This Mother’s Day is a special one for me. This one will stand far apart from my previous ones. Thelast 3 years, I had been out of the country. Prior to that, aside from a few bouquets of roses and flowers, I had never made that holiday as memorable and meaningful for my mother.
I hardly ever talk about my family, let alone my own mother to anyone. It wasn’t because I was ashamed of my mother. I loved my mother as any son can, but it brought a vulnerable side about me that I was uneasy to share with others, including my own mom.
In my family, I am considered the sensitive one. I am the creative, emotionally expressive thinker and writer that many of my friends and family see me as. For an Asian male, it wasn’t necessarily looked at with the highest of regards. To my family, it was a sign of weakness. The thinking was that men were to be emotionally thick-skinned, and indifferent in times of despair. It was that kind of attitude that made me become, at times, emotionally distant from my mom and my loved ones.
It was often easy to show my sensitivity towards my close friends, and with the volunteering work I have done in the past, but I could never allow myself to be close with my mom as I became older. The first few Mother’s Day that I remembered were when I used to bring Marigold flowers home from school. My mom, not a fan of the Marigolds, reluctantly planted it with her other cherished flowers. I became uneasy about the following Mother’s Day and afterwards. I felt as though she could never see my appreciation for her, and I had already given up before I became a careless teenager.
My mother, for years, always seemed to have that aching void in her heart. She yearned to have that love reciprocated, and expected that from me. However, my years of repressing my sensitivity wouldn’t allow me to give her that much-needed warmth.
I never truly made my mom feel appreciated. Her family escaped a life of hardship and terror from Vietnam. She worked at her job for 30 years endlessly. There were weeks when she was working everyday for nearly 80 hours a week. When my brothers and I were in elementary school, she would get up at 7 am just to have us ready, but the truth is, she would always come home at 2 or 3 am the night before.
When I was going to the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), her company gave me a full-ride scholarship, but it came at my mom’s expense with her hard labor and pay cut she had to sacrifice in order to make the scholarship happen. Without it, I would be slaving away, paying my student loans, and struggling to make ends meet. My mom’s sacrifice allowed me to have a safety net. It allowed me to live my life much more freely, and take risks that I otherwise wouldn’t have taken.
Living in Korea for 3 years was the happiest time of my life. I became independent for the first time. I took on challenges that were personally meaningful to me, and I was able to, for the first time, understand my family’s sacrifices for me. However, those 3 years weren’t easy on my mother. My brothers eventually moved away last year, and that made it even more difficult for her.
Yes, we are all grownups, but to her, it was still 1986. I would often tell my mom that things are going to be okay. I was going to come back home after my 3rd year. In some ways, at least having me home gave her some solace.
Two days before I left Korea, I called my mom. I wasn’t in the best of moods. I was feeling overwhelmed with moving out of my apartment, lugging my baggage around at my friend’s place, making expensive trips to the post office, and saying goodbye to everyone. For weeks, I felt a lot of anxiety living back home. I was going to temporarily surrender my independence living at home, and that was not going to be an easy transition for me. I dreaded it, even as my mom seemed happy about me going back home. As I got off the phone, I told her I love her and that I was going to see her at the airport.
Two days later, she suffered a major stroke. I was already on my way home, and had an overnight stay in Hong Kong when it happened. I woke up and opened up my MacBook to find out from my brothers that she was in critical condition. I was emotionally shaken to the core as I hastily made my way to the airport trying to reach my family. Being on the airplane for 15 hours was unnerving, but it gave me time to review my relationship with my mom.
There were many painful moments. There were missed opportunities. A simple of more “I love you’s”, at least in my mind, could have made my mom’s life a little easier.
As I arrived at the airport, I hurried to see my mom at the hospital in the intensive care unit. To see my own mom in pain and with tubes and IVs around her was unbearable, but the second she saw me, she was crying uncontrollably and felt guilty for for being sick on my arrival. I kissed her on the forehead and whispered,“I’m home. I’m not going anywhere.” I lied….I left after 2 minutes because I was going to cry, and I still had the fear of her seeing me get emotional.
As the days went on, I had many sleepless nights. I would look in the refrigerator to see the food that my mom made for me. I would look at the package that I mailed home from Korea that my mom said had already arrived. I would look at her empty room. Our house suddenly became lifeless. It was a sad, sad reminder of what my life would be like without my mom, and not having the opportunity to tell her how much I love her.
One day, I was with my mom’s best friend and went to the hospital. My mom, as she was lying in bed, greeted me. I sat next to her, placed my hand on her hand, and told her everything I felt was in my heart. I was telling her how thankful I was for everything she had done for me, how sorry I am for not being a better son, and how I can’t imagine not having her around when she still hasn’t seen what her future grandkids would look like. For the first time, I started to cry in front of her. I can honestly say that there was no shame or guilt for feeling emotional in her presence. It was a relief to finally be able to make her hear what she was yearning for. For once, she was able to see my more personal side that I could never show for years.
This Mother’s Day is not just an important reminder that my mother is still alive, but it’s an opportunity to remind myself everyday why she is important to my life and to the lives of those that she touched. More importantly, she will continue to hear how much I love her, and I am incredibly thankful to this day that I can say that to her.
Copyright © Randy Kim
All rights reserved
Copyright © Randy Kim
All rights reserved