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A Tribute to Mom


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Here's a tribute to my amazing mom. First some background: She's emigrated with me from mainland China in '85. How poor were we? Our mattress came from the dumpster and we used newspaper as toilet paper. This was how she started, a single mom, disabled by an incurable bone disease, no useful education, zero English vocabulary, but through sheer determination and hard work, she left me an estate in excess of $1M. She's the most amazing woman I've ever known, and continues to inspire in this life and beyond. Thanks for listening.

Always remember, safety first, you’re my only son
I’ll watch you grow, be proud of the things you’ve done
Hold you in my arms, kiss you while I can
One day you’ll be too big, too busy to hold my hand
New country, no money, but with love we’ll survive
For you I’ll do anything, cook, work, dumpster-dive
Not a penny for myself, for you I give it all
Two jobs to pay the bills, tuition for Cornell
Off to college you go, it’s so bittersweet
Hey sister, I say, he's in the Ivy League
Too brittle are my bones, too fleeting are my dreams
I dream through you now, you can do anything
A job that makes you money, a wife who makes you smile
I still worry about you, call me once in a while
What’s this I hear, you want your own business
Here, take all my money, I wouldn’t give any less
Tracy is pregnant, Logan is his name
Born with determination, potential you cannot tame
Grown up you are now, a son to call your own
You’ll always be my little boy, the babe from my womb
You’re moving again, this time to Arizona
Call and visit often, Logan mustn’t forget grandma
No more strength left for work, cancer took it all away
I hate to be an inconvenience, but please come home today
Sadness shouldn’t own you, I’ve lived a fulfilling life
Die a happy mom, with you by my side
A dad you’ve become, you can now understand
No limits for my love, you’re my only son


Forever in my heart, you’re my only mom
I’ll always cherish you, the womb I came from
For all your sacrifices, thanks is not enough
You always had my back, unconditional was your love
Broken heart, an abyss of regret and sorrow
Share one more laugh with you, time I cannot borrow
Worry no more, your legacy will live on
Your estate invested, managed by your grandson
I hope you’re proud of me, the man I’ve become
I’ll always love you, you’re my only mom


It hasn't been 2 days yet since her passing. The heartache comes in waves, but mostly I'm in a melancholic stupor, numb, lonely. More than grief right now is regret and guilt. I wish I had called her more often and not treated her recent visits like they were burdens on my daily routine. And the teenage years... Ugh. I was such an a-hole to the person who sacrificed the world for me. Maybe grief will subside in time, but I won't ever be able to get over the guilt.

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Nancy Xu, January 13, 1947 to October 18, 2016. Survived by her new husband, son, and grandson (girl in pic is her neighbor). 

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OceanZhang, what a wonderful tribute to your mom: I bet she would be so proud of you.

I know you will probably disregard my advice telling you not to feel guilty--but I know you will feel it anyway because that's what most of us end up doing. Let me tell you: you could do EVERYTHING for your mom and still feel guilty about something or other. The fact is what we do never seems like enough when they have done so much for us. My parents are from Taiwan, but my mother was very much not just a mother, but a father, a best friend, a mentor, a teacher. She was everything in the world to me. Even though English was a 4th language for her--after Taiwanese, Japanese, and mandarin Chinese--she was the one who taught me to read and write and ultimately allowed me to study literature in spite of my father: were it not for her, I would not have gotten a Ph.D. from one of England's ancient universities (hint: John Locke).

Like you, I was an "asshole" in high school to my mom....but which kid isn't? That's when we typically rebel against our parents--until we realize in college (or later) that they were right, after all, in many instances, caring more for our sakes than anything else. I was nursing my mom almost full time in her last year: despite the fact that I had several other professional commitments in addition to my teaching. (In fact, I am completing one right now--a textbook which, of course, will be dedicated to my mother.) But even then, I still feel guilt...despite doing everything that was possible within the circumstances (e.g., knowledge, preconceived ideas). What if I had gotten a second opinion? (Nearly impossible since she was hospitalized again shortly after her cancer diagnosis) What if I had insisted on her getting a GI oncologist (even though none in that hospital had the credentials of her hematologist).  I still think to myself that I should have stayed in the hospital the night that she had her second and near final stroke; but how could I have known since she looked like she was improving that day? After all, when I woke up the next morning, I still thought I would be bringing her home that day--until I called up and discovered that she was lying comatose from a stroke. I guess what I'm saying is that even if were to do all this and more, I know I would still be wishing I could have done more  I should add that there are many others on this site who were also tending their parents full-time, doing everything possible--and yet, they feel guilty too. The fact is, we are not God. No one is ever omniscient.

You most likely worked hard because you knew that's what your mom wanted: she taught you to be disciplined and you learned it well. And let me tell you, it is hard as hell to nurse AND work professionally on top of being a parent.

I know it is only the third day for you so it will take a while before you begin to come to terms with your grief. One of the things that helped me tremendously was talking to my mom's relatives about her: it made me feel less alone and isolated. Sharing memories and recollections about my mom here has also been a real life saver. 

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thanks silverkitties. It helps to talk to someone who's been there. I understand your guilt too. My poem was a little misleading. She eventually beat cancer, but she's had lifelong kidney problems, and they finally failed to a point where dialysis couldn't help her. She was on 24hr renal replacement therapy in the hospital, screaming from nerve pain in her arm. Meds could only bring the pain from a 10 to an 8. All that was too much stress on her already weak heart, which led to blood backing up into the lungs. As she clung to life, barely able to speak, all her doctors pushed for palliative care, but she refused and wanted to keep living as long as she could and as long as the life proloning methods were non invasive. She finally became incoherent and I had power of attorney. When supplemental oxygen wasn't enough and she took gasping breaths because she was drowning in blood, I had to go against her wishes and put her on a high dose morphine drip that would prevent her from feeling air hunger. This type of morphine drip could only be given by palliative care, and they wouldn't take action if she had life-prolonging therapies. So I have that guilt of shortening her life and not respecting her wishes to keep fighting. But most of the guilt and regret are for things I didn't do while she was healthy.


I bought her a brand new car 6 years ago, and bought an updated house with a ground floor master, but she refused to move away from the memories of the first and only home she bought, so I ended up leasing the house, which turned out to be an ok investment. She always bragged to her friends about how successful my businesses were, but the casualty of that success was... her. I didn't make enough time for her, especially after my son was born. Whenever I did have time away from work, it was focused on my wife and son. I had to set calendar reminders to video chat with her on Sundays, and even then, sometimes I forgot. Being by her side the last 2 weeks for her death can't make up for moments missed when she was healthy. I cry more for my guilt than for missing her, and that makes me feel selfish and guilty too. I suppose all that is a natural part of the grieving process as you say. Thanks again for listening.

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It looks you did the only humane thing, Oceanzhang: there comes a point where quality of life is more important than quantity, and it looks like your mom reached that point. My mom had always told me that she'd rather have two quality years than 20 years hooked up to a machine in a vegetative state.

I remember feeling guilty about sending my mom to what turned out to be her last stay in the hospital. There was one Sunday when she was very cranky and refused to eat. I was afraid she was going to suffer a stroke because she looked so weak. So I called the visiting nurse who called 911. The doctors were not really sure what she had but they thought it was pneumonia. At any rate, she had ups and downs that following week....we thought she was improving on Saturday and Sunday. Then early Monday (from what I gather), she had a terrible stroke. 

For weeks after her death, I kept wondering....what if I hadn't called the visiting nurse? Maybe she might still be alive. But then I thought, what if I didn't call and she suffered a stroke? THen I would still be blaming myself. And it's not like she would have been able to improve that  much since she was already deteriorating from her stage 4 bile duct cancer:she probably would only have at most another month.

Then I think about her oncologist. Her primary physician recommended a hematologist who looked great on paper: Columbia MD, fellowship and residency at Yale and San Fran. Can't really top that, huh? My mom seemed to like him too; he is so "gentle and friendly." I thought he was like a big, affectionate St. Bernard. However, it was only weeks later that I realized that my mom should have had a GI oncologist since her cancer started in her bile duct. In fact, I had no idea that the hospital even had a GI oncology department until after her second stroke.

But I also know that had they suggested one from the GI department, I would not have been impressed by the credentials of any of the docs there. Unfortunately, my Chinese parents had spent so much of their life so enamored   of "prestigious" institutions and brainwashed me into believing it: chances are even if we did have a choice, I probably would have stuck w/ the hematologist. For instance, what if we switched and my mom still died at age 82 and 7 mos.? THen I would still be blaming myself.

Of course, what I should have done was taken her to another doctor at another hospital. But how could I so when she was sent to the hospital again in early July, after her first chemo treatment? She was there for nearly another a week and spent two weeks recuperating at home: I was worried about taking her to Yale, 45 minutes away, and seeing her suffer one of her terrible stomach pains on the train; wouldn't it be better to wait, I thought then--at least until after her CT scan following 6 weeks of chemo? Alas, she was beginning to deteriorate rapidly, even though her CT scan seemed to show that she had improved in some places and worsened in others. This was when I thought I really need to take her elsewhere. But then it was too late. 

More than a year later, I discovered a scandal that happened at my mom's hospital: evidently, one pediatrician there had abused hundreds of children and the hospital protected this sleazebag through the decades. How could I have let my mom go there? But then I remember that when we moved here, my dad's personal phyisician recommended the hospital.

I guess by now you see the point I'm making: there are so many factors and circumstances that go into the decisions we make. You made the right choice by not wanting your mom to suffer unnecessarily, especially since there was already so little you could possibly do at that point, given the state of her health. I doubt you could have made her live months longer, let alone a year. 

And as far as your life goes, it makes sense that you focused on your wife and child. You grew up seeing your mom make so many sacrifices for you that you learned your lesson well: you, too, wanted to be the best parent ever--just like she was to you. I bet your mom was already so proud of you having bought her a house and car while making time for video chats. You did your best under your present circumstances: and at the end of the day, that's truly what matters. 

Guilt is a huge component of grief, so I realize that even as I tell you this, you will probably not believe it. But I believe in time, you will see the truth and realize that you were probably the best son your mom could have hoped for anytime, anywhere: and that what you did, you did out of love and concern and everything that you learned from her.


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