last coherent memory she had of my beloved wife was one of pain and suffering. I regret that she was never able to meet her first grandson. My heart breaks when I think of the many times I let her down, the disappointments brought forth by poor decisions and lack of resolve, the inner turmoil in her own soul when she constantly worried about our personal and self-centered happiness and joy.
I know that the emotions I’m experiencing are not necessarily unique to me. After all, they’re our moms. We all have special affinity and affections for she who bore, nurtured, and loved us. We all wish we could have been a bit more appreciative, had fewer cross words, and said “I love you” more often. But that doesn’t make the hurt and longing go away whenever those memories of Mah-Mah pop up randomly during the course of my day. Her favorite song, the perennials she planted, that familiar quote from my niece–all salient reminders of who she was and how much she meant to me.
Not many outside of immediate family know this, but my mom cut my hair throughout my entire life. Yes, she was responsible for all the buzz cuts, the flat tops, the high and tights, the low fades, the bowl cuts, the shags, and the near mullets I sported. She often joked that over the course of a lifetime, she probably saved me over ten grand in haircuts alone. Many times I swore I would never let her touch my hair again because she always whacked off way too much every single time. Looking back now, I’m sure I endured her “scissors-happy” sessions because deep down inside, we both cherished those precious times with each other. Just a mother and son taking time out of their busy schedules to solve life’s problems over a simple haircut. I’d give anything for one of those moments right now.
The other day, I took Bingo out to visit her grave at The Lexington Cemetery. Under a cloudless sky and amidst a gentle breeze, we sat silently trying to make sense of it all (Actually, I tried to make sense of it all while Bingo dozed off without a care in the world). I listened intently for Mah-Mah’s voice, preparing myself for some insightful revelation or divine guidance regarding life’s current pathway. I didn’t hear anything distinctly audible that day, but rather just a nearly indiscernible flutter of a feeling–a barely perceptible flicker reminding me of a mother’s sacrificial and unconditional love. Sometimes that’s all we ever need.