Heart & Soul: A son's final letter to his departed mum

  • Family
  • Saturday, 26 Apr 2014

Hi Mum, just checking in: A son writes of a relationship which he lost.

Dear Mak,

Lately, it’s been hard trying to get my customary forty winks. So here I am, kneeling and pleading for your empathy. Please hear me out and tell me you will accept my poor excuse of an apology.

I’m sorry I didn’t do that well when I was in school. You missed the opportunity to gloat over my academic achievements to your friends, which is what proud parents normally do. Instead, I majored in being lackadaisical and a laggard. But I have to thank you for never once thinking of me as a failure, even when you knew I could do better.

I’m sorry for habitually “misappropriating” your money while I was growing up. It was even more prevalent when I was in my adolescent years. Please take comfort in knowing that it was all spent on books. Lots of it. I pride myself on being a voracious reader, but gave no plausible consideration to the financial state which you were in. Over the years, it puzzled me that you never found out. With your meagre salary as a teacher, supporting four kids, and your impeccable spending restraint, I got the feeling that you opted to close one eye and pretend that all my shenanigans never happened.

I’m sorry for ending up as a house-husband. I knew that was a point of awkward contention for you every time the issue cropped up. I could see that you were struggling to justify the mere mention of your second son being a stay-at-home dad. If I embarrassed you, and even if society abhorred the non-conformity in me, please take comfort in knowing that the arrangement fit our family nucleus better. And more importantly, your daughter-in-law is fine with this. Really.

Speaking of your daughter-in-law, I apologise for that bold step I took 20 years ago when I broached the idea of marrying a girl of a different race. I knew I ruffled a few feathers then. But I know that over the years, you have grown fond of her as she of you. You didn’t want to admit it, but I could see the deep affection that you felt for her. Loved her as the daughter you never had. I could see the glow in your eyes every time you talked about her. Did you know that the two bracelets you bequeathed her are now deemed as the first family heirloom? She sends her regards, by the way.

I’m sorry I never paid back that huge chunk of money that I borrowed from you way back in the early 1990s. I lost it all to youthful peccadilloes. Never once did you indicate that you wanted the money back. It was a lifetime savings for you which your inept son just plundered right under your nose.

I’m sorry I reneged on my promise to take you to the Holy Land together with my family. I thank God you managed to take that trip even without me. I procrastinated like so many of us do, never realising that I would live to regret it. It’s not so much of the trip that disturbed me but the thought that I failed to shower you with the things that were dear to you that continues to haunt me.

I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything in my power to save you from that dreadful Big C. As I watched you deteriorate to a pallid resemblance of what you once were, I began to grasp that there was only so much your hapless son could do, and no amount of money could prevent the inevitable. Laura Linney’s astounding portrayal of a cancer victim in The Big C, which I followed religiously, was too close for comfort.

I’m sorry for lying through my teeth while you were in treatment. I know I promised you over and over again, that with all the wonders of medical breakthrough, you would be able to sail through the ordeal and that it would be a matter of time before you were back in your family arms again. The family’s collective efforts in wanting you to have the best possible treatment didn’t bear fruit. I’m sorry I didn’t know any better.

I’m sorry I had bombarded you with all those medical jargon that gave false hope. This creative endeavour by the medical industry in coining these peculiar terms provided a sense of hope, serenity and grandeur. Nevertheless, I can assure you that I’ve decided to throw them out of my vocabulary: lymphoma, lymphocytes, lymph nodes, B cells, T cells, pathogens, tumour, metastasise, non-Hodgkin, biopsy, malignant, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, transplant, and the list goes on.

I’m sorry we couldn’t bring you back to Alor Setar for your final resting place. We have never discussed it but I’m sure you would have wanted to be by your husband’s side. Bapak would have loved it, too. But your three sons are based in Kuala Lumpur, so I guess on the flip side, you will be seeing us quite regularly.

I’m sorry for not uttering those three magical words when you were alive. You know how guys are when it comes to anything that spells emotions. You know I’m more of a hugger. Hopefully, all those years of you hugging my emaciated bony frame compensated for my lack of verbal responsiveness. Have I ever mentioned that I love your smell? It gives me a taste of what heaven might feel like.

And finally, I’m sorry for being such a mediocre son. As cliché as it may sound, I didn’t do anything less. I just could have done more. It never dawned on my pea brain that you were not just any mother. You were MY mother. That alone grants you the right to be absolute.

I promise I will make it up to you by always including you in my daily prayers. I’ve already reminded your four rambunctious grandchildren to do the same before they go to bed. But don’t get your hopes too high. I’m sure they love you to pieces, but kids being kids we can only put it to faith.

We will eventually be reunited in the hereafter. When that time comes, I will utter those three magical words to you. And it would come with a giant bear hug. I wish I could erase the image of you lying forlornly on the hospital bed, cringing in pain while a phalanx of relatives stood imperceptibly despondent. Instead, I choose to remember all those blissful phantasmagorias.

For all intent and purposes, I know the imperfection in you makes you human. But you were irrevocably perfect for me. I take solace in knowing that your soul is in a better place now. Until the day we are reunited, please allow me to hold on to your benevolent memory and say, “I’m sorry, Mak.”

Your son,

Aslan Hj Abdullah

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