WHEN I heard from Bapak about Mak’s illness, I was shocked. Mak had been coughing constantly for more than a month. Prior to that, two specialists informed us that it was just an infection. They gave her cough syrup and several courses of antibiotics. Yet, the cough persisted. She began losing weight, and when I saw her during one of our video calls, she looked exhausted. We hardly had a proper conversation as she coughed at almost every word.
My family and I were away from home for my PhD attachment in Germany. Mak was there at the airport on the day to send us off to Germany. I remember she looked fine and happy as all of her children and grandchildren were there. It was like a family gathering and one of our happiest moments.
We arranged for an appointment with another specialist and then Bapak called me a few hours after that. “It is confirmed,” said Bapak. “Confirmed?” I responded, confused. “Yes cancer, stage-four lung cancer.” I was speechless. “The doctor said she might have about six months or so, and if there is any close family member who is away to advise him to come home,” Bapak continued. I told my wife, and we cut short our stay in Germany, made arrangements with the university and arranged for our flight home.
Mak was excited when I told her that I planned to come home early. She even requested me to come straight from the airport to her house for lunch. I predicted that Mak would have planned to prepare my favourite ayam masak kicap (chicken with soy sauce) or daging rendang hitam and Dina’s favourite ikan keli goreng (fried catfish). The dishes were ready when we reached home. We hugged and I tried to hold back my tears.
Mak’s condition worsened three months later. I remember one night I took her to the Emergency Department and she told me that she had difficulty breathing. During the ride to the hospital, Mak told me she was scared and worried. “Do not worry, Mak, do not worry.” That was all I could say to soothe her.
Then, Mak started experiencing severe headaches. We decided to take her for another check-up with the specialist. The CT scan indicated that the cancer had spread and there was a big tumour in her brain. Mak was not there when the specialist broke the news. I wept. When I met my wife, who was waiting in the car, I wept even more.
There was no sign of improvement in Mak’s condition. Her headache was unbearable. Her cough and breathing difficulty worsened. After a few trips to the hospital, the doctor admitted her as there was liquid in the left lung that had to be drained out. My siblings and I took turns accompanying Mak at the hospital. She was heavily drugged to ease her pain. Mak was asleep most of the time, and only responded with hand and head gestures.
One night, a routine check-up by the nurse indicated that Mak’s pulse was weak. An on-call doctor met me and Bapak, and explained her deteriorating condition.
Then, it was one of my sisters’ turn to accompany Mak. As I was about to leave the hospital, I received a call from a close friend who wanted to visit, and I decided to wait for him. I waited at the waiting room outside the ward and fell asleep on the sofa and woke up only to realise that it was already 2am. I decided to stay on at the hospital and slept on the floor, on the side of the bed. I woke up around 6am and from below, saw Mak’s hand gently moving off the bed. I immediately stood up. Surprisingly, she was awake. She took off the oxygen mask and looked at me. “Mak? Nak apa Mak?” I asked. She slowly shook her head and went back to sleep. I gently put the oxygen mask back on her. I whispered to her that I would be back in the afternoon. She did not respond. That was my last “conversation” with Mak. She died later that day at 6.25pm. I read a few motivational articles on dealing with the loss of someone you love — that life must go on and to continue making good deeds on behalf of her. I cannot seem to let her go. She will always be in my heart and prayers as she had included me in hers.
I sense that Mak wanted to say something during our last “conversation”. I perceived that she wanted to tell me that she was leaving me forever and that she wanted me to take care of Bapak and my hearing-impaired youngest sister. I did my best taking care of Bapak until he left us a year after due to lung cancer, too. My wife Dina, my children Daliya, Ayris and Zayn, and my sister Atol — they are my life. I love them unconditionally, just like Mak loved me. I was not a perfect son, but Mak, you were a perfect mother.
Happy Mothers Day. Al-Fatihah for Hajjah Halijah Hussin, who died on May 29, 2013.
DR MEGAT ZUHAIRY MEGAT TAJUDDIN