5 Lessons From Mom

5 Life Lessons From Mom

I’m dedicating this – my 100th –  blog post to my Mom for teaching me these 5 important life lessons.

Offering Tea To Mom at My Wedding And With Dad Smiling Beside Her

Offering Tea To Mom at My Wedding And With Dad Smiling Beside Her

Lucky are those of us who grow up with the presence of our mothers. What we learn from our Moms since childhood help shape our mindsets, world view, our behavior and essentially, our lives. More importantly, we are loved… unconditionally. As the children’s song goes:


My translation:

“Only Mom is good on this earth. A child with a mother is (treated) like a gem. In Mom’s embrace, I enjoy endless happiness.”

[We sing this mindlessly as children. But as an adult missing his mother who is no longer present, those words are accompanied by heartaches.]

With Mom And Baby Carolyn

With Mom And Baby Carolyn

15 Jan 2011 marks the day I will not see or hear from my Mom on this earth ever again. Only in conscious memory does she live on.

If you had the opportunity of meeting her, you would not have been able to tell that this cheerful lady has not had an easy life. In fact, her life has been one of exemplary resilience.

Barely into her teens, the political turbulence in post-revolutionary China had forced her and many of her fellow villagers to migrate to the Southern Seas (i.e. Southeast Asian countries) to seek a better life.

I have learnt many things from Mom, and distilled them into 5 Life Lessons. I know she will be happy that I am sharing them with you:

#1. Work Hard

Never formally educated, she taught us, her eight children, by example and by the oral history she remembered so well.

Work hard.

She was always telling us “When your horse is dead, get down and start walking on your feet.”

This surely is a given considering the hardships arising from the turmoil of Mom’s childhood – of the political turbulence after China’s 1911 revolution and its era of warlords. Survival itself was a challenge back then.

Self-Reliance! Mom Feeding Baby Carolyn

A child with a grandma is also a gem: Mom Feeding Baby Carolyn

#2. Develop Self-Reliance

On one rare occasion, Mom told us this story. I could tell that the recounting of this incident was immensely painful for her.

On one dark night many years ago, loud knocks were heard and soldiers in uniform (from which side she could not tell) took her three elder brothers away. They were not seen again.

Barely into her teens, she left her parents and sailed to Singapore along with some other elders from the same village to seek a new life. Finally she settled in Malaysia where we grew up. Be self-reliant.

She also taught us to “Ride a buffalo whilst looking for a horse.”

#3. Educate Yourself And Have An Ambition

Mom knew the handicap of not being able to read and write. Like the generations of Chinese before her, she told us the numerous success stories about how even humble villagers of ancient times had risen to positions of authority by doing well at the Imperial exams.

Education and ambition had been the hallmarks of the overseas Chinese migrants who prospered in foreign lands. As the saying goes – “Learn to read and read to learn”.

[Baby Carolyn, whom you saw in the previous two photos, made it to Yale. What did Mom say to Carolyn as she fed her milk, I wonder? :D]

Get Educated & Have Ambition. My Niece Emily Visiting My Son Lawrence

My Niece, Emily, Visiting My Son Lawrence at Cambridge University

#4. Be Kind

Mom always treated people with compassion, whether they deserved it or not. There were no harsh words from her, only consoling and soothing words which came straight from her heart.

The pocket money that she received from her children often went to help the needy too.

Even her three sons-in-law resonated with her kindness and they reciprocated with a love that is on par with us, her sons.

Because I had Mom as a good role model, I have made many friends since. Frank Driesbock is one of them. Frank and his wife, Dorothy, were my neighbors when I was posted to San Francisco. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 so I affectionately call him my “war hero”. He must have been at least 88 years old when I visited him last year while on a trip to San Diego to attend a seminar.

When he told me that he does not have any relatives in this world, I got a lump in my throat. Saying goodbye was tough as it is unlikely we will ever meet again.

Reciprocating Friendship And Kindness. Visiting Frank In His Retirement Home

Reciprocating Friendship And Kindness. Visiting Frank In His Retirement Home

#5. Live In Harmony

Even during Mom’s last days when she found it increasingly difficult to talk, we could still hear her wish for the family to live a life of harmony, joy and peace.

She showed us by example that good parents create happy and harmonious families.

This is her enduring legacy for her children, her 24 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

United In Harmony - Family Celebrating Mom's 88th Birthday

United In Harmony – Family Celebrating Mom’s 88th Birthday

We celebrated Mom’s 88th Birthday in Kuala Lumpur (KL) in September 2005. Unknown to us then, it was to be her last trip back to KL where she had brought us up.

She stayed at my sister Pat’s place until the end, and my brother-in-law Micky has my eternal gratitude for loving her as his own. His voluntary offer to have Mom live out her last days in his home was, in his own words, “my privilege”.

Littlefoot's Mom : Some Things You See With Your Eyes, Others With Your Heart

Littlefoot’s Mom : Some Things You See With Your Eyes, Others With Your Heart

Mom’s Last Days

Watching Mom’s strength sapping slowly from her body was indescribably painful.

Though weak and wheelchair-bound, Mom could still smile and talk audibly until early 2010. Her faculties diminished with time and in her final year, she could not talk, save for the sounds which sounded like my Chinese name ‘Hup’. She would give me weak smiles when I was with her.

When I held her wrinkled hands, I had to stop my tears from falling. I did not want her to think that her doctor had told me some bad news about her condition.

She even told me how useless she felt because those same hands which once could cook, wash clothes, hold babies and do other things had failed her.

And there were times when I prayed that the Lord could relieve her pain by taking her home. At those times, I had to turn away so she would not see those silent teardrops.

Are you still a “gem” with your mother by your side? Have you taken her love and sacrifices for granted? Is there anything you would like to say to her or do for her? Don’t wait till it’s too late.

Most people realize too late that “世上只有妈妈好”.


So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

[The Dash poem by Linda Ellis]