Memories of My Mother — Mrs. Chao Xu Yue Qin
When mother first arrived in Hong Kong, she was cared for by close friends and relatives. After a change of wardrobe, she looked just like any ordinary person from Hong Kong or the United States. But her demeanor was that of a woman who had experienced much affliction for many years. When she spotted a rich assortment of fruit on a table, for instance, she sighed and said, “It has been many years since I’ve seen something like this.” When I gave her a banana, she replied, “Such a big banana should be shared with others.” Indeed, her generous heart had not changed one bit.
Reticence was one of mother’s traits admired by many, a philosophy of keeping her deepest thoughts to herself. Many times, I tried to better understand the 23 years during which we were separated, to comprehend my family’s travails, especially those of my father who was persecuted and died. But mother always remained quiet. “Let what happened in the past stay in the past,” she would repeat simply. “It is not worth bringing up again.” Looking to bury the past, mother’s wish was to give us a future filled with hope.
Our home was warm and cozy and brought mother lots of joy. Not long after our youngest daughter was born, we named her “Angie” since it sounds like the Chinese characters for “peace” and “prosperity,” which she brought to our entire family. From a young age, little Angie was both bright and full of energy; she was loved by everyone who met her. While Angie was learning to walk, she tottered around here and there, accompanying her grandmother when she needed to get something. Oh, how Angie delighted her grandmother as she danced all around her! In Chinese, mother called Angie “Liunan,” or Sixth Baby Girl, as she was the youngest. Mother always wore a bright smile whenever she was with her Liunan. Her health gradually improving, mother was able to walk on her own now, but we still decided to move into a more spacious house, so she could avoid having to climb up and down the stairs, a move that would make life much easier for her. In her new home, mother could now take a leisurely stroll whenever she wanted in our quiet and peaceful backyard.
We did everything possible to be good children and grandchildren, hoping that mother would soon be healthy again. Sometimes, we would treat her to the hometown delicacies she loved so much, like deep-fried pork shank or sea cucumber braised in soy sauce. Other times, we would take her to Chinatown for a meal, but after the one-hour drive and walk to the restaurant, mother would be exhausted when we arrived. By the time the food was served, she had already lost her appetite. At that point, I had come to realize that at mother’s age and in her weakened state, having to adjust to a new environment was not easy. Completely altering one’s former lifestyle presented all kinds of obstacles. But all throughout, mother never once complained about new challenges. Instead, she conquered them and imbued all who knew her with a profound respect and admiration for her tenacity. Her granddaughters would often say, “There is no one more courageous or capable than Grandma!” And I would respond, “From early on, she was already deserving of the title ‘matriarch’ of the Chao family.”
To thank the Lord for all He gave us, we took mother to church every Sunday; at home, we would also hold bible study and prayer services. The year after mother’s arrival, we celebrated her seventieth birthday. For this special occasion, we invited three pastors and a number of preachers to take part in a prayer service. Mother was extremely grateful for this gesture.
But there were still regrets. During the 23 years we were separated, our lives and ways of thinking had grown far apart, making it difficult to find common topics to discuss. An even bigger regret was that we had overlooked mother’s emotional health and needs. Of course, she was overcome with joy when she saw her daughter-in-law and granddaughters, but other thoughts still weighed heavy in her heart. At the time, it was difficult to connect by telephone to China, which caused mother to lose contact with her brothers and sisters and an entire generation of older friends. It was tough for her not to feel lonely or brokenhearted. What’s more, we errantly thought that proper nutrition and the care of a skillful doctor were sufficient to restore mother’s health. Who would have known that mother, physically weak yet emotionally strong while in China, would come to the United States just one year later only to become physically stronger but emotionally weaker. While mother looked fine, the root causes of her illness were still very much a part of her.
Then, unexpectedly, mother’s health took a turn for the worse, and a few days later we brought her to the emergency room. Caught off guard by this dramatic change of events, all of us were panic-stricken. A few hours after we arrived at the hospital, the physician-in-charge informed us that mother’s heart was too weak for treatment. There was nothing they could do. On April 9, 1975, at around 11pm, mother answered the Lord’s final summons and returned to the Kingdom of Heaven. All was lost, and I was guilty of having been ignorant of mother’s needs, of committing a heinous error in judgment that was too late to correct. Ashamed of myself, I wept bitterly knowing that it was too late for regrets.
Han Ying, an intellectual from the Han period, once wrote, “When a tree wishes to stand still, there is nothing it can do to stop the wind from blowing. A son may not have been filial to his parents when he was younger, but when his mother or father departs this world, the time for regrets will have already passed. God’s will is God’s will.”
I expressed the following in mother’s eulogy: “As Chao Xu Yue Qin’s son, I was fortunate to have overcome a number of obstacles to bring mother to the United States to reunite with us. I hoped she would be able to live out the remaining years of her life here both comfortably and peacefully. But sometimes it is difficult to fully realize one’s wishes. Mother unexpectedly passed away, and I was angry at and ashamed of myself. My only request, Lord, is to grant my dear mother a place of eternal rest in your Kingdom. I hope when I meet again with mother that I can kneel before her and ask for forgiveness. ‘Mommy, Mommy,’ I will call out, just as sweetly as I did when I was a child. ‘Thank you for bringing me into this world and teaching me everything you know.’”
Every time I think of mother, I well up with emotion, unable to control the tears that inevitably stream down my face. Mother, your son could not serve you nor repay you the way he should have. Because of this, he is stricken with guilt. But now it is too late for regrets, and so I beg of you your forgiveness.
Mother — May you bask in the eternal warmth of our Lord and Savior, and may His perpetual light always shine upon you. I look forward to the day we meet again in that glorious place, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Your son will always love you, Mom, deeply and forever!
James Si Cheng Chao (Zhao Xicheng)
December 7, 2012