25 Nov 2014, I wrote:
We were walking by the river, my mum and I, pushing the stroller with my 11-month -old nephew in it, because that’s one of the very few ways you can get him to sleep. “Did papa ever tell you he loved you?” I asked.
Now, for most of us, I love yous are something you throw around every day, but somehow, I just couldn’t imagine my extremely practical, former dragon mother (former, because she has loosened up a lot the past few years) exchanging romantic words with her husband.
“Of course!” mum exclaimed, “But you know, it is always easy to say ‘I love you’. It is easy to be in love and stay in love when two people are young and healthy. You will only know what true love is when you’re required to make great sacrifices.”
And it is true. What my mum said is true.
Two years ago, papa had to undergo an operation for a tumor. Fast forward to today, our family is again faced with some tough times, and we don’t know how much longer papa has in this world.
I flew back a bit more than a week ago to be with my family; to spend time with papa, and to help mum take care of him. He has been in the hospital for the past two months, and when I got back, he wanted to go home – understandably, because it is much better to be in the comforts of your own walls than in a sterile environment. Mum, my sister, her baby, and I picked papa up from the hospital and brought him back, as he wished.
It hasn’t been a smooth path (then again, no journey is easy with sickness and a constant shadow of death looming at the edge of your thoughts) since we got papa home. The medicines we needed to get, daily, from the pharmacy. The doctor’s visits. The palliative care team’s visit. Getting the hospital bed in. Being attentive to papa’s needs, 24/7.
You know, the whole ‘in sickness and in health / til death do us part’ thing? You will never even grasp a tiny bit of what that vow entails until you’ve experienced being with someone who’s incapable of taking care of himself (or herself). I see the commitment to that vow in my mum. From the moment papa wakes up, to the moment he sleeps, she’s by his side. Feeding him. Changing him. Wiping him clean. Changing his tubes, dressing. Cleaning up his vomit. Being constantly worried about his comfort. Helping him to sit up. Helping him to go to the toilet. Shaving him. Holding back her tears when he’s talking about the end of life. Every day. Every night.
How many of us would do that, really?
Because it is so easy to think, yeah, sure, of course I’d do that for my loved one. But you see, love is so general and so fleeting. Loving someone, including making physical and emotional sacrifices, is never a given. It’s so easy to send someone to the clinic, or visit someone in the hospital, but when shit really hits the fan, how much time and energy would you sacrifice cleaning it up?
How much true love and kindness do we really have for one another?