Sunday, March 08, 2015

A Letter to Mama

Dear Mama, I was rummaging through some clothes which I had packed to put away—a vain attempt at clearing the clutter—when I came upon a length of floral fabric, neatly rolled up and tied with a bit of remnant. I undid the string and unrolled the fabric and saw that the cloth had already been cut but not sewn. I had a shock when I realized it was supposed to have been sewn into a blouse—your blouse, Ma.

 I must have cut the fabric more than ten years ago and forgot about it completely. My shock quickly turned into sadness and regret. What was this fabric doing here, I asked myself. Why did I put it away instead of making the blouse? Why? I’ll never be able to answer my own questions.

I guess I had been your main seamstress. I made all your blouses and sewed your sarongs. We had our share of disagreements and difficult moments but I must have been a good-enough ‘tailor’ that you kept asking me to do your clothes instead of going to your other daughters.

I wish I had been a better daughter: more caring, more charitable, less selfish, and not too hasty or generous with dishing out criticisms. I wish I had not been such a nit-picker who kept demanding for fairness and justice.

When you appealed for sympathy—“Kau tidak sayang Mama?”—I asked you to be reasonable and to be fair: “Come stay with me after you’ve stayed with each of my siblings,” I said. “I’ve had my turn hosting you. Surely the others don’t want to be deprived of the opportunity to have you live with them. Besides, it’s only fair we took turns to care for you.”

You see, we had all agreed to take turns to care for you after your stroke. Nobody said "No”. However, for some reason, you kept turning to me and I kept asking you to ask the others before approaching me again because I had already hosted you. “You’ve got to be fair,” I said while at the back of my mind I replayed events in my childhood that showed I had been treated unfairly. Maybe that is why I’m now obsessed with being ‘fair’ and I get so upset when I perceive people acting ‘unfairly’.

That was the only thing I wanted. Fairness. So I waited for a brother or a sister to invite you to his or her house. Then John found the new care-giver and I thought you liked her a lot. I thought she must have been treating you well. And you had fewer grouses to air during our weekly visits.

Nobody knew that every time I got back home after these visits I was overcome with guilt and sadness. When I was having my meals I wondered what you were eating. When I had leftovers after lunch or dinner I wondered if you had enough to eat. When the wind blew branches off the mango tree and splattered rainwater onto my window I wondered if you were safe and dry—or scared and left alone in your bed.

 Sometimes demanding for fairness is not right. Sometimes being fair may not be kind. Sometimes.

Siblings and spouses

So after thinking long and hard, I decided I’d bring you home to stay with us. I told only my SIL who was also taking care of her frail and aged mum. I said I knew it was going to be a daunting task but I thought I should take care of you. I only waited for the baby to be one-year-old, to be a little stronger so she won’t fall ill easily. Then we’d go and fetch you. I was aware it would be difficult to care for an elderly bed-ridden person and a tiny baby as well—with no help and at my age. I could end up losing my mind or falling ill but I was determined to do what needed to be done. There seemed no other way to make you feel you have not been deserted.

None of my siblings knew of my intention. I’m aware that everyone thinks I have a stone in my chest and that I’d be the last one to offer or volunteer to do a good deed. I prefer it that way. I don’t handle dramas and hysterics well.

When the baby turned one I took her to see you. A few days later you were admitted to the hospital.

 I’m so very sorry things turned out the way they did. I hope you knew that you were loved and admired. We did have some good times together even after your stroke and the memories fill up my heart’s treasure chest.

Goodbye, Ma, and rest in peace. Don’t worry about us. We’re doing okay.

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