I’ve written three pieces for and about my mother since I last saw her in 1998. I will copy here, in its entirety, the one I wrote for Mother’s Day 2001, just a few days after she died. Links to the other two essays are at the bottom.
My Mother, My Role Model (05/11/01)
My Mom gave birth to me when she was 39. And we lived in close proximity until I was 45, when I left for the US.
My Mom was in her mid-20s during the Second World War, and I can’t imagine what she had to go through, married to my father who was a military officer. But I was born ten years after the war and by then my parents had healed from the ravages and started a new life for our small family.
Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I can’t stop thinking that when my Mom was my age, she was just beginning to make sandwiches and lunch bags for me and my little brother. When my Mom was my age, I, a toddler, was just beginning to notice we had a mother who took care of our family.
Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I can’t stop thinking that all the lessons my Mom taught me, she taught me by example, and she started when she was my age. The thought gives me a lot of inspiration. To my eyes, my Mom only started to exist when she was in her middle age. So, now that I’m in my own midlife, I can, in fact, be like my Mom, and just now “start to exist.” Isn’t that a radically inspirational thought?
But now that I do think about it, I look back at what my Mom did teach me by example. Here are some of the lessons I clearly remember.
My Mom never had any concept about growing “old.” Even when she was already in her mid-70s, and her grandson by me approaching teen age, she would ask me seriously, “Why do strangers call me Grandma? Do I really look like a grandma? I don’t feel like a grandma, I still feel the same way I felt when I was in my 20s!”
That’s one thing I will always remember with my Mom — she never felt old. She’d garden, and entertain, and cook, and start projects like she’d live forever. She slowed down a bit when my father died and her eyesight started to fail. But until then she wouldn’t believe how “old” the calendar said she was.
My Mom passed down creativity to my brother and me like she contaminated us with a virus. I thought only my brother was born with it because he drew pictures as soon as he could hold a pencil. I realized that my creativity needed a little guidance from my Mom.
She taught me all the crafts a “proper woman of the house” should know. By the time I was 13 she was motivating me to cut patterns and sew my own party clothes. Together we worked on many crochet and embroidery projects.
Throughout my teens, she made me kitchen assistant as we baked cookies and puddings, molded sugar flowers, spread icing on triple-layer cakes, whipped ice cream, and boiled jars for our mango marmalades. I enjoyed learning as much as she enjoyed teaching.
And there was always something to do at home, creativity-wise. My Mom made sure we always had crayons, paints, craft paper, scissors and glue, and workbooks to explore. She constantly encouraged my brother and me to “make something” and to keep trying, whatever it was we felt like making. And she encouraged us with some projects of her own — especially at Christmastime.
I love nature and I know why — my parents taught me to respect life. My Mom loved her garden. She grew orchids and ornamentals, shaped exotic bonsai, and landscaped relentlessly. Everyone adored her garden; she could make anything grow!
At one time or another she was also raising cats, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and tropical fish. It was just a “natural thing” for her. I remember one night when she came in sobbing after she discovered that a big rat had managed to enter the chicks’ coup and killed half the brood. She was devastated.
I probably inherited a love for nature from my Mom, but only by her example could I have learned how precious life, a life, any life, is and will always be.
Be Strong By Discipline
I think the biggest lesson my Mom taught me was discipline. Along with a core set of religious beliefs, values, and morals, plus a healthy dose of positive attitudes, discipline rounded out the role model that was my Mom.
She was a strong woman who can set her mind on something and do everything to follow through. But she maintained a sense of fairness and a kindness that she extended by trying to be in other people’s shoes. I witnessed many trials and challenges that my mother accepted and dealt with as only a strong and disciplined woman could. Despite the hardships, she kept going.
She was never desperate nor depressed because she always knew that if she tried her best, everything else that followed were for the best. This was how she survived breast cancer — by following a regimen that only a truly disciplined individual can sustain.
My Mom survived. Just as she survived the trauma of her own mother’s death when she was only 12, just as she survived near-starvation during the war, the sleepless nights when my father fell ill, and the heartache when her siblings exchanged bitter words. To me, my Mom will always be a survivor.
She moved on to another level of existence six days ago, she was 86; but she continues to be alive in my heart and in my memories. My Mom was and will always be the survivor that I live on to be.
I remember her fondly, and thank her for being my beloved mother, on this year’s Mother’s Day.
My Mother’s Termination Notice (05/07/99)
My Mother’s Hands (08/06/04)