“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother." ―Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom
Mary Jane’s story is not one that is easy to tell.
MJ is a mother to three teenage children; she also shares a complex relationship with her own mum. Last year, MJ was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and fibromuscular dysplasia, and is still battling poor health. Amidst these trials and tribulations, she still thinks of her diagnosis as a blessing, referring to it as a second life and “a wake up call”. We speak to her on how this trying time has altered her perception on life and how her Catholic faith helps her on the journey of motherhood.
Hi MJ, what was your life like before the illness?
I was always travelling, juggling multiple projects at one go, working weekends. Because of my work, in a way I have neglected my family a little bit. (I think) this is for me to rest a bit. I was always on edge, angry for nothing. Now it’s like, what’s the big deal? (laughs) I’m now more relaxed, maybe it’s because of the medication. (laughs)
How did you feel when you were diagnosed?
I live by my faith, I try to be a good follower of Jesus, that is where I get my strength, otherwise I would pity myself. If I reflect (on it), this is really nothing compared to what Jesus had suffered on the cross. That’s why I managed to accept it calmly. What I was worried about is how this would affect my family.
How did your family come to terms with the situation?
At first they were not aware of the gravity or the complexity but bit by bit... (After the diagnosis), I feel more loved, I was shown that I was really loved by my family and friends. There was so much outpouring of prayers and support. That’s why I say that it’s a blessing. It (hurt) my body but it definitely healed the soul. And the soul is actually more important because it is the soul that goes to heaven. It has made me see a lot of things.
I would get headaches and they’re quite bad. One time, I didn’t know this but one of my children prayed, “Give me mum’s headache”. (This is what) a mum would usually do – “Don’t let my children get sick, give it to me, let me be the one to be sick,” that’s a mother’s prayer. That day I was better than other days. But I saw that my daughter was not feeling well so I asked. “It’s really quite horrible,” she said. (laughs)
How has your difficult relationship with your mother shaped you in life?
Life is good because it gives you support in a way. Even though circumstances seem to be tragic there’s something good from that. I learnt to be really independent, resourceful and self-reliant. Probably because of that relationship, I become closer to my dad and my traits are more from my dad. I still love and support my mum, nonetheless.
When I became a mother myself, I probably understood my mum more. I was probably a difficult child, that was why I was shouted at all the time, you know.
What would you most like to pass on to your children?
Slowly teaching them spiritual formation, I think that’s more important. Teach them good values and everything else will follow. That’s my prayer for my children everyday. I don’t ask for academic success; I don’t really pressure them. When I say my prayer, I say: “Please guide them to be good children of God.”
Lastly, what is your advice to people who are also going through a difficult time?
Everything happens for a reason. We do not know why sometimes but it happens, and after a while you would understand (for example,) why the bus came late or why you missed your flight. Sometimes we beat ourselves up but actually there’s a reason all these things happen. God really works in mysterious ways. He will not give you something that you cannot bear.
To all mothers, Happy Mother's Day.