Happy Mothers' Day

Mum holding Peggy in front of house at Jalan Dato Wilson
Happy Mothers' Day mum and gran!

I was told that on the day I was born, mum went into labour while she was still working her normal hours.  Unlike modern mums, many who are delicate and needed bed-rest to prepare for the onslaught of childbirth, my resilient mum worked her usual shifts as she carried me to full-term.  She was then attached to the Maternity Ward of the General Hospital so I guess she could quickly get herself admitted at the first signs of labour. 

I was also told that while mum was in the labour room, dad was in another wing of the Hospital, not working but warded with symptoms of jaundice.  It was impossible for him to be by mum’s side to give her loving support but then, that was not encouraged in those days.  Looking back, I realize it was a 3-in-1 affair because three of us – mum, dad and I, were patients in the same Hospital on my birthday!

I remember how grandma reminded us to thank our mothers on our birthdays because they brought us into the world, often with great difficulty and certainly with much pain.  Gran said that for each gift we received, our mother deserved another because of her hardship and sacrifices.  Gran, a mother of 11 children by normal birth and one born during the Japanese Occupation, went through incredible struggles while she nursed her newborn, hiding the family in the jungle and evading capture by soldiers.  

Recalling gran’s reminder, I know we don’t have to wait for birthdays or Mothers Day to appreciate our mums because I learnt so much from mum, gran’s eldest daughter, as she put love into action with her own mother. 

Grandma [Seated] with [Left to Right] Peggy,
Ruby and Pearly; Kenneth [In front]
After Ah Kong or grandpa passed away, it made sense that gran should not live alone so I invited her to live with us.  Gran had an uncanny memory of people and places, and was a fountain of information as she shared her experiences.  From a robust and strong-willed lady, I observed how gran gradually aged and grew less independent over time.

Soon gran could not walk unaided and graduated from using a walking stick to a walker frame for support.  To keep her more comfortable in bed, we invested in a higher hospital cot with complete features and a medical bubble mattress for better ventilation.  Eventually as gran could no longer bathe herself, mum would bathe and dress her daily.

Mum would cook separate nourishing meals suited to gran’s taste and serve her the shredded version so she could chew more easily.  For her breakfast, bread crusts would be sliced off and the bread steamed before being spread with kaya and for meals, meat and vegetables would be mashed up for gran but surprisingly gran could still enjoy eating steamed fish and remove bones by herself!  When gran refused to chew, the rice was blended with soup and dishes into a tasty gruel for gran to swallow without chewing!

Mum, a retired nurse, has a natural compassion but she went beyond the call of duty to meet her mother’s increasingly demanding needs.  It was a 24/7 commitment where all of us were mobilized to see to gran’s needs – massaging her limbs, taking her for drives and trying to make conversations with plenty of repetitions because gran’s hearing was also deteriorating.  There was nothing too difficult to please gran because now the roles were reversed and we were caring for gran who once cared for us. 

Mum with Peggy [dressed like a boy!]
in Istana Garden, Johor Baru
For us it was Mothers Day everyday.  I realize that as our mums advance with age, there are very few things they can appreciate only once a year so everyday is a celebration of the bonus time we share with them.  Before she lost her hearing, sight or senses and for as long as she can appreciate our presence, it is the right time to show her that we care.

Through my mum’s exemplary example with her mother, I know the priceless sacrifices of putting love into action.  Three years ago, after being with us for almost 20 years, gran moved to live in the home of mum’s fourth sister in Kuala Lumpur.  While there was great reluctance to see her leave our home, it was time for mum’s “retirement” from being gran’s main care-giver.

Every year before the second Sunday of May, the media will bombard us with ideas to celebrate our mothers and appreciate them for being that constant guiding light in our lives.  One day in the year we are urged to reflect on all the days and ways we have taken our mums for granted and to let her know that her mothering and caring was all worth it.  Restaurants would be packed because most people would give mum a rest from the kitchen and treat her to a special meal in a restaurant of her choice.

As Mothers Day rolls around each year I crack my brain to be creative with gifts so this year, besides the mandatory “mum’s-not-cooking” night where we’ll enjoy a special restaurant meal with mum, my sister and I will also take her to spend Mothers Day with her mum, our gran in Kuala Lumpur.  At the ripe old age of 98, there isn’t much we can do with gran but to simply love her and enjoy being with her.  Happy Mothers Day to all mums and grandma’s!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in May 2010

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