I was on an airplane when my mom died. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean while en route to see her at the hospital, my dad sent me an e-mail saying that he was going to direct the attending doctor to turn off the life support system because she turned for the worst. I was helpless. Neither was there anything I could physically do for my mom to feel nor was there anything I could say for my mom to hear before she left us. Oh so badly did I want to see my mom one last time, say thank you and that I love her, but that wasn’t in our destinies. So I sat alone in my private seat alternating between thoughts, prayers and attempts to give my mom both love and comfort.

My dad tried to reach me several times during the month prior to tell me about my mom’s health. I tried to return his messages too, but not immediately. Or, if it was immediate, then not persistently. For the last seven years, I’ve been living in Southeast Asia with no known way to contact me other than e-mail. The time difference is simple since it’s no more than 13 hours apart from them, but it was easy to use that as an excuse. Many times I had thought it was either too early or too to call and sometimes I just didn’t want to talk.

Soon after returning from visiting my parents as part of the tail-end of a month long trip, I had started dating my friend and spent much of my time with her. About a week before my mom’s death, my dad had sent an e-mail that I slowly responded to a few days after and we were finally able to reach each other. But, just a day later I received a seemingly frantic e-mail from him telling me that my mom’s in the hospital.

Over the next four days, I spoke to my dad every day and he would tell me about how my mom’s doing. He always seemed calm and never outright said that she’s dying. On the first day, my dad said that she has MRSA, a life-threatening blood infection, and that the doctors gave her strong doses of medications on an IV drip in an attempt to destroy it. My dad said that she had improved by the second day, but still the doctors gave her a low probability to survive. He took a moment to hold the phone to my mom’s ear so I could speak to her. I told my mom, “I love you, Mom” and he said that she had moved her head. Then my dad told me that I should think about coming home soon and asked if it was possible. Having thought about it, I told him let’s see what happens overnight since I was still hopeful that my mom would survive because she’s mom. Honestly, I also didn’t want to have to take the long trip again and be away from my girlfriend this time. But, when I spoke to my dad the next morning he said her organs were failing. He still didn’t say whether my mom was dying – maybe he couldn’t, but I didn’t have to ask. I booked my flight immediately.

I was too late. I was about 15 hours too late. Living on the other side of the world from my parents has its disadvantages and one them is timeliness. It takes at least 24 hours to travel from Southeast Asia to the United States. Since I don’t live in Singapore, every itinerary has at least one connection. When my dad told the attending doctor to end her life support, I was somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Had I left the day before, I could have been there with my mom during her final moments. I could have said thank you and told her that I love her. I could have held my mom’s hand as she took her last breath. Not leaving one day earlier is a decision I have to live with for the rest of my life.

Losing my mom is the most painful thing I’ve had to ever endure. Coping with the pain has become easier day-by-day, but I suspect it has become a part of me. I last remember seeing my mom sleeping on her bed. I should have known that she was dying right before my eyes. It’s easy to assume lethargy was a symptom of chemotherapy, but my mom’s sickness progressively changed her. I wanted to be with my mom during her final moments, but I don’t know if she would have wanted the same. I don’t know if a parent really wants their children to see them at their weakest moment. My mom died in the loving presence of her husband and brother. She did not die alone.

I don’t know if there’s life after death, but I hope to see you again.


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