Newsletter June, 2005



June, 2005

When I Am Old

After more than twenty years of wandering away from home, I have grown up with more knowledge such that the world seems to be smaller. However, one thing in me that has never changed is the yearning for my mother.

Her exciting voice from the other end of the phone line has always encouraged me to face the difficulties and challenges of life with more courage and ease. What disturbs me is that her voice grows older each time I call: my mother is growing old. She repetitively reminds me to live well, to take good care of myself, not to worry about her, not to go back home, and not to spend too much money such that my career would suffer. My heart aches at her babblings, as I know that my mother misses me.

Therefore, I made up my mind to get away from my work, so that I can spend a month with my mother, just be in her company without thinking about anything else.

I later found out that my mother started to prepare for my return as soon as she put down the phone. Within two months, she made good preparations for all my favorite dishes, my favorite quilt, and my clothes. This was a very difficult task for my seventy-five year old mother who was slightly suffering from senile dementia.

I arrived at home at last. On the plane, I thought I would give her a big hug when I saw her. However, I didn't do so, because I did not even recognize her as she stood there like a piece of dry wood. The wrinkles of her face made it very hard for me to recollect how she had looked before.

My mother spent all day in preparing food that I no longer loved as I had used to. Because of her poor eyesight and changing sense of taste, dishes she made were either too salty or too light. The quilt she prepared for me was made of thick new cotton. Since I had used quilt of wool for air conditioner for long, I was no longer used to the quilt she prepared. However, I didn't mention such discomfort because my goal was to accompany her.

After two days' rest, my mother started to teach the way of life that she had been telling me for years. She pointed out how my life and work had departed from her teaching. After I patiently told her that her way of life was already out of date, she just sat there dully.

The situation deteriorated. With poor eyesight, she could not prepare the food properly such that the food was often mingled with insects and flies. She would also pick up food after it had fallen on the cooking stove. Hence, I mildly suggested eating outside. However, she would immediately reply that food in restaurants was unclean with many artificial ingredients. When I wanted to hire a babysitter for her, she became very angry and said that she herself could be a babysitter for others. When I wanted to go shopping, mother would insist on going with me. But we could reach any store the whole morning had gone by.

Whenever we talk about something, my mother would blame me of having gone astray and I would directly tell her not to look at things the old fashion way since the time had progressed so much.

Though I never quarreled with her, I became less patient, interrupting her more and more during my stay. Whenever I raised my voice or interrupted her, she would stop and become silent and perplexed. Her dementia symptoms grew worse. 

Before I left, mother took great pain in drawing a thick pack of newspaper clips from a box under the bed. I later learned that ever since I went abroad, my mother ordered Reference News to read about international news. Whenever she found news about anti-Chinese incidents or security scares, she would clip it so that I could read it when I came back. A neighbor told me that mother cried when she watched a TV series about Chinese being bullied by the Japanese. The next day, she asked around to see how she could send a message to Japan where I was lecturing.

Mother put the heavy pack of clips into my hand as if it were a precious treasure. I felt troubled, as I could never take something so useless and heavy with me on the flight. However, only I knew how much pain mother had gone through to collect so many clips, as she could only finish reading two sheets of newspaper a day with the help of her magnifier. In my moment of bewilderment, a piece of paper slipped from the pack. Before I could reach it, mother picked it up. Instead of putting it back into the pack, she put it into her pocket carefully. I asked her, "Mom, what's that clip about? Let me have a look please."

With a little hesitation, mother put the piece of paper on top of the pack of clips and then turned into the kitchen to prepare for dinner.

The clip was an article entitled "When I am old" from Reference News issued on December 6, 2004, the time when I became impatient and started to interrupt my mother's talk. I finished reading the article with one breath. 

"When I am old and when I am no longer whom I used to be, please be patient with understanding.

When I spray soup on clothes and when I forget how to tie the shoes, please remember how I taught you everything step by step.

When I repeat myself, please listen to me with patience instead of interruption. When you were young, I used to repeat stories a thousand times till you fell asleep.

When I need your help in bathing, please do not blame me. Do you still remember how hard I tried to help you bath when you were young?

When I am bewildered by new technologies and things, please do not laugh at me. Try to recollect how patiently I used to answer your every question about "why".

When my legs have difficulty in walking, please support me with your strong young arms, just as I supported you when you learned how to walk.

When I forget about what I planned to say, please give me some time to recollect it. In fact, no matter what the subject is, I am satisfied as long as you are listening beside me.

When you notice my aging, please do not sorrow. Please try to understand and support me just as I did when you started to learn how to live. I led you unto the path of life in the past. Please accompany me to the end of my road now. I will reward your love and patience with grateful smile that reveals my endless deep love for you."

I could hardly hold back my tears when I finished reading this article. When mother came out of the kitchen, I pretended as though nothing had happened, because mother had planned for me to read it when I was away. I put the pack of clips with this clip into my bag by leaving an expensive suite behind. Mother was very happy at this as though this pack of clips were an amulet. My acceptance of the clips seemed to make me a good child. Mother saw me off until I entered the taxi.

The pack of clips was truly useless. However, I will keep the article entitled "When I am old" with me from now on… (Select from the Web)


I've always believed that my parents should be able to adapt to the changing world, the new technology, new information, and new way of money management just as we do.

Only recently have I found out that for fear of our annoyance they have kept to themselves their sufferings as they try to keep up with the complicated remote controls, perplexing technical terms, and new financing tools. If it were not for the long trip we just made, I would never have noticed how quickly my father, who has retired for more than ten years, has gone old.

Three sisters of our five siblings decided to take our parents on a trip to Singapore. On the flight to Singapore, father refused to go to the rest room for four hours. Despite our persuasions, he would not make a move at all. He would not use the rest room unless out of absolute necessity in every tourist attraction place we visited.

There was one time when he could not find any of us after he used the rest room for a long time. He started to look around, yet he was afraid to call for us so as not to embarrass us. He was totally lost in the midst of strangers, so he had to wait quietly and patiently for us to appear. From then on, I started to understand why he did not like to go to the rest room.

My youngest brother used to laugh at grandma, who was more than eighty years old, for her disordered buttons. How slow and dull it appears to be! Why cannot the elderly do the simplest thing right? We cannot fully understand things that we have not experienced yet. When people get older, they lose control of their hands and legs. I used to think that my father is much younger than my grandmother. I am surprised to find out that he is also approaching that stage.

From then on, I could no longer enjoy myself on the trip. Whenever I noticed a slight hint on my father's face, I would force him to the rest room. I would then wait for him outside. At the beginning, he felt embarrassed, but gradually he got used to it.

On our flight back, when I accompanied father to the rest room, he told me with a low voice, "It's because I don't know how to lock the door of the rest room." I patted him on the shoulder and said, "It doesn't matter." However, my heart ached with sorrow.

I wanted to tell the other two sisters to bring their husbands along on the next trip. I also hoped to tell the youngest sister who did not come with us that it is a great blessing to accompany the parents on trips when they were still healthy. It is much better than making money that can wait till later. I wished to tell father that we could visit a farther place now since the rest room problem had been solved.

This trip touched me so deeply that I cried on the train leaving home… To my shock, I found that my parents are getting older and more fragile. They can no longer provide "strong shoulders" or "sheltering harbor" like they used to do. The giant who used to shoulder the sky for us can get old also… (Select from the Web)

Exodus 20:12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you."

Ephesians 6:2: "Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise"