My Mom By Jenny Mari Lai Olsen
Delivered at Helen Lai’s Memorial Service, Boston Taiwanese Christian Church Framingham, MA, November 19th, 2011
Mom was the heart and soul of the family. She still is. Mama, if you are listening, you will always be. (“Mama, do you hear me?” in Taiwanese)
Mom devoted her entire life to be a good Christian. She gave herself to the family and people she cared about. She was born privileged, but she was humble. She was kind and generous. She was selfless, sometimes to the extreme. But that was our Mama.
Mom was always there for us. She gave us everything but she rarely asked for anything in return. The last month in the hospital was about the only time she had no choice but letting us taking care of her.
Mom was always there for us.
In 2006, I did a painting titled, “Mom’s Waiting” (“Mama le dang” in Taiwanese). All our life, we simply assumed that Mom would be there. It was a given. Once when I was a young girl, I was late coming home, it was getting dark and I was scared. Next thing, I saw Mama at the end of the very long street, Wen Jou Street, walking toward me. Yes, she was walking toward me. She looked so tall and beautiful that evening. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
Mom would not hesitate to discipline or correct us if needed. But she could also be flexible. I was a sleepy head (“aii khun sen” in Taiwanese 愛睏仙) when I was in elementary school. There was always loads of homework. Mom did not believe the repetitive exercises were necessary. As soon as she knew I had a good grasp of the subject, she would let me go to bed. She would then complete my homework for me. She did it day after day after day. Looking back, it was rather unconventional. But I would say she was a woman of wisdom. Elementary school was about the only period in my school years I was an excellent student.
Mom put in 100 percent all the time for each one of us. She was so good all the time, therefore, my brothers and I assumed it was normal. Susan Hsu (Hsu Su-shen 許淑慎) is here today. Susan was my classmate from kindergarten and elementary school. She could testify how exceptional Mom was. She commented recently that my lunch boxes not only looked delicious, they were always so colorful and beautiful. If my lunch boxes were spectacular, not to mention those goodie bags Mom prepared for our school outings (“oan-chiok” in Taiwanese 遠足). I am not a hiking or outdoorsy person, I don’t remember much about those outings, but I remember how much I enjoyed those goodies Mom prepared. Mom did everything for us with her loving heart.
She was not just all heart. She was smart too. Mom excelled academically. She was also musical, artistic and athletic. Not too many people know Mom was quite a pianist at one time; she could also sing and be able to harmonize to any note before her hearing started to deteriorate. Growing up my brother and I enjoyed singing songs with Mom at the piano. She was strong physically (she carried me on her back when I got sick on the street when I was almost 20), a fast walker (I had hard time keeping pace with her even she was at her 70th), and she once ran a Marathon and finished the 3rd place in Tainan.
At home, she was the Jack of all trades, a fabulous cook (that was one of the reasons Dad was popular among his students); Japanese? Chinese? No problem! French food? Of course! She even made her own mayonnaise. Mom was an electrician and handy woman; Uncle Ray, do you know back in Taiwan your sister fixed electrical appliances too?
Well, Uncle David who is also here today may know the days when Mom and Dad teamed up together for card games that they were nearly unbeatable? Mom and Dad were intellectually compatible. They complemented each other. Dad is a very lucky man.
Mom was lots of fun too. About 19 years ago, Christina and I stayed with Mom and Dad when we were between houses. I was not working for about 3 month, during that time Mom and I ventured to Boston to sample Japanese foods (& Mom was my guide), we sat at cafes on Newbury Street, we hunged out at Harvard Square, we had time to do things together as adults and we had so much fun. During that period, I also found out how close my Parents were. Mom and Dad had tea and chatted at the dinning room table almost every night after Christina and I went to bed.
I have planned to retire from my current job next March. I wanted to focus on painting and also spend more time with Mom. I had a grand plan but God has a different one.
We are all devastated right now. I could hear Mom saying “Sorry for turning your lives up side down” I would asked her why she can’t stay longer with us and she would answer “I had no choice, it is God will” (Taiwanese: “bo fa do” “shin e ji ii” 無法度 神的旨意).” “Mom, Wish we could hug you and let you know you are God’s gift to us”