Sr. Judith Yuen, fmm
My mother passed away in October 2004, that time I was having my spiritual renewal in the Franciscan Formation Centre in Canterbury of England. The memory of my beloved mother occupied my whole being after her death. It was only when she had left me physically that I found out that she had been so important in my life, so near to my heart, so dear to be lost.
I left her at the age of seven to go to Hong Kong with my grandmother. I went home only a few times after the separation before the curtain in China was completely drawn. The communication between the family and I was kept up through letters constantly sent by my mother, to keep me updated of the situation of the family and to let me have a glimpse of how life was in the family. Aside from the letters, I understood more about my mother from stories told by my grandmother. I was able to visit her after China reopened under the ‘open policy’, I got a complete portrait of my mother through my personal contacts with her, the interesting life stories related by herself and the comments from the family members and the village folks.
Childhood: An extraordinary crying baby
My mother was the first child of a loving family. My grandfather was abroad in Australia, working as a hired farmer when my mother was born. According to my grandmother, my mother was bright, but she had the terrible habit of crying when darkness started to circle in. She used to start crying around 6 p.m. every evening, carried through the night on most days. My grandmother was desperate but had to suffer alone, the crying made her so nervous that she would have killed the crying baby if she did not practice the virtue of traditional Chinese women, to be tolerant and accept the fate of life. My grandmother tried to talk with my mother to find out what was the reason behind her crying, she seemed to understand the difficulty of her mother but there was no way to solve her problem. Her tears were stopped when she saw her father for the first time at the age of four. She told me she was shocked to see a stranger in the house and was too scared to cry. It was a great relief to my grandmother, had she known that easy way to stop my mother crying, she would have asked my grandfather to come for home visit earlier.
Adolescence —youthful years: firm, daring, helpful and responsible
The childhood and adolescence of my mother passed amidst laughter and fun among her younger sister and brother and her playmates. She was the guardian of the two younger ones in the family, taking care of them, though at time she would crashed with my aunt who was quite soft and too dependent on her. Mother was gifted with a quick mind, good in arithmetic and craft. In her generosity, her gifts were often the source of help for others, though at times abused by them. Her classmates enjoyed copying her well done homework and they often asked her to do the craft work for them. They even managed to get help from her during exams!
Optimistic, and joyful, she believed there was always a way out even when difficulties surrounded her. She would use her logical mind to figure out solutions. She took full responsibility to support the whole family during the invasion of the Japanese when my grandfather lost contact with the family and financial support from him was made impossible. She disguised her younger sister into a boy to avoid her being sported by the Japanese soldiers looking for beautiful girls to fulfill their immoral desire, while she risked her own safety to go around for the necessities of the family.
She was creative and was daring to make experiments. She told me one time she heard people saying that taking honey with soya bean curd would mean death. She invited two classmates to make experiment with their own lives. They ate the mixture and sat under a tree to see if death would come. The result of the experiment was negative and their daring action was positive! She was a person reluctant to be tied down by trivial things in life, that is why she scorned the pettiness of my aunt. Her self-confidence, positive outlook of life and her loving personality soon attracted people around her, giving her the satisfaction of leadership and self- fulfillment. She became the consultant of most of the villagers until her old age. Being firm and self-confident, she might sometimes be found a little stubborn and too sure of herself. She seldom expressed her difficulties or complain about hardships in life, but just bore them in her heart. People seldom easily noticed her difficulties, too often she suffered alone.
Though she wanted to pursue her ideal to study, she had to succumb herself to the decision of her parents to be married to a nice man of a decent family. Yet she dared to express her desire for study to her newly wedded husband who in his gentleness allowed her to go to Macau to study. The one short year of study gave her much joy and the opportunity to develop her talent in sports. She became the captain of the school basketball team, winning medals for herself and trophies for the glory of the school. She loved to show me the gold medals she got when I was a little child carried lovingly by her in her arms.
Her capacity to relate to people was seen in her good relationships with those in the family and her friends. But the most convincing proof was her relation with her mother-in-law. After marriage, she soon gained the love of the mother-in-law who was a demanding woman categorized by the neighbours as the most difficult mother-in-law in the village. My mother was always in good term with my grandmother, to the point of inviting jealousy from other daughters-in-law in the family. People used to say that my grandmother was tamed by my mother. The unbelievable thing happened: my grandmother, a very traditional Chinese woman, let my mother lead the regional basketball team to go to a far place for matches, while she herself took care of my elder brother who was still taking mother’s milk in his infancy. My grandmother fed my elder brother with rice cake paste during the absence of my mother! I think the secret of my mother was to touch the hearts of people with her friendliness and sincerity, at the same time daring to be her true self.
Family Life: A silent supporter and a peacemaker
My mother was a great supporter to my father in his business. She gave him her opinions when he needed advice. She tried her best to find financial support for him when his business was going down. She never interfered between my father and his brothers, even when they took advantage of him. She always said that my father was mature enough to judge for himself, to run his own life and business. Though some relatives said that she was foolish not to keep an eye on my father because he was too kind and gentle and could easily be fooled by others, especially his own brothers, but my mother stuck to her own way.
She brought up her four children with love and often reasoned things out with us even when we were small. Her conviction was that children need love and appreciation, they have to be clear about their own actions before they can make right judgments. In case chastisement was needed, she would first ask the one to be punished to see for himself/herself the reason for punishment. She would make an agreement with him on the way of punishment and help him/her to make resolution for the future. Her love united us around her, drawing admiration from others in our neighbourhood. Her personality and the way of bringing us up deeply influenced our lives. Her love and care extended to the second generation, all my nephews and nieces near her were lucky to enjoy her loving care while those far from her were sure of being loved in her heart. She often told me her main interest was to think of each one of her children by turns, paying more attention to the one in difficulty or in need. What a consolation to know that there is always the heart of a loving mother I can turn to when I am in need, no matter where I am! I am sure her heart is more open to her loved ones now that she is in eternal happiness.
Her selfless giving was brought to the full when situation in the village was very hard under the new regime. She used to cook the little rice she got for the family while she herself lived on wild plants, often went starving. When China reopened its door, I went home to see her. I could not hold my tears when I saw her skinny body wrapped in a dress losing its original material under so many patches and with holes. In her usual humor, she said, ‘I am happy to have this dress, it looks colorful and is cooler with windows (holes). Only later I knew that she saved the material to make trousers for my elder brother who was going to start teaching.
When my father got seriously ill, she cared for him day and night without complaint. She tried her best to provide good food and medical care for him with the very limited resources in the village. She kept me informed of his condition no matter where I was. My father died after I went to the Philippines for my novitiate, she bore the pain and in her concern for me, she kept the news so as not to disturb me in my formation though she could not understand why I left the family to enter religious life.
Love for her neighbors:
My mother kept her door open to anybody who came for help, even those she did not know very well. Since she was literate and knew about herbal medicine, people near and far came for all kinds of help they needed, from letter writing to healing for extraordinary sicknesses. She was always interested to read books, especially those on herbal medicines and natural ways of healing and applied them on those who had pain or sickness. One little story worth to be mentioned here: One day she went to a little shoe shop, intending to buy a pair of shoes for her friend. The shop was closed and she found out the shoe seller was in pain with twisted back. She started to apply reflexology on his feet until he was up again and sold her a nice pair of shoes. She was confined to the home for the aged after an operation on her broken hip two years before her death. In spite of her own inconvenience in walking, she still managed to give reflexology massage to some old folks who had pain. She was well remembered by them when she was sick during her last days and after her death.
My mother and I:
Most people who know my family said that I resemble my mother. Though I left her at the age of seven, there was no gap between us, in fact, we could share anything. The pain of separation from her at an early age was aggregated by rumors among some relatives that she sent me away because of the death of my two younger brothers after me, putting the blame on me. The truth I found out is that my family, seeing what would happen in the future, was eager to get one child out to preserve hope for the family. The choice of me showed that my mother had no preference for a boy to be out. Her decision, long planned by God’s love for me, changed my whole life.
The strong bond between my mother and I was not interrupted by the separation or long distance between us. When we were able to meet again, we found ourselves very familiar with each other. My mother was always proud of me, not because of my success, but because I am her beloved daughter. When I went to visit her, we used to go marketing in the morning. I could feel her joy presenting me to every villager we met. She was sad when I entered religious life, she could not understand why I left the family when they were in need and my father was sick. The reconciliation between us happened when I invited her to go to Hong Kong and stayed for one month with our sisters. She was very much at home with the community and understood our way of life. After that, she was happy to tell everyone she met, that I was a Catholic that I was working in the Church and helping people.
The death of my mother was a great shock for the family, because she had never been seriously ill. When she got the heart attach, the doctor all said it was a miracle that they could revive her. The second miracle they said was that she could gain back her consciousness and even her speech slowly. During the one month after the heart attack, she suffered, not so much physically, but emotionally and psychologically because it was hard for her to accept herself in a state of helplessness and not able to express what was in her heart. On the other hand, that month proved to be a time of quality living for her and for the family. All the family members went to visit her as often as they could, showing her our love and care, at the same time feeling the importance of her in our lives. I went home to stay with her for ten days, I went to see her every afternoon. I usually held her hand in mine to pray for her, I also told her that all our sisters and my friends in the Franciscan Formation Centre (where I had my renewal) were praying for her. I told her she could pray to God when she did not feel well because he is a loving God who cares, she was conscious and she nodded while I talked with her. Sometimes, she could open her eyes to look at me and smiled when I asked her if she recognized me.
She got fever two days before she died, though the doctors tried and managed to stabilize her condition, her heart could not support the change of weather and she left her loved ones to go to her eternal reward. It was a shock to me when the news came and it has been a painful process to grieve over a loss of a dear loving mother. Knowing that I could not go to China for her funeral, she came to console me. After her death I visualized her coming in white, with a big smile on her face. She told me she came to England purposely to say good-bye to me. When I was sad to let her go, she told me it is easy to contact her in her usual humorous tone, ‘Just call me any time you like, you don’t need to pay!’ Then she waved me good-bye and ascended into something like a lift and was blocked out of sight by a white cloud. Another time she came and I asked her if she has got accustomed in the new place. She said she was very busy attending welcoming parties given to her by the heavenly family. What a grace from God that I met her so vividly and to know that she is in peace and joy.
When we talked about my mother among brothers and sisters, we saw that with her good health she could have lasted longer, but she wore herself out in helping others, especially when she worked very hard to collect donations and made the account for the renovation of the temple in our village. The conclusion we got is that she was always happy in self-giving, it is the quality of her life that counts, not the numbers of years that she had lived. The most important thing is that she found meaning in her life and has lived it to the full. There is no regret when she looked back into her life and we as her children has no regret to let her go because she has given us life, enriched it by her own and I am sure now she continues to live in the hearts of her loved ones, loving them and caring for them in a new way.
My Dearest Mother, I don’t say good bye, but see you again!