Peter's Eulogy to Mom at her Memorial Service (12-31-2005)

Mom's Exceptional Memory

Mom graduated valedictorian from Hupei Normal School in 1930. She was offered teaching positions at five schools based on her essay "Knowledge is Power". One day, at the age of 92, she recited from memory this essay. Taking off on Francis Bacon's essay, she said that "we first receive knowledge from our parents at home on ethics, to be a good citizen in society. Then we receive knowlege from our teachers in school on arts & science, to learn about the world around us. Finally, we give back what we have learned to future generations, teaching them the knowledge of goodness and wisdom. Thus knowledge empowers us, and this is the power of knowledge." I was astonished beyond belief. Mom had recited an essay she wrote 70 years ago from memory and I gave her a big hug.

Mom at Aegis Gardens

Mom stayed at Aegis Gardens in Fremont, a Chinese Senior Retirement Center, for the last two-and-half years of her life. The helpers at Aegis Gardens liked Mom, telling me that Mom is so polite, thanking them each time when they feed her, putting her to bed, and helping with her bathroom activities. Amy who is from Mom's hometown of Hupei told me,"All the other women in the Alzheimer wing can't gargle and swallow the water. Your Mom is the only one who can gargle and spit into the sink." When a male nurse tried to help Mom undress, she protested and insisted on a woman to do it. Amy told me, “Your Mom quoted a line from the classics, saying 'Just because I'm old, I still have propriety.'” Amy made sure Mom would get female helpers dressing and undressing her.

Mom was hospitalized in May 2005 at Fremont Kaiser Hospital for ten days. She was severely dehydrated with pneumonia and bladder infection. Margaret got Mom on Hospice Care. The doctor told me, "At Mom's age of 96, she may be bedridden from now on." After Mom returned to Aegis Gardens, she was in bed for another three weeks, before I eased her into her wheelchair. "Mom, we got to go out to the garden— See the sun and squirrels, count the tomatoes and zucchinis. Come on! You need more exercise and sunshine!" Mom obeyed and for the last six months, she enjoyed our garden stroll in her wheelchair. First, I'll wheel Mom to the tomato patch of the garden. As I point to each tomato, Mom would count in Chinese, often past 100. Then we'd play patty-cake with Mom counting to 100 as I lift her arms above her head and sideways, clapping our hands together at the end of each decade. Sometimes Mom would smile and tilt her head as we do the sideway arm movements. Then Mom would do her leg lifting, counting again to 100. Afterwards, Mom would push and peddle herself in her wheelchair some 30 yards outdoors and 40 yards indoors. I would clap my hands cheering her on "1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8-9", "Mom roll the wheels! You're wheeling fast, wheeling well! Mom you're so brave!" Once inside, Mom needed assistance from the wall ledges to propel herself forward and around the corners. Then Mom would identify the Room Numbers as I push her back to her Room 119. She always identified correctly the Laundry Room, Elevator Room, and Storage Room, and a sign "Welcome You" near some of the doors. One of the Hospice women, May Ip, brought a tape recorder to play while swinging Mom's arm in tempo to waltz music. When I suggested Chinese music, she played one of Mom's favorite songs, Li Po's poem "Thinking of Home" and was surprised that Mom sang the song from memory.

Five Inner Values

When the Dalai Lama lectured at Stanford's Memorial Church on November 4, 2005, students were surprised at his humbleness and humor. One student said, "I expected an ideological lecture, about human rights and freedom for Tibet. Instead he talked to us like a close friend, giving us advice on winning friends at school and getting a job when we graduate." What the Dalai Lama told the students to cultivate are the five inner values— kindness, patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and self-discipline. When I look back on Mom's life, she had all these qualities, that's why she had so many longtime and wonderful friends. Because the youth of today need these values to build strong character, I'll go over each value, and recall how Mom exemplified them in her life.

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, gentle, and loving. Mom had it in abundance. Friends who came and stayed over our house in Floral Park, New York, would say they had a royal treatment— great food and lodging, wonderful conversations, and a gift package when they left. Children of friends who visit our home for the first time got a special treat when they left. Mom gave them a small red envelope. Inside was a shining Chinese silver dollar of Sun Yat-sen with a junk boat in the reverse side of the coin. All the guests whether new or old were appreciative of Mom's exceeding kindness and generosity.

Patience is the capacity to bear pain calmly or without complaint, remaining steadfast despite adversity. Dad told me that when Mom lost her first three children (ages 2, 3, and 5) within a year of illness (1940-41), she almost lost her mind and grieved deeply. But then she gave birth to me, Jimmy, and Margaret— two boys and a girl in the same order as her first three children. We were named Mien (continuity), Ni (strength), and Yi (joy). Mom had dementia during her last year and couldn't remember our names. I would prompt Mom's memory by citing the first two syllables of Dad's names and hers. She would recall and say "Chou Tsien Chung", "Liu Yong Fang" or "Liu Tun Ch'in". But when I asked Mom what's her children's name, after prompting her with "Chou Yuin-", she would always say "Chou Yuin Yi"— for she was exceeding joyful when Margaret was born and named her "Yi" or Joy.

Forgiveness is the act of pardoning one's enemies, to cease the feeling of resentment against the offender. Mom told me once that of all the people that came into her life, one had caused her pain. Mom had worked at Norich, a handbag factory in Mineola (1950-1968), where she met three Chinese co-workers, Jane, Mary, and Anna, who would become longtime friends. But at the beginning Anna was envious of Mom because Jane and Mary took a liking to Mom after her arrival. Anna tried to make working there unpleasant for Mom. I recall Anna's husband coming to our house apologizing for his wife's behavior, and asking Mom to forgive her. Somehow Mom was able to do so. Years later, Anna would write long letters to Mom and phone long distance when Mom moved to California. One day when I answered the phone in Palo Alto, Anna told me that Mom was her best friend.

Tolerance is enduring unfavorable circumstances. Mom told me that she had moved 14 times in her life— Hupei, Wuhan, Chengdu, Chungking, Shanghai, Taichung, New York (3 apartments in Glen Oaks & house in Floral Park), Worcester, Massachusetts, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and Fremont. The moves in China were especially stressful because it was during war times. Dad had to abandon three of his personal libraries each time moving. Mom kept Dad's important papers and documents together, factors that helped Dad keep his job and promotion at the United Nations. During the last years of Dad's life, he did not speak, and communicated only by writing a few words on paper. Mom was tolerant with the extra time she had to endure in speaking with Dad. After breaking her hip, Mom was confined to a wheelchair. Despite her immobility, she always wanted to visit Dad at Westgate Rehab Center where he was on G-tube feeding.

Self-Discipline is being attentive and focused in getting things done efficiently. Mom had great self-discipline in running the household while Dad tended to his scholarly activities at the United Nations and university libraries. Seeing over 300 Christmas cards in our home in Floral Park, my brother Jimmy told me, "We'll never have as many friends as Dad and Mom. Dad is the scholarly bookworm in the library. But it's Mom who keeps the engine running in our home." Until he said it, I didn't realize how true it was. Mom did all the shopping, cooking, gardening, keeping the record books of expenses and banking. Above all, she carried a voluminous correspondence with friends and relatives in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the States that ran well over into the thousands over the years. The dinner parties of over 20 guests she hosted often in New York and political diplomacy she navigated helped to keep Dad's job secure at the United Nations for 25 years. Friends who would show up at our house in New York would say, "No matter if we come expectedly or unexpectedly, Chou Ma Ma's house is always so clean."

Like Dad, Mom lived a long life spanning almost a hundred years. They had so many longtime and wonderful friends who exemplified the inner values that were passed down from the Chinese sages to them and their children. I'm thankful that I was born into such a loving and caring family. Dad shared with me much of his intellectual wonderment and passion for wisdom. Mom shared with me much of her practicality and zest for living an active life. These are the inner values and traits that I'll always treasure and cherish in my heart.

This poem came to me on the day Mom died— "A Good Heart"

Sections not read at Memorial Service due to time limitations.

— Peter Y. Chou, 12-31-2005

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: peter(at) (12-31-2005)