If you beat a dog, don’t be sur­prised if he runs away.

—let­ter to my uncle, March 2008

When I was a child my mom would always ask me if I’d let her live in a nurs­ing home. She would do this as a form of reas­sur­ance, a way of address­ing her inse­cu­rity about dying alone. To Chinese peo­ple, this is a fate worse than death. I under­stand that there may be med­ical con­di­tions or other cir­cum­stances that make it imprac­ti­cal for a fam­ily mem­ber to live in your house, but that doesn’t change the fact that being put in a nurs­ing home is like wait­ing to die.

At the time, I was too young to under­stand the grav­ity of such a ques­tion, so I would always reas­sure her, no. Maybe I even loved her at that point, and meant it. But I’ve since cut off all ties with her, and after the divorce, she has no one left. Her rel­a­tives lead their own lives, and she’s never had enough of a per­son­al­ity to make any friends. I’ve lived with her long enough to under­stand what a hol­low, empty exis­tence she has.

Now I’m old enough to know that she’ll die alone.

And that it’ll be exactly what she deserves.


  1. I com­pletely under­stand where you are com­ing from with this post. My par­ents divorced when I was 13 due to an alco­holic abu­sive dad. I vowed then (as I was young and totally obliv­i­ous to how life really works) that I would hate my dad for the rest of my life. As I grew older, I changed and finally had a talk with him about how I really felt. He was never going to change his ways and I could accept it or con­tinue to hate him for the way he was always going to be. As fate would have it, I was the one he chose to spend his last days with. I took care of him until his last breath. I won’t say I feel like I should be given a gold medal for being such a for­giv­ing child after all the tor­ment he put me and my fam­ily through, but I know I won’t ever be ask­ing myself “What if I had done this.….” I real­ize this isn’t the case with you and your par­ents, but I hate to see you think this way about your mother. Thinking like this often drains the very life out of you.….

  2. It’s cer­tainly a self-destructive feel­ing, some­thing of which I do want to let go, but I can’t. I think it’s quite com­mend­able that you were able to for­give your dad in such a way, and take care of him before his passing.

    Unfortunately, for­give­ness in not a choice for me. The emo­tional scar­ring has made up my mind.

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