Last Thursday at 10:30 pm, my mother Mary passed away. It was quick, which I’m thankful for. She did not suffer.
She lived in a nursing home for several years — the last two years of her life in a steady decline. Thursday night her breathing became labored, so they put her on oxygen, but the levels kept dropping, until… the inevitable.
I was not even in Wuxi at the time, but in Changzhou, in the middle of judging a senior high school speech competition. My brother wanted to speak to me on the phone, but there I was stuck in a hotel without the ability to make a long distance call to Canada.
So the news came by email first. I mouthed the words slowly, as though English suddenly became alien and I forgot meaning and grammar. It was odd to receive such explosive news that way. Is this the price I pay for my adopted lifestyle?
I was always fascinated why my mother chose or was given the biblical name of Mary for her Canadian identity. It suggests that she was destined to marry a solid man and bear saintly children.
But no — her name is not Mary. It’s Oi-Lun. She married a man who proved to be the antithesis of dependable, gave birth to children who were rebellious, probably disappointing her more than once. She rode the ups and downs of an unsatisfying marriage, was trapped in a culture she never quite adjusted to, and battled monstrous inner demons that eventually depleted any lust for life.
Until finally the role of parent switched, and she looked upon her children as caregivers. I tried to watch over her, even though I was clumsy at it — thrust with serious responsibility at a tender age. I mourned my missing youth. While most teens were experimenting, my siblings and I took turns ensuring she ingested her medication and didn’t wander from the house.
My mother was not perfect. She raised us based on how she was parented, which was an atmosphere devoid of hugs or tenderness. Enslaved to her place in history, she did the best she could.
Over time I began to see a person who was young once herself, who longed for things. All the things most humans long for and that’s when I decided that despite my mother’s foibles, she was actually a brave woman.
That’s also when I introduced a bit of her story over two years ago, to be honest with myself on why I dismantled my middle-class existence for what some consider an unstable choice.
She traveled over a 1,000 miles to forge an unwritten life in a foreign country. Realize hopes like many of us do. Despite painful setbacks, in many small ways she didn’t give up. To me, that’s leaping in with an open vulnerability, when you have no assurance of how it will end, but you go anyway. I will always admire her for that.
So here we are, all imperfect. Holding on to who we want to be — facing who we are.
She is finally rid of that wheelchair and can grow brave once more — flapping her sleek wings towards the burnt orange sun, the endless blue sky yawning to meet her, as a balmy wind caresses her feathered torso, pushing her towards any destination she desires. My beautiful mother now has ultimate freedom and that makes me soar along with her.
I’m about to embark on an airplane to see her one last time, kiss her on the forehead and wish her well. This is the kind of travel I never wanted to do — avoided thinking about at all costs.
But travel isn’t always about saying ‘hello’, sometimes it’s also about saying goodbye.
For you mom, Poe’s “Fly Away”. It’s time.