I want you to know how I feel while you’re still alive and well.
This is for you, mom.
You need to know that this is something I had never considered writing until now. A public declaration of how I feel about you is completely out of my comfort zone.
But what I have discovered is this: Your love has always been there for me.
Most of my life I had taken it for granted. Your love is so natural that I didn’t recognize it or acknowledge it. At times, I was sure it wasn’t there at all.
Until I woke up one day and saw that love is always there. I just need to pay attention to it.
That is why I am declaring my love so publicly. I believe that amplifying this message will help change me, others, and the world for the better.
My decision to take this action was unexpected.
I had just criticized you for not appreciating me. My tears flowed as I accused you of undermining me while we stood in the parking lot of your doctor’s building.
Immediately after that outburst, however, I realized that you could have made the same accusation. I hardly ever gave you any praise or appreciation either.
That night, I thought about calling you the next day to apologize and tell you how much I care about you and appreciate you. I had a similar idea before, but my ego got the better of me and I pushed the idea aside.
But the thought come back that night, like whispers in my mind. During my regular morning swim, I was contemplating whether to call you. Before I went to my office, I decided to do it.
You answered your phone. My heart was racing but calmness had settled over my entire being.
We had some small talk. I told you that I did drink some of the soup you had made me the day before.
Then I turned serious: “I wanted to apologize for what I said to you yesterday, that you didn’t thank me for helping you. Actually, I am the one who doesn’t show my appreciation to you. I wanted to let you know that I appreciate you and care about you.”
To my surprise, you replied without a second thought: “I know that in my heart. We both know in our hearts but we just don’t say it. I do a lot of things for you because I care about you.”
Perhaps remembering how harshly I spoke in the parking lot, you added, “Whatever people do to me, I don’t hold any grudges.”
By then we both chocked up with emotion trying to hold back our tears.
I know it is not our family habit to express our love in words. Growing up we barely hugged, let alone kissed each on the cheeks like Europeans.
Perhaps it comes from our Chinese culture. My Chinese friends and I joke, when Western parents say “I love you” Chinese parents say “eat more rice.”
Acts of service is your love language, as I later discovered.
In fact, that very day you told me, “People always say, `I love you.’ That’s nonsense. It’s just lip service.” Actions are what counts. It’s why, you said, you spends hundreds of dollars to buy ingredients at Chinese delicacy stores to cook nutritious soups for me.
Your words were direct. You never mince your words, no matter how uncomfortable they might be. That can cause pain and hurt.
I recognized my pain that day I criticized you in the parking lot. But now I understood your pain and the way you dealt with it. The way you protected yourself so you could stay strong and resilient.
In your memory, you were only 8 years old when your mother put you on a bus to start a long journey from southern China to Hong Kong by land and sea. The oldest of nine siblings, you were being smuggled into Hong Kong to escape from poverty and starvation.
You said you were being sent alone, with memories of being cooed to sleep by your grandfather only the year before.
When you arrived in Hong Kong you went to your uncle, but he and his wife had six daughters of their own living in a packed room and were unable to take you in.
So he handed you to a friend, a policeman who mingled with triads and dabbled in the world of prostitution, drugs and gambling. The man gave you protection from the underworld and you became a helper in his household and his daughter who was the same age as you.
About two years later, you left the household to take a job in a toy factory. Eventually, you worked two jobs so you had extra money to send home to help your family. At night, you learned to read, write and speak the local dialect.
I only found out more about your upbringing last year, after I moved to California where we both live. I realize now that I hadn’t gotten to know you much when I was growing up.
I remember the day when I was about 16 in the early 1990s. You quietly pulled me into the bathroom to get some privacy in the 380-square-foot Hong Kong apartment our family of five occupied. With a sense of urgency, you tried to persuade me to follow Kei Kei (my older sister) to the U.S., where she was studying at a university in Texas.
Like many Hong Kong Chinese at the time, you were fearful for the future of the former British colony after the Chinese government rolled tanks over protesting students in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Like many others, you were trying to come up with an escape plan before Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.
A year after that talk, I flew to the U.S. with Kei Kei in my first trip to a Western country. At the time I knew little English. Over the following decades I would work and live in various cities on continents around the world.
During those 30 years, you and I saw each other less than 10 times and spoke only occasionally on the telephone.
Now, I am grateful to be in Southern California where we both live. I am committed to knowing you better and to telling you again and again how much I love you, care about you and appreciate you.
You are an extraordinary warrior. You are courageous and have a tender heart. At 4 feet, nine inches, you are small but mighty.
Here are my long-overdue thank-you statements to you:
❤️ Thank you for giving birth to me.
❤️ Thank you for feeding me, washing me and cleaning the poop and pee off me.
❤️ Thank you for caring for me when I couldn’t breathe properly due to asthma.
❤️ Thank you for rocking me on your back late in the night when I was sick.
❤️ Thank you for tirelessly shopping, preparing and cooking nutritious food to make sure I would grow up healthy.
❤️ Thank you for putting me on school buses and picking me up from the bus stops.
❤️ Thank you for taking me to amusement parks and playgrounds to keep me entertained.
❤️ Thank you for loving me, guiding me and caring for me the best you can, even though you didn’t have your own parents by your side when you were growing up.
❤️ Thank you for sharing your resources so I could experience life abroad.
❤️ Thank you for caring about my well-being and health when I faced challenges abroad. I can imagine the worries and anxiety you must have felt from thousands of miles away.
❤️ Thank you for traveling thousands of miles to stay with me and cook nutritious foods so my body could be well-prepared for the birth of my first child.
❤️ Thank you for cleaning and cooking for me after I gave birth to make sure I regained my health and energy.
❤️ Thank you for loading your car with delicious homemade food and soup every time you visit. I know you do that to lessen my burden at home and improve my health and strength. I missed your cooking all those years when I lived far away. Now I find it comforting.
❤️ Most of all, thank you for that conversation in the bathroom that changed my life.
Because of you, I traveled to see a foreign country and learn a new culture and many others after that. Because of you, I discovered my adventurous spirit and a curiosity about people from different backgrounds and nationalities.
Your encouragement opened me up to opportunities and a life that I wouldn’t have dared to dream of, and it helped me realize that I had abilities and capabilities that I didn’t know I had.
Because of you, I have learned to live outside my comfort zone and to have the courage to continue to grow.
I want this to be a declaration of love for you while you are still alive and well.
I love you. I appreciate all that you have done for me.
Your daughter ❤️
April 23, 2021
For those who are still reading this declaration, thank you for your attention.
❤️ Let this declaration be a reminder that we all can declare our love to those who are important to us, so they can hear it before they are no longer with us.
❤️ Let this be a reminder that funerals should be for celebrating the departed’s lives, not for regrets over not telling them how we feel.
❤️ Let this be a reminder that we all have the ability to live with love, right now and always — without delay.
I want to acknowledge my teacher and former coach Guthrie Sayen for his compassion. In his teaching of American psychotherapist Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, he showed me how to recognize my pain as well as the pain of others. He also showed me how we can build a world with love and compassion. It changed how I see myself, others, and the world.
I also want to acknowledge my current coach, Steve Hardison, for living, being and embodying compassion, love, fearlessness and the fierce desire to live life to the fullest. He has had a profound impact on everyone he meets. The declaration above is an example of what he coaches and lives daily.