Losing My Mother at 17

By Juneta Balacuit

Never in a million years would I have imagined how life could change in a span of 12 hours. Or of how ‘death’ would confront teenage me.

As the youngest child in my Asian family, I grew up with my parents while my brothers and sisters left home for work. Life seemed perfect to 17 year old me. School was fun. I was happy. I never had to worry about anything. 

I had planned to further my studies at a nursing school after my SPM exam. I filled up the nursing application form and was pleased to be called for an interview in December. When the time came for the SPM exam, I wasn’t worried because I was well prepared. 

Mom and dad circa 1998.
Photo by Juneta Balacuit

Losing Mom

But on Dec 4 1997, at 8am, my life took a turn for the worst. In the midst of preparing for church, my beloved mother had a sudden stroke with brain haemorrhage on Saturday morning. By 8pm that very same day, she passed away. 

My poor dad clung to a pillar outside the hospital building, wailing for the loss of his life partner. But I couldn’t shed any tears. Shocked and numbed, I just couldn’t feel anything. 

Mom’s funeral took place 5 days later after all of my siblings arrived home. What was supposed to be our 1st family reunion that year became a funeral event. 

In loving memory.
Photo by Juneta Balacuit

At mom’s funeral, a church member approached me and shared that just a few weeks before, he had had a conversation with Mom about my studies and she told him how she was praying fervently for me. She had faith that I would excel in my studies. She was not worried about my future believing I would go on to achieve my dreams. 

On hearing this, I finally cried. I never knew Mom had that much confidence in me. I had always thought that I was a rebellious daughter. I had been the one to make her mad when I refused to listen to her. 

GettingTrying to Get On with Life

Everything had happened so suddenly, I didn’t understand what was going on. 

By the time I came around to my senses, I realised that I didn’t know how to take care of myself. It was mom who used to do all this for me. I didn’t know how to cook, didn’t know how to care for my dad. “What’s life going to be like, now that she’s gone?” repeatedly rang in my head. It felt like it was all too much for me to take in.  

The SPM exam was on Monday morning the following week after Mom’s passing. I had no choice but to sit for the exam. All eyes were on me because they knew what had happened. 

Everything was just a blur to me without any meaning at all. I remember looking at my Add Maths question paper and staring blankly at it. All I could put on the answer sheet were my tears. I couldn’t remember how many more exam papers I had to sit during my grieving period but by the end of the SPM examination, I was certain I had failed.

I missed my nursing interview and didn’t get the chance to apply to any college or university as I didn’t want to leave dad alone by himself. I stayed with him and helped with our small family business. 

I have to admit, I thought my life adventures were supposed to begin after high school but I was depressed because I didn’t know what my future would hold. 

To fill in that vacuum of loneliness Mom’s death left me with, I kept myself occupied with church activities. I also sought solace through my faith, doing personal devotion and prayer. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel

When the SPM results were released, I was nauseous from the gut wrenching feeling that my results would be disastrous. My teacher rang our home, asking me to collect my results from school. With a heavy heart, I forced myself to school late in the day, at a time when I was sure everyone had left. 

When I arrived, my teacher was there. He had waited patiently just to see me. He handed me my results with a reassuring smile. I nonchalantly took the paper from him and was shocked to discover that I passed with flying colours! Somehow in the midst of all the chaos, by God’s grace, I had scored 1st grade with distinction points!

My dad, 10 years after mom left us.
Photo by Juneta Balacuit

Then things started to unravel. I received a grant to study nursing in the UK. My sister sacrificed her job to stay with dad just so I could have that opportunity to pursue my studies. 

Of Grief & Silver Linings

But even as life looked up for me, the sadness from losing Mom did not vanish from within me. When I feel sad thinking about mom, I’d turn to my eldest sister. Mostly, we’d talk about her. I would share my feelings and cry bucketloads of tears. I drew a lot of comfort from my sister and she became a motherly figure to me.  

My relationship with dad too became closer. I began to see how he had aged greatly and realised that I was not the only one grieving. I kept telling myself that I needed to be strong for him because I can’t afford to lose him as well. 

All of us siblings would take turns to return home for short holidays to spend time with dad. We choose to focus on his happiness. We talk about old times, and this has begun to bring back good memories. Over time, our family bond grew stronger. 

Life it turns out, has been nothing but full of blessings. 

My eldest sister and dad at my graduation.
Photo by Juneta Balacuit

At 39 years old, I completed my Bachelor of Nursing Science, making it to the Dean’s List. I am now a Unit Supervisor at a renowned hospital. My dad is still a healthy 89 year old. 

I have learnt that all things happened for a reason. And whatever the reason is, have faith that God will deliver us on the right path. I can plan whatever I want in life but it is God who decides what is best for me. 


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