While eating dinner tonight, I felt like bursting into tears. Just like in Korean dramas, where an actress suddenly erupts into an uninhibited cry, waterfalls streaming down her face, simultaneously heaping spoonfuls of rice and miraculously swallowing without choking… that kind of cry.
It’s been a year since Mom, my mother-in-law, died. Some days, I forget that she’s gone- I imagine her walking into a room, or I hear her voice. Other days, I remember the good times, or the difficult times, and I am filled with sadness.
Mom taught me so many lessons…
1) to always greet one another. Jo san (good morning)! Jo tow (good night)!
2) “to have an iron bowl” is an expression implying that someone who has an iron rice bowl is stable and reliable. They will allow the rice to be scooped in, but not to be scooped out, since the bowl is made out of iron.
3) that soup is for the soul. And good Chinese soup is all about the stock. Bring chicken and pork bones, winter melon, carrot, ginger, salt, to a boil and then keep at low heat for hours. Or all day. And if you have too much “heat” in your body (or in your life), lighten up on the ginger by peeling the skin off.
4) to be weary of friends who are “eat/drink friends” (I forget the Chinese phrase but it’s something like food/wine pangyao). These are the friends who are eager to socialize and hang out, but then when times get tough, they’re not very reliable. your few good friends, be loyal to them.
5) to persevere. Mom endured it all. Mom had not just 1, but 2 cancers raging in her body, at the same time. Yet she rarely complained. She was resilient. Like a soldier.
6) how I’m a 井底之蛙 – a frog in a well.
7) what it means to really trust in God. Towards the end of Mom’s life, she endured a lot of pain, yet she prayed, “Lord, if this is Your will for me to suffer, please help me to bear it. I’m such a sinner, and I don’t deserve your forgiveness. And God I feel like I’m suffering but I know it’s not even comparable to the suffering that Your Son faced as He was on the Cross. My pain does not even compare…”
8) to always have a good appetite. Mom and I shared our love for great tasting food. We scoured HK for the best wonton mein, we soiled our hands in garlic buttered crawfish, we enjoyed steak at The Goldenfinch (restaurant featured in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love). Towards the end of her life, Mom was uncomfortable, but always tried to eat.
9) how to love your family, by not leaving anything behind. The hidden blessing of Mom’s cancer was that it forced us to grapple with her inevitable passing and limited time with us. So every moment mattered: every phone call, every visit, every hug… we cherished each as though it were our last. Likewise, she cared for us by getting her things in order, so that we wouldn’t have to after she was gone. She planned her own funeral, chose her own songs for the service, chose her clothes for cremation, etc… It was difficult to watch her make these choices, but it definitely reminded us how much she loved and sacrificed for us.
10) “the world is full of suffering, and it is also full of those overcoming it.” (Hellen Keller) Mom overcame suffering. In the end, cancer could not defeat her. Her physical body has died, but her soul is spending an eternity in a glorious place, in the presence of God. Because “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”- Philippians 1:21
An excerpt, from my paper journal, May 30, 2012:
Looking back at Mom’s room, it feels so thick with grief. It is hot and feels heavy with the haunting loss, knowing that Mom used to sit on that bed, rub her knees, watch TV, playfully joke with us, openly share stories, tease or scold us, listen to hymns, pray during her pain, share with us her hopes for us, her aspiration for becoming a nurse if she had the chance, her confession of sins and regrets about her past, or about not knowing God earlier. There is a deep longing for Mom, an ache that when I see her belongings or things, it makes me tear up. But I must rejoice knowing that Mom is with God now, in a heavenly place free of suffering, sickness, tears, pain. She’s at home with her Maker, experiencing joy and glory like no other.
*11) Oh! How could I forget – Mom also taught me to play mah jong. =) Pong!