It was the second time in my life that I had taken the plane home to Malaysia, knowing that once again, home will never be the same again. The first time this happened, I was a young woman working in Australia. My father had suffered a heart attack and being his third, I feared it would be fatal. When I received the call in the late evening, he had been rushed to the hospital. This not yet being the days of internet and cell phones, I rushed to the airport and hoped to make it back to see my dad for the last time. I didn’t make it. I waited at the airport all night for the next flight, slumped and crushed at the phone box when I phoned home to say that I had my flight but was told instead that it was too late, that my dad had passed on.
This second time, I was not more ready nor less devastated than the first. The evening she was admitted to the hospital I had a Skype video-call with my mum, though she could not speak at this stage. I told her I loved her, she lifted her hand to me but I didn’t realise she was saying goodbye. The next morning, I was on a flight home. But home had changed. Home was what my mum made it. My home as I knew it, no longer existed.
The journey seemed to take forever. I thought of nothing else but my mother. I could see her face so clearly. But it was an image of a younger her, when she wasn't so old and fragile. I realised that in her ageing years, I had found it harder and harder to look at her. I could not accept that she was becoming old. She had cooked, washed and cleaned for a family of five children. She was as adept with a kitchen knife as she was with a hammer. She did not fuss over cutting the throat of a chicken, she quietly fixed my broken bed with nails and a hammer, she made time to sew dresses for my dolls, she trimmed her bougainvillea bushes with tenderness. She took on two young children when we grew up, to make extra income. She cooked for and looked after her daughters-in-law during their confinement. She swaddled her grandchildren and held them constantly in her arms in the first months of their lives. She came to live with me and look after my children when I myself became a mother. She did not protest when we told her we were moving back to France.
It was seven months ago since we buried her next to my father. I think of my mum everyday. I wonder whether she would have lived longer if I hadn’t left. I wonder if I had done enough, if distance had somehow made me less responsible for her. I wonder if it’s a question children who live abroad ask of themselves when they lose a parent. I tell myself I should have called more often.
In all this, my two daughters are growing everyday. And everyday, I encourage them to be more independent, to spread their wings, and to new adventures. Little by little, they stride out on their own, no longer needing me to walk them to school, or to pick them up from dance class. They have gone away for school trips and sleepovers.
One day they will pack their bags, and perhaps leave on a plane for distant places. My heart will ache, I will yearn for them. Perhaps they will start their own families in strange lands, and distance will keep us apart. I will grow old, and my children will have children of their own. I will want them to go where their hearts take them, to live happy fulfilling lives. I will know that no matter where they go, I will always be their mother, that we have immense love in our hearts for each other, and that they will treasure the memories of our lives together. So I know too, that my mother felt this way. That when she raised her hand to say her silent goodbye, she was also saying she loved me, no matter how far away I was.