It is quiet, it is sad. I say Mom’s House because Dad moves through the rooms like a ghost. He is profoundly deaf, but he chooses what he hears in his head, and he hears Mom. I hear her too: she tells me to top off the countertop water boiler through the day, to make sure the dishwasher door is ajar because otherwise the mold will grow, to open the family room blinds in the morning so the room isn’t so gloomy, to sweep the kitchen floors after every meal so the ants won’t visit, to make sure Dad eats because he is helpless without her. And I hear her telling me not to cry.
She was never a touchy-feely Mom; it was not the traditional Chinese way, and it certainly was not her way. She was never one to throw away a compliment or a word of comfort; she had a spine of steel. So when she tells me not to cry, I know that is the best she can do. She told me that once almost forty years ago, when she was ready to board the plane to visit her mother, and I started bawling … and she told me that again 6 weeks ago, as I sat by her on the hospital bed. That was after she shocked me by telling me I looked pretty. Even rarer than the comforting word, she had never told me I was pretty, or smart, or accomplished. Not when I won a national piano competition, not when I entered Stanford, not when I graduated from medical school. Everything was as it should be, and that was what it was. So it was at the end of her life: daijobu, she said. “It’s OK, it’s done.” Plain, to the point.
Dad has the TV on, and it is at normal volume. There is nothing wrong with his eyesight, and subtitles are the norm for shows he watches. For years, the TV blared twelve hours a day. The neighbors are only 10 feet away, and I know they could hear every single program Mom and Dad watched. Mom said it was because Dad couldn’t hear, which is true, but the sound was for her, to fill the silence that had become Dad’s world. I leave Dad to it. He counts the hours, the days, the weeks, and soon, the months. He tells me he has lived too long: he has had more years than his mother, his father, his grandfather. He wants to be with Mom.
Mom is not here bustling around, cooking and cleaning, bullying Dad, telling me about the latest medical news she has read or heard on TV. She is not around to warn me about the dangers of exerting myself too much on a run or the evils of drinking alcohol or eating too many sweets. She is not around to tell me to have a chat with my brothers about high blood pressure and obesity and diet and exercise. She is not around, but I hear her. This is her house.