written August 20, 2012, last updated August 12, 2020
My mother passed away last year, and tomorrow my three sisters and I will scatter her ashes in the cemetery rose garden not far from the house where we grew up.
My parents almost didn’t buy that house—living close to a cemetery is not the best feng shui—but the cemetery was up the hill and a couple of blocks away, and the bungalow with full basement was just what they needed since my dad had broken his leg and was still on crutches.
“There’s a cripple moving into the house,” the neighbours whispered. But once they got to know our family, we became part of the neighbourhood just like everybody else.
I meant to blog about something else entirely today, but instead I’m filled with memories and re-reading the tribute I wrote for Mom. Here it is below.
Written July 16, 2011, 3:00 a.m.
Over the last few days, I’ve been trying to write a tribute for my mother. Even in the very early hours of this morning, I was still struggling with what to say—how could I possibly describe such a tiny woman who was at the same time so strong and so determined:
- a 2nd generation Chinese-Canadian with all the struggles that meant in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and beyond;
- a woman who never finished grade school, but who read two newspapers a day and encouraged all her children to get an education;
- who over-watered all her houseplants, yet still had the most beautiful African violets, amaryllis, roses, and other blossoms;
- who made such great chocolate chip cookies that her family called them “world-famous” and although she would generously share the recipe with anyone who asked, no one else could ever make them turn out right—people even suspected that she left out a secret key ingredient in the recipe she had given them, even though she never did (it was all in the touch I think, just like her apple pies which were second to none).
She was a practical woman who saved plastic bags and twist ties and empty Kleenex boxes because you never know when you might need one; who thought telephoning long distance always meant bad news, so instead she took the time to write me three times a week when I was living at a distance in the US.
She was not religious in any traditional sense, but she believed and prayed in her own way.
She was a proper lady who always liked to have her hair done; who loved beautiful things like her collection of crystal dishes that we are using today; a woman with many friends who was always ready to go out to lunch or shopping; a two-time cancer survivor.
I suppose these things tell you something about my mother, yet all these words seem so flat compared to the life she lived. So I thought I’d let my mother speak for herself by sharing with you just a few of the things she’s said to me over the years:
- When I was a child, I would sometimes ask my mother to tell me about her childhood, and she would always say, “You don’t want to hear about that, it’s too boring.” As a teenager, I thought, isn’t that just like a mother, telling me that I don’t want to hear something even after I’ve told her I want to hear it. But years later, I came to realize how much my mother was trying to protect me from the harsh realities of her younger years.
- When I was a young bride-to-be wanting to know how to cook all of my favourite dishes, standing at my mom’s elbow, pen and paper in hand, ready to take notes, she said, “You don’t have to measure everything.”
- My mother on housekeeping: “The beds can wait, let’s go shopping.”
- My mother on going to school: “No education is ever wasted.”
- On following your dreams—whatever I hoped to do or tried, my mother would always say, “I have every faith in you.”
- On dealing with illness, she said: “Oh, I’m so popular, I have so many dates with doctors.”
- On being independent and moving into a seniors residence, my mother would tell people, “My children didn’t put me here, I put myself here.”
And when she was much older, very frail and dealing with many health problems including vascular dementia, even within the last couple weeks of her life when I would ask her, “How are you, Mom?” she would say, “I’m fine.”
How could she be “fine” as she struggled in mind and body with so many different ailments? Given her dementia, some might say she really didn’t know what she was saying.
But I know better—once again and always, my mom was still protecting me.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What memories about your mother does this reflection raise for you?
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