Patient/Patience

“And love is all that I need… and I found it there in your arms.”

– Heaven, Bryan Adams

Vendredi, 28 juin 2013: 

I thought I’d begin this post with the present, rather than the past as I usually do. Just this afternoon I was reading through my older posts in this blog, and I realized that these posts were published within months from each other. In fact, my previous post was published on March 22nd (fortunately of this year), but even that was a republication of one of my most prized posts from my old blog, which is no longer existent. Since the conception of this blog in October 2011, I have only published (excluding this one) a total of seven posts… Clearly I haven’t been very productive.

To be frank, I’ve had the misfortune of being uninspired the past few months, and the busyness of daily life had also left me with little time to revisit old memories. But earlier this week, I’d finished reading two books — The Love Queen of the Amazon by Cecile Pineda and The Toucher by one of UWA’s very own alumnus and a Perth native, Dorothy Hewett — which left me burning with the eagerness to start writing again. After that I took a couple of days off from reading and tried my hand in fiction, a new work I’m calling Young Love (a working title for now). After reading my post ‘Maman’ however, which I published on my twenty-first birthday last year, I had a sudden lightbulb moment and I thought it was appropriate to end this temporary hiatus once and for all with a new post.

As I type, I am actually lounging on the elegantly massive Indonesian teak sofa with bright pink upholstery in our living room. By way of excuse, might I add that this too-pink sofa is actually an accidental new addition to our existing furniture collection — my mother acquired it from my cousin, who chose the bright pink velvet fabric for the sofa at the upholsterer’s but decided to not take it back home when the re-upholstery was done, which was how it ended up in ours instead.

I am sitting right next to my mother who for the past few days has unfortunately gone down with an unstable fever that, much to our confusion and dismay, just can’t make up its mind on whether to stay and continue to plague the patient or to simply pack up and leave.

My mother has been lying down in the brown sofa in front of the TV for hours on end, falling in and out of sleep and taking medication (usually at the recommendation of yours truly) every few hours or so, but never missing her favorite shows on TV — including the local soaps and dramas about the male protagonist’s attempts to marry additional wives, but always unintentionally wrecking his family in the course of doing so.

Considering her current condition, I have attempted to spoil my mother in every way that I could, I cooked chicken soup for her, gave her the appropriate medication, sorted out things that needed to do in the kitchen, did the laundry, massaged her feet and even gave them a spa treatment in front of the TV while I was watching a Korean drama last night. The spa treatment actually merely consisted of soaking her feet in a small tub of warm water — without any salts or minerals — but it surprisingly cooled down both her feet and her fever. Ten minutes or so into the treatment, my mother complained of sweating profusely, which my medically-uneducated self took as perhaps a slight improvement indeed to her health.

Fortunately we also have a neighbor, Cik Anna, who has been extremely sympathetic to my mother’s condition. Cik Anna has always been a most kind and generous neighbor, always volunteering to help out in the kitchen during busy times such as my brother’s wedding and sending us food from time to time, but since my mother has been ill her generosity knew no limit; at least once a day, she’d give her salaam at the back kitchen door with a generous offering of food. So far she has sent us bread pudding, absolutely delightful chocolate cake, and chicken cooked in spicy soy sauce (ayam masak kicap). We try to reciprocate with whatever food we make, but considering we have not been very productive in the kitchen — or, as us Malays would say, memandangkan dapur tidak berasap — there wasn’t much we could offer in exchange.

Cik Anna is truly an expert in the kitchen, and perhaps the sincerity with which she fills her offerings simply elevated the taste of her food to extraordinary levels. Welcoming her to our kitchen every day for the past few days has confirmed our belief that illness can also open the doors of rizq (provision) in our home — but I digress.

When I reread ‘Maman’ earlier, I came across a paragraph I wrote on that day that I thought truly reflected my present reality:

I think of my mother and the food she cooked for us when we were children and I think: this is how a mother raises, sacrifices, and loves her children. She feeds us so we will grow, so that when we’re grown, we will do the same to her. It’s the cycle of life, you see. In this way, her love will forever be a part of all of us; not only did she bear us inside her for nine months before we were born, but for years and years after our birth, the food she feeds us eventually form part of our flesh and bones, proof of her undying love that we will take to the grave. [21 September 2012]

Caring for a sick patient — even if the patient is only suffering from a mild fever — can teach  us much about not only the patient, but also about ourselves too. It teaches us about patience, about our ability to anticipate the patient’s wants and needs and the pain they’re suffering from, about the value of health and how we should never take it for granted, for it is a blessing that God can take away from you anytime He wishes.

I thought of the times when I would fall sick when I was much younger, and how I was cured — I am sure now — by the greatest cure of all: my mother’s love and constant care. The remarkable thing is that my brothers and I had grown up in Sri Lanka, Ghana, Guinea, and Bangladesh — third-world countries where hygiene is always an issue and professional and first-class medical care is either extremely expensive or simply unavailable. Living in these countries where even a significant percentage of local population dies like flies every year due to fatal diseases such as hepatitis B and malaria, the health of her growing children must have been a constant worry to my mother. My father, of course, would have lived his life in oblivion during this period, leaving for the office in the morning and coming back late at night and always expecting us to be healthy as horses. Whenever we were sick, we’d learned not to expect any sympathy nor empathy from him, but a lecture urging us to stop the sick-patient act and get better soon, because he simply had no time to sit at our bedside at night to nurse us (fortunately we had a mother for this tedious job).

My mother was able to anticipate the health risks involved when living in these countries. She brought in the container with us the water filter machine, which must have kept the harmful parasites out of every single glass of water we drank. Our first-aid kits were well-equipped with Panadol tablets and Minyak Cap Kapak, enough to last us for five years if need be. Food poisoning and fevers, which brought us down often enough, could potentially be indicative of a bigger health problem such as hepatitis B or fatal malaria, but thankfully none of us have ever been hospitalized for anything serious. Other families were not so fortunate however; some of my Malay childhood friends in Accra (and either one or both of their parents) had asthma, which was quite dangerous considering the dusty state of the city, and one of my father’s friend who was posted to Lilongwe, Malawi, actually lost a son to a fatal gastric condition.

In the past few days I have had time to reflect on our reversed roles; following one event in life after another, be it illness or simply the passing of time, the child now becomes the carer of the parent. I suppose we are approaching that transition where it is the children who will have to take over the task of looking after the parent, rather than the other way around. My mother’s hands have done enough and have led us through so many difficulties already — and indeed, I hope they will continue to be a source of moral support and much-needed comfort in the future — but now is the time to give back.

One hears all sorts of horror stories these days; stories about parents abandoned in the nursing home in old age, cared for by strangers and neglected by their children who have all branched out into their own separate lives that they have forgotten to revisit their origins once in a while. An acquaintance my mother met last year unexpectedly confessed to her about her disappointment at her children — all eight of them who seem incapable of caring for their aging mother, even though this woman had (almost single-handedly) raised all of them on her own. Once a mother starts expressing her grief in this manner, as children, perhaps you should know that you’ve failed. Terribly.

In Islam, children are told to be especially good to their mothers, for it is said that:

“The gates of heaven lie beneath the mother’s feet.”

(Pintu syurga terletak di bawah tapak kaki ibu.)

– Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)

Just as nothing that our parents have done for their children will ever be a waste, so too will the love we show our mother ever be futile. I have learned this from the example my mother showed with the love she shows her mother. When we received news of my grandmother’s passing in Dhaka, one of the first things I felt, besides grief, was regret — that my mother never got to see her in her last days, that she’d sacrificed so many years being away from her beloved mother to follow her husband’s path overseas. And while I believe she’d shown all the love she could with the brief time she had with her mother, it didn’t make her sudden passing any easier.

So love your mother while she’s still around, for you will never know which one of you will leave first.

And The End might just come Too Soon.

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