Remembering my silly mum one year on


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Today marks the one year anniversary that my mum finally stopped living in pain. I'm sorry I couldn't come up with anything less corny than that. It's sobering in a way, it may sound really weird but I took some comfort (not sure if that's the right word) in knowing I had talked to her less than a year before. The "acceptance" phase of grief or whatever cliche the psychiatric community has for it now has been out of sight for much longer than I thought.

I used to think it was a Hollywood storyline stereotype that people expected to see loved ones again walking around the corner or hearing their voice as if they had just been on a long holiday. It ain't no stereotype! When I did my first study stint in Australia I didn't see her for over a year so this isn't even the longest we've been apart yet. I do expect to see her sitting up in bed during the day listening to her book tapes while reading Aussie newspapers online and drinking tea as I walk past her bedroom.

I envy those who think they'll be going to the heaven(s) of their faith(s) and god(s) when they die and see their loved ones. As an Atheist I pretty much know this is all twisted mythology with no basis in reality, but realising this sure doesn't make it any easier. In another way though I think it would cheapen the memories you had of someone if you genuinely thought you'd see them again in a heaven or similar place. We had a great relationship above that of a typical Western mum-son with lots of sillyness and fun even during the worst of her treatment, and memories of those will be with me until that bookshelf I built myself with the bowling ball on top hits me on the head.

Anyway what I know for certain is that my beautiful late mum hated people who dwelled only on bad things even if I think she was guilty of doing it herself more often than not herself. I think I just felt her whacking my head! So to mark this otherwise painfully sad occasion, I thought I'd recall a silly thing that happened while we were walking around last year.

We had just left the oncology ward one afternoon and she'd just had a relatively benign chemo shot. Using the word benign to describe chemo seems ridiculous, but compared to some of the other ones she had, it's apt! Anyway given it took a few hours for the side effects to set in, we'd use those precious few hours to do some serious retail therapy as she called it. In Singapore most of the shopping centres in the Orchard area are connected by a series of underpasses with escalators; that afternoon we were in Shaw House on our way to Wheelock Place across the street.

I had remembered that there were two entrances to the underpass on the side we were on, but she informed me that only one was accessible and retorted that she "knows her way around Singapore shopping centres!" In mid sentence she proceeded to board an escalator… that was going the wrong way! I caught her and we both roared with laughter, much to the confusion of the people around us!

In another incident we were in a hotel in the Ubud hills of Bali during one of her chemo breaks. We had ordered a gigantic plate of fried rice and vegetables which once placed on the table she proceeded to hit with her elbow, sending the plate and it's entire contents sailing through their air and showering down all over herself, the chair and several thousand square metres of floor! She looked up with a sheepish expression and said "hehe… uh… errr… shit?" I guess you had to be there, but it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen then and since :).

That's not to say all my memories of her involve silly slapstick comedy incidents! She was such a spontaneous person, if there was ever a photo of an animal pulling a silly facial expression in a book, magazine or even in a gigantic shop display with people rushing around us, she'd insist on either my sister and I stopping what we were doing and taking a photo of her emulating said facial expression! I have gigabytes of photos of my cheeky mum grinning next to pictures of giraffes, putting on gruff faces next to bull dogs… the list goes on!

Then there were the silly names we had for each other. For some reason I started calling her "The Mumster", and at some point she started calling me "Ruuuuuuuuben" while flailing her arms and fingers pretending to be a vampire, to which I'd reply "Deeeeeeeeeeebra"! And she hated being called "Deb", so of course I'd call her that constantly too. Sometimes even "Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeb" Greetings in the morning would take a long time!

What I still love the most though are my memories of her sitting up in bed when she was particularly weak as she typed on her laptop, while I sat at a makeshift table across the room on mine… both of us singing along loudly to Dean Martin :). Or when she'd have enough energy and we'd walk down the street to the Starbucks in Paragon and usurp unsuspecting people from the comfy lounge chairs because she had a walking stick :D. We'd sit there and talk about the most obscure topics; she'd talk about corruption in the cosmetics industry (she KNEW her stuff!) and I'd talk about my then-new obsession with the Perl scripting language, and neither of us would care that we didn't have any idea what the other was talking about! She'd ask me if I had worked up the guts each week to ask the cute Korean girl in my school year group out, and we'd both laugh every time because we already knew the answer! I got more than my fair share of jovial head whackings with her extravagant clear spiral cane!

I have not done her justice in this post, but I hope at least I've shared some sillyness. After all as she always said, if we don't have a sense of humour even about the sad and negative, we just turn into hardened cynics that nobody likes to be around… or at least words to that affect. It's an incredibly corny thing to say, but I reckon had the world been full of Debra Schade's, we'd all be much better off. Not to mention cosmetics companies wouldn't be able to come up with bullshit bogus names for inert chemicals in their products that have no effects whatsoever and then charge people extra because they do so, and have the word "Paris" in their name. She was onto them. She was onto them good!!!

She always complained that you couldn't get designer chemotharpy drips. To the doctors! And she was always asking to see their wine list in the oncology ward so she could order a huge Champaign and drink it while killing me at cards. Even with the world swimming around her she was still able to beat me at Yiftico. Every single time! I wish I could say I was letting her win, but no such luck! She always got the red aces, every time! And she didn't have any tells at all! What a crock!

Now if you'd excuse me, it's probably time for me to leave. Or buy another drink so I can sit here for longer.. I've been sitting in this same comfy chair at that same Starbucks I talked about before for over an hour now. It's funny how some things change, but some habits don't. She hated the smell of Earl Grey tea, perhaps it's time to order one :).

Love you mumster.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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