I could still remember the days. It was dark, cold, and I was sweaty. My bed was soaked with perspiration and the room was warm and stuffy. More often than not, I’d be running a temperature, and I’d be feeling miserable. There, as I tossed, turned and drifted in shallow sleep, the ceilings lights were flicked on.
Then as I lay there in misery, a calm and soothing voice would rouse me from my hollowed sleep, saying, “It’s time to have your medicine, boy”.
A spoonful of cough mixture, a handful of tablets, and a glass of water were the normal concoction of ‘potions’ that often greet me in the dead of night. Slowly, gently, they were fed into my hands, for me to toss into my mouth, before I wade back to dream… at 3am in the morning.
At 5 years old, I didn’t know it but my Mom was teaching me the biggest lesson of my life.
* * *
As a child, I wasn’t particularly the strongest in the family. My health was (and still is) really in tune with that of the seasonal flu virus’. The result of having my health so in tune with that of the flu season, amongst other infections meant that I’d come down with fever more often than I’d like – probably 4 times on average per year. Through it all, I was mostly miserable. And yet, through it all, my mother had always been my sole caregiver.
Being a full time homemaker, my mother’s entire life was dedicated to her family. She’d cook, clean, and care for everything in the house. Particularly her children. And she paid a price for everything she did for us.
You see, as an English-educated woman back in the 1980s, my mother was amongst a small group of educated woman who had the qualifications and relevant working experience to further her career when she was in her mid 40s. But my mother gave it all up, to care for her soon to be adolescent children – that were my Sisters (then 13 and 11,) and Brother (9).
My mother’s acts of love were not only exemplified by her willingness to sacrifice work for her family and children. Being as meticulous and perfectionistic as she was, everything she did was done to the detail. She bought supplies in advance did most of the household chores herself. Indeed, my mom was so dedicated to her work, she had no qualms working overtime late into the middle of the night just to make sure the work’s done!
She continued doing it, as best as she could, until cancer robbed her of her ability to use her legs.
Mom woke up one day to find that her right leg had lost all sensations. Worried about its implications, we had her admitted – just like we’d always did. None of us knew what was to come.
My mother’s condition appeared stable during the initial weeks and things were pretty smooth sailing. I had been assuming a larger role as her caregiver as my siblings left for work overseas so I’d gotten used to handling her needs. The only increase in burden was the need to shuttle between school and the hospital – but that was really manageable.
Then it happened.
Mom had her first major setback during her third week in the hospital and I could tell from her eyes that she’d been deeply unsettled, despite the rallying support that my aunts – her sisters – were giving her. I had spent many nights up and awake talking to my mother at the hospital after my lessons. But that was the first night I stayed up to keep vigil by her side.
What mom did next caught me by surprise. She apologised “for bringing this upon you”.
Why did she have to do that? I couldn’t understand. I knew mum didn’t like troubling people. But I was her son, and I hadn’t count on her feeling sorry for me doing something that seemed so natural.
Well, I didn’t know it then – but I was living out a lesson that I never knew I’d learnt…
I spent the next few nights at the hospital. I went home to rest during the day when there were more visitors to keep her company, and returned at night to keep her company and provide moral support. More importantly, I stayed to ensure that her simply needs were taken care of… and each time it was required, I’d call out to her and say:
“It’s time for your medicine, Mom”.
It didn’t occur to me then, but our roles had been reversed… I was her caregiver.
My journey towards being a trainer was marked by a series of questions that paved the way towards self-realisation. It was through questioning and realisation that I learnt and progressed in life. Yet, back then I couldn’t really understand the reason why I was doing all these.
It wasn’t just about the sense of duty – I wasn’t doing it because I had to. It wasn’t just about reciprocity – I wasn’t doing it to repay the care that mom gave me when I was child. (And I was definitely not doing it because of the nurses!)
What I realised, at the end of the episode, was how important she was to me in my life. I saw that my actions mirrored hers when I was a kid, and I began to realise that she was not obligated to do EVERYTHING that she’d done for me.
But she did.
Neither did I have to stay at the hospital with 4, hard plastic chairs as my makeshift bed.
But I did.
I’d never realised how powerful a caregiver’s presence could mean to a person. I hadn’t realised how much presence gave me strength when I was weak… but I began to see how mine encouraged her and gave her comfort in times of need. I saw that, through her pain, she saw hope, and her will was strengthened because she saw the people she loved cared. I began to see, how the things that were done, so seemingly simple had profound impact on the receiver. More importantly, I began to realise, how some of life’s seemingly simple things actually too so much work – and sacrifice – to effect.
Then I realised, that through her years of action and example, my mother had taught me life’s most important lesson:
Love meant Sacrifice
* * *
Indeed, Love is a crazy (but powerful) little thing.
Love means more than just giving/delivering flowers, gifts, or laughing with each other when times are good.
Love mens more than just offering words of support and hope just as one’s stepping out of the door.
Love means more than just recognising one’s duties and going about it.
To love means going beyond the call of duty.
To offer hope, strength and support through good times and bad, and;
To really care without even knowing why you need/want to do it.
In a nutshell, I believe love is really about being willing to care, to give yourself and sacrifice.
I’ve never realised, until the last days of my mother’s life, when I’d assumed the role of her caregiver, that it would be such a big challenge to love, and what it’d really meant to sacrifice. Yet, despite the challenges, my mom’s illness offered me the opportunity to really appreciate the work that she’d put in to raise my siblings and I.
Quite frankly, my mom’s passing allowed me to discover and taught me the meaning of the most important lesson of all: What it means to Love & Sacrifice.
Mom’s Lesson #1 – Family First
Mom’s Lesson #2 – More than Just a Thought
Mom’s Lesson #3 – Discipline – Respect for your Elders
Mom’s Lesson #4 – Just a Little Bit More
Mom’s Lesson #5 – Don’t Give Up – Just Do Your Best
Mom’s Lesson #6 – Go Forth and Explore
Mom’s Lesson #7 – Love & Sacrifice