My mother, Angela Yong, passed on to us the most enduring gift – faith. She had inherited her faith from the British nuns who looked after her in a children’s home.
My mother was born in China in 1926. Her mother wanted to drown her as she was not a boy but her father opposed it as she was only their second daughter. Two months later, her parents with their three sons and two daughters, sailed to Malaysia.
When she was six years old, her father died of tuberculosis. Her mother, poor with no means of livelihood, was delighted to hear about a children’s home run by British nuns, and placed her there. During the Second World War, when Japan occupied Sarawak, the nuns married off those girls who were of age including her. Over the next 24 years, she birthed five sons and eight daughters.
My mother was a great story-teller. When we were young, she told us Bible stories and stories of saints in her own words without having to read from the Bible or from books. Every night, she gathered us together to say the Rosary, telling us that the family that prays together stays together. In her later years, she loved saying the Divine Mercy prayer at 3 pm, and any visitor at that time would be obliged to say it with her, whether they liked it or not.
These are the fond memories I have of our young days. It is all the more remarkable because my mother had severe depression at the time. But she did what she could do – brought us to God and left us in His hands.
I left Malaysia at 19. From then on, I saw Mum once every 1–2 years for a week, and kept in touch by phone calls.
My mother was a member of the Legion of Mary for over 25 years. When I went back for her funeral, her Legion of Mary members came to say the Rosary every night for a week. Because they were physically closer to her than I was, they knew her in her later years better than I did.
I heard what my mother was like with them. She mentored them in their visiting of the sick in hospital. She had a sense of humour. On vigil nights, when they were falling asleep, she was asked to tell them stories that made them laugh and kept them awake.
When Mum was 62 years old, Dad passed away. They told me that she was shocked, not expecting that he would die after a ‘minor operation’, shocked that he walked into hospital and never walked out again, words she never voiced to me.
In her grief, she found gardening most therapeutic, watching plants grow and die. She found another of her pastimes, quilt-making, healing as well. As her eyesight became more impaired, the patterns became simpler and simpler until she had to give it up altogether. In her 70s, she put her storytelling skills to print, and wrote eight books including an autobiography, One thing good but not both.
She was of strong faith but in 2007 when I went back, I heard for the first time that she had doubts, which made her faith more real to me. When she was lonely, she talked to her plants and flowers, and had at times asked God to take her back.
As her health declined, however, she had a great fear of dying. My sister Teresa told her that in heaven, she would see Dad, Mary (her eldest daughter who died in 2002) and William (her eldest son who died in 2013) again, that heaven is a wonderful place, to which Mum responded, ‘If it is so wonderful, you go ahead. I don’t want to go.’
In early October 2016, her health took a turn for the worse. She left what she regarded as ‘this vale of tears’ on 26 October, at the age of 90, to be united with her beloved God.
Susie Hii is a medical practitioner, CLC member and author of HHH.