A Piece of Kemila's Mind


It was through my brother, as always, that I heard the news of my mother’s hospitalization. On WeChat, he said it happened after midnight. An ambulance took her to the hospital.

As usual, I read it, and marked it as “Okay I hear you”. I didn’t want to ask all those detailed questions that would burden my already stressed out brother. I let him talk, when and what and how. And I said, “Okay I hear you.”

Mom was put in the ICU. Surgery is too risky. It was denied by the doctor and the anaesthesiologist.

Okay I hear you. I turned off the screen.

Mom is experiencing much pain in her stomach.

Okay I hear you. I turned off the screen.

Mom is having difficulty breathing. A breathing device is being used.

Okay I hear you. I turned off the screen.

Mom is asking for Doctor Xu, without knowing she is in a different hospital now. I’m not sure what to say to her?

Okay I hear you. Tell her the truth. And have some rest yourself. I turned off the screen.

Mom’s heartbeat just stopped.

Okay I hear you. I turned off the screen.

Oh no! I turned back on the screen. And read again. And read again. I was not sure if my mind knew how to compute. Conceptually I interpreted it as mom just died, but I couldn’t go past that concept. I felt disconnection.

I went into the bedroom. Tim’s in bed. I asked, “Are you sleeping?” Tim made a sound to indicate he heard me. I said, “She’s gone.”

Tim got out of bed, naked. He stood there and gave me a hug. I rested my head on his shoulder, still disconnected. My hands on his back. His skin was getting cooler. I said, “Go back to bed. And have a good night.”

I went back to my office room, lied flat on the couch. I was curious. What does it feel like to die? What does the process entail? I lie on the couch, breathing, and imagining my breath lift me out of the body, drift, and drift… A wave came upon me. A floodgate of tears swung open…

Memories lined up on the movie screen…

On my university graduation day, I was 22, ready and eager to go to my first job in Guangzhou, to teach freshmen English in a college. Mama brought me a gift. For heaven’s sake, it was a toy! I laughed so hard at mama’s silliness.

Back to school day, on our way to the train station, mama carried my friend’s and my luggage, but was still walking faster than us. In the huge crowd, she squeezed herself onto the train to occupy seats for us. I thought mama was behaving like a man. Instead of being thankful, I felt ashamed of her behaviour in front of my friend.

Mama came to visit me in Guangzhou. One day I went to work. She decided to tidy up my mess. I couldn’t find anything afterwards. “There is a great order in my mess. Please leave my stuff alone!” I yelled at her. She later cried in front of my father and said she wanted to cancel the trip and just go home. My father apologized to her on my behalf.

Mama shrank in size in her later days, and she always sat in front of her computer playing video games.

Encouraged by me, mama loved telling me her nighttime dreams… meadows, hanging out with a group of teenagers, strangers, flying. Yes, my down-to-earth mama had a lot of flying dreams.

In my last visit with her in late May 2019, I gave mama lectures on strength and weakness, on letting go of control, on releasing victimhood. Mama sat beside me on the couch silently, listening, nodding her head. The moment I said, “Okay, that’s all for today’s lecture. We’ll continue tomorrow.” Mama flew back to her computer game.

Where are you now mama?

Lying on the couch in darkness, my eyes turned to the window and they met a twinkling star in the sky.

My sobbing turned into a tune. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt an urge to hum it.

I hummed it. Tim came to my room and sat on the edge of the couch. He said nothing. Thankfully he said nothing. My process didn’t stop. I was crying, humming, laughing, and dropping into silence. Tim held me. He started to cry.

Whatever that was, I let it take me completely.

Maybe it was two hours. Maybe it was three. Maybe it was more.

I finally got up to blow my nose. And felt I was done with it, the grief. They say there are five stages of grieving. I shall see.

I never would have thought it that way. I had already bought a ticket back to China for five days. Now instead of saying a final goodbye to my mother, I’d go for her after-death affairs. I asked Tim, “What if I lose it on the airplane, start crying and sobbing uncontrollably? It would be embarrassing with my seat neighbours.”

“Blame the sad movies.”

Right. I do cry a lot watching movies on the plane.

That didn’t happen. I shed no single tear on the plane.

Just can’t engineer or project emotions.

When I was 13 or 14, my greatest fear was losing my mom. Just thinking about the fact that she’d mostly leave first and leave me behind made me depressed, clinically.

When I got over that fear, I occasionally thought about how it’d feel like for me for her to die. I could never come up with an idea.

And yet I went to the couch. And that seemed to be it.

There is still that strange void in me that my mind couldn’t compute. And I’m not going to fill it with spiritual platitude. Life is kind. I don’t have to figure it out.

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3 Responses

  1. Michele Clifford says:

    Sending prayers to your family and your mommas friends. Moms are the history keepers of family heritage. Much love to all.

  2. Shelley says:

    Condolences to you Kemila, and your family. Thank you for sharing something so personal, and yet so universal as grief.

  3. Alice says:

    Love you, blessings for All.

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