It’s been 2 years since Mom, my mother-in-law, passed away.
Missing her is a constant feeling. Walking down the street, when the flowers are plucked off the trees and carried in the wind, I smile as I think of her. Other days, I’m overcome by waves of sadness. Like last weekend, at my sister’s wedding. Seeing my sister get married to my now brother-in-law filled me with unspeakable joy. But when I thought about Mom, how much she loved them both, and how she would’ve wanted to celebrate with us, my chest ached.
I cannot count all the things I miss about Mom. I miss her cheerfulness, how it filled the room with sunshine, even if the curtains were drawn. I miss her enthusiasm to try new things, like toasted squid in Tai O Fishing Village (in Hong Kong), butter and garlic crawfish (one of the last meals we shared before she died), and embracing the cold to go whale watching (during a chilly New England autumn). I miss her presence, even if she was asleep or quietly watching tv, how it brought so much comfort. I miss her cooking skills that introduced the vibrant flavors of Hong Kong home cookin’ into my life. I am so thankful for her, how she accepted me, how she loved me like I was one of her own, how she embraced me despite my flaws, how she welcomed me into her family from the very beginning.
But it’s what Mom taught me, that stays with me the most.
In memory of Mom, I wanted to reblog an old lesson she taught me: the Chinese proverb about the frog in the well.
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November 14, 2011
After swallowing her anti-nausea pills, Mom sat at the edge of the bed, trying to keep the medication down. The sunlight streamed in through the window and gently brightened her face. Her black and gray speckled hair was beginning to grow out again, after 2 unsuccessful rounds of chemotherapy.
What do you do, when medicine fails you? What do you do, when toxic cancer medications no longer cease its malignant growth?
You wait … till the end. And you wait in pain.
Sitting across the room, I chatted with Mom, equipped with stories to distract her from the nausea. I began telling her about one of my patients, who recently immigrated to the States only to find that life was more difficult than she had anticipated.
Mom nodded in agreement. “I totally understand… when we first immigrated here, we were so poor, and we had so little. It is so difficult when your whole family is back home, and you are here alone with no support, no friends, no community. So you have to gather all your strength to do the things you think you cannot do. At the time, I was young, and I was healthy then. I was able to do things independently, and afterwards, I was so proud of myself. But looking back, I see how I was just a jǐng dǐ zhī wā.
“A what?” I asked.
Painting invisible brushstrokes with her finger, Mom spelled out the four Chinese characters. “井底之蛙 : jǐng dǐ zhī wā, that means ’frog in a well’. In Chinese there are many 4 character proverbs, or wise sayings, that seem easy to understand at face value. But they are very deep. They are steeped in wisdom and ancient Chinese history, and you wouldn’t know the meaning unless someone taught you.”
“What does it mean?”
“It’s about a frog who sits at the bottom of a well. When he looks around, he sees the water around him, and he looks up and sees the sky. He thinks he has it good, and he thinks he knows everything. But in fact, he cannot see the world outside the well. So it is actually referring to someone who is ignorant and thinks they know things, when really, they don’t know much at all.”
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Reflecting upon this proverb in the past few days, I wonder to myself, what am I going to do, when Mom is gone?
Who will teach me Chinese parables?
Who will instruct me with their hidden meaning?
Who will guide me in such wisdom?
Who will show me that I am a frog, and how there is so much more beyond this well?
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