Assistant managing editor
Mothers have a special place in the hearts of sons.
It is not unusual for grown men to get emotional while remembering their moms or listening to others talking about theirs.
If I didn’t believe that stories about moms of the world tug our mutual heartstrings, I would have buried the story of my mom in my heart because it was too intensely personal. But I have summoned my courage to write about the relationship my mother and I had toward the end of her life.
It is because I am convinced that there are other sons like me not only able to commiserate about the deaths of their most loved ones but also to celebrate the bond of love.
My love story began a couple weeks ago.
While I was in a taxi going home after visiting my mom in the hospital, I received a call from my sister who was attending to her. “Mom wants to talk to you,” she said, putting the handset to my mother’s left ear. My mom, at 86, had been ravaged by a terminal sickness that was diagnosed three months ago, leaving, among other things, her hearing in her right ear severely damaged.
As soon as I was sure that the handset was on her, I shouted into my mobile, “I love you, mom.”
She made the unexpected reply, “I don’t love you.”
I was taken by surprise not by the answer but the force of her voice. I was happy to hear her being strong. I asked the cabbie to pardon me and kept shouting into the mouthpiece, “Mom, I love you even more.”
It was not my mom but my sister who admonished me to keep my voice down, explaining that mom became ill-tempered after missing my visit because she was taking a drug-induced nap.
So I made an early morning visit the following day.
Mom was already sat on the bed with her foldable table in place.
She smiled at me. I took a cup of yogurt from my sister and spoon-fed her.
It often came down to a fight of willpower between me and my mother. More often than not, I proved to be the winner. Weak and with little exercise, she didn’t have much appetite. I sometimes cajoled her and “blackmailed” her other times. “Mom, one more spoon and I would be a happy man,” or “I will tickle you until you have another spoonful.”
The hospice ward where my mom stayed started early.
A final check on a graveyard shift for vital signs is made at five, around at which time patients start to get up, helped by family members or by a caregiver, one of them assigned to a room of five movable beds, which I found odd at first. Then, I came to learn the medical efficiency behind it.
If a bed is moved and its place left empty or there are increased visits by family members, it usually means that the patients are in serious condition. I have seen few come back once they leave on my daily visits for the past three months. I hoped against hope that the moving day would never come for my mom. Even in the case of terminal illness, death seemed to come one baby step after another until it pounced upon you like big paws of a giant grizzly bear.
As her situation deteriorated, she relied on an increasing dose of drugs to lessen her pain.
One day, I arrived at her room after receiving an emergency phone call from my wife, who told me that she was hallucinating, thanking my late father and shouting she loved her children. Even if she didn’t say it, I knew that it meant mom’s condition was very grave.
A nurse was trying to give her an injection, while my sister and wife struggled in vain to pin her down.
I embraced her and kept saying into her undamaged ear, “I love you” but she didn’t stop struggling, although obviously my weight helped calm her enough for the nurse to do her job.
The doctor told us that she came down with a mild case of pneumonia and I knew that she didn’t have much time.
In order to put every minute left in her to my best use, I tried to act as if I were her little child again, clowning around, teasing her and playing with her.
She obviously liked it most when I told her, “Mom, you are the most beautiful woman in this part of town.”
I often saw that wicked glint appear in her eyes for a moment and go in the next as if she challenged me, “Why only in this part of town?”
That glint in her eye was replaced by her trademark smile, a smile that started at the left corner of her mouth, spread up her cheek and flowered in her kind eyes.
Her smile carried a kaleidoscope of emotions _ a reluctance to yield to an outright compliment; self-satisfaction for somebody finally taking notice; an amusement for her grown-up son acting like a child again.
To thank her for that warm smile that I knew I might not see again, I awarded her with two thumbs-up and she gave one back.
If somebody asks me what I would like to remember about my mom most, I would say that smile of hers, which I have on my cell phone camera together with shots of some of my mom’s last days. It has been close to a week since she passed away but I still don’t check my mobile album because I can remember her better than any photograph, at least for now.
Perhaps it’s my own built-in protection system working to block me from the memory of her in the greatest pain.
For over an hour before she passed away, she struggled to breathe, gasping for air. I held her hand and repeatedly told her to be strong. It was until then that I realized that breathing could be such a hard task.
On my way down from the burial site, I kept looking back and told myself, “Mom, I will miss you.”
Catching my eye was a child dressed in black cavorting in the graveyard, a sight symbolizing how one life perishes and another is ready to take over in what I see is a perpetual cycle. It doesn’t console me in the loss of my mom but gives me just enough strength to go on.