I was with mum the last few days. This is the first time I have visited with her this year since the Lunar New Year (January). She teased me numerous times about the fact that in 2009, she has only seen her only son twice. He who has ears let him hear. I heard the message: visit more often. She is right to expect to see me more often. We are commanded to honour our parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2). To honour means “to give weight, to give importance to …” And if mum is important in my life she deserves my most precious asset — my time. And now with so many budget airlines flying between Singapore and Penang I really have no excuse.
I send money home and I try to call every week. But mum has been alone since dad passed on in 2003. She has a live in house help but that is not the same. My sister lives in Kuala Lumpur and she visits as often as she can but not much more than me. I sometimes forget that mum is in her 80s. We think our parents will live for ever. But they don’t. I have good friends in their 90s still going strong. Still, unless I get called home first, how many more years do I have with mum this side of heaven?
One of the things we did this visit was to visit dad’s grave. Mum told me what she wanted done with her earthily remains when her time comes. After visiting dad’s grave, mum asked me to drive her to different parts of the cemetery (Western Road Christian Cemetery). We visited the graves of other family members and she gave me a running commentary on the key moments of their lives. I realise that with dad gone, I will no longer have access to all sorts of history when mum goes as well.
The two nights I was there I took mum out for dinner. The first night we went to the restaurant at the Chinese Recreation Club. The meal was delicious and at a very reasonable price, the basic criteria for a good meal for Penangites (folks from Penang). The second night we went to the food court at the revamped New World Park. That was more of a mixed bag. Mum just seemed pleased to be with her son. But going out with mum now means I must walk slowly, and watch out that she doesn’t stumble. I also need to speak slowly and clearly, and if possible, look at her when I speak. Her hearing is much weaker now and she doesn’t want to wear a hearing aid.
Growing old is not for wimps and mum is a trouper. She just came back from trips to Vietnam and to Hong Kong. She is trying to master using the computer, and is still very active in church leadership. She often talks about giving up her church duties but is very slow in actually doing so. She loves the church too much. And she loves life. She often tells me about some of the things she wants to do, people she plans to visit. This time was no different.
She also thinks about death. She says that she doesn’t mind living longer if she can continue to be healthy and ambulatory. Her fear is to be bed ridden and in pain. She’d rather go home to God then lose her independence and be a “burden” to people. I guess that is what most of us hope for too. But though unspoken, we know it is not our call to make. We have had too many friends and family who were ill and bed ridden before they died. Including dad.
We are a small family, just the four of us and now three. Mum remembers the good times and is nostalgic in surprising ways. This time round she found my old teddy bear, an orange, hairless creature, that she put on a chair in the sitting room. And I have long ceased to be embarrassed by the old photographs she brings out, back and white snapshots from my childhood, usually pictures of the birthday parties she and dad would throw for me every year.
One thing mum likes to do is to play the piano. She especially loves to play the old hymns. She reminded me that when she married dad they were poor and lived in an attap house. But the one luxury she insisted on having was a piano. She laughed when she recalled the incongruity of having a piano in an attap house.
While we waited for the taxi to come take me to the airport, she played some hymns. I stood by her and sang along. As we sang the grand old hymns of our faith, I remembered that we followed the same Lord, that our lives shared the same foundation, and that we were headed for the same destiny. I waved good bye as the taxi pulled away. I had many questions, many feelings, but also the sense that everything was going to be OK.