By Naeemah Munirah Abdullah
It all began that one fateful day when the doctor announced that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was taken aback by the statement. What a disbelieving fact I just heard. The most fearful disease of all women was then attacking my mom, my one and only beloved mother.
Eight years has passed since that day. Mom is no longer around but the memories of her would always be kept in heart. She survived for the first four years still able to carry out daily routines with constant treatments but when the disease attacked her for the second time, slowly it restricted her movements. For almost two years, I witnessed her walking with the aid of a stick, then moving around with a wheelchair, and later bedridden for a year.
The pictures are still fresh in my mind. I wish I could paint them and create a gallery out of all the collections. I remember the moment where two old friends who were unable to speak to each other met to say goodbye, and who could have expected that it was farewell forever. These two women with disability to speak at that time were my mom and the neighbour opposite our house. Mom stopped speaking, I could say since a week before God took her back. As for our neighbour, it was since she got a stroke, quite some time before.
Years before, they were really good friends. Of course, mom was good to everyone, to all other neighbours as well. But since the others left in the morning for work and came back only in the evening, this particular aunt who was not working anymore was the one whom mom met and greeted in the morning and evening most often through each other’s house compound as they were both gardening.
That morning, that aunt’s daughter came to our house, pushing her mother on the wheelchair to bid farewell to my mom before they move to Kelantan. Mom was on the bed 24 hours, unable to move for about a year. When the four eyes met, I could see that there were strong memories tied between them. No words came out, but the eyes spoke. Representing her mother, the daughter told mom slowly that they were going to leave, that her mom apologised for everything if anything ever went wrong along the years we became neighbours, and what a great pleasure it was to have mom around since our family moved to Kedah.
The aunt lifted up both her shaky hands, and quickly the daughter took her mother’s hands and directed them towards my mom’s. I realised she wanted to shake mom’s hands, so I hold mom’s thin hands and let them reach the aunt’s. That was among the moments which are still so clear in this memory, and I don’t wish that it will fade even after I grow old and become forgetful. I wish I could paint the pictures.
Another moment was in the hospital. Often mom asked to rest first or take a nap while waiting for her number to be called to see the oncologist. She remembered that I love ‘kuih’, so she will let me go to the hospital’s café, leaving her resting. If I don’t, she’ll offer me to go. Mom is the best person. There is no one who can ever beat a mother in understanding her child. Once, she was too tired that she wanted to lay down instead of just sitting on the wheelchair while waiting.
There was a mini-sized bed at one corner of the hospital’s main lobby, so I brought mom there. There was no pillow, and mom asked me to sit at the edge of the bed so she could put her head on my lap. I don’t remember for how long she was asleep on my lap, the queue was quiet long. I just wished that we could maintain there, in that position. I wish I could paint that moment.
Before she got too sick, whenever we went to the mall or the market, she would make sure that there was something I like to eat to be brought back home. If there’s a bakery, we’ll surely go in. I think she had never restricted me to eat whatever I like, even though sometimes it’s costly. She would only be upset when I refused to eat rice.
At home, I am free to eat sweet things, the desserts, as long as I eat rice first. As far as I can reflect, there were times where she called my siblings and me to gather for lunch right after she’s done cooking, which also means she’s done cleaning, (Mom is that kind, she cleans at the same time while cooking, so she does everything really fast.) but I told her that I was already full. I must have hurt her feelings.
Later when I learned to cook the simple dishes because mom was too weak to go to the kitchen and stand for a long time, I remember I got so frustrated when my younger brother ignored my call to eat. For me, cooking was a big effort. Being tired after cooking and cleaning plus the excitement to let mom and sometimes my brother eat if any of them is at home, getting a rejection hurt so much. That was the time I realised of my wrongdoing towards mom before.
I went through so many things together with her. In my journey of life, in all experiences I had as I grow from a child into an adult, she’s there. I wonder where have the route maps she drew for me went missing. Yes, mom drew me maps in the early times I began driving as I always got lost in my own town. She was very patient explaining repeatedly what I will see once I arrive at certain junctions, at which traffic light should I turn left and so on.
I am still keeping the bag she sewed with me. When I was 14, we were together attending workshops organised by the same art academy. She learned patchwork and stitches as that’s her interest. I was not so into sewing so she put me in the beading work course. I enjoyed it so much and since then making accessories out of beads and crystals with the right technique became a hobby. It later on turned out to be a small business, and it all started because of mom.
One thing which was very special and I see it no more by today’s society is having hair treatment at home. Perhaps there still is but it’s rare. I had it. The hair specialist was my own mom. She took the fresh coconut milk and washed my hair a few times with it, teaching me that it’s a good way of taking care of one’s hair. That reminds me of petua or the tips book I used to have which I loved so much for the tips it gave for beauty care through the natural way.
She has passed the worldly life, now it’s my turn. The things I am going through, they are what she had undergone too during her lifetime even though surely they were not exactly the same. She moved on from one phase to another, striving in each with the strength she had, putting her trust in God. Never at all she gave up, so why should I?***