UP CLOSE: My Mother’s Legacy

May 6, 2009

Today we’re introducing a new feature at Segullah: UP CLOSE. Each month we will focus on a particular subject and discuss it in depth on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. We welcome reader submissions for these posts. This month, predictably, our focus is Mothers(starting with Kathryn Paul’s fantastic post on single parenting last Sunday). The UP CLOSE topic for June will be Adoption and in July we’ll discuss Inactivity/Faith struggles.

Today we are pleased to hear from Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye. Melissa is a Ph.D. student in Chinese history at Harvard University.  She and her family currently live in Nanjing, China.

Susan Lew Inouye (pictured below at her son’s wedding in 2007) was born in 1957 and raised her five children in Costa Mesa, California.  She passed away in December 2008 of bile duct cancer.

getattachmentWhen my father called to tell me that Mom’s cancer was terminal, that it could be a matter of weeks or months, a surge of grief swept over me. This news, though bad, was not unexpected. It had cast a shadow over the past two years. So in a way, the torrent of sorrow was welcome-finally, a chance to put everyday composure on hold, to feel, to mourn.

But it didn’t last long. As I sat holding the phone, my son Isaiah, who had just turned two, came up and made an urgent announcement. “Sorry, I gotta go,” I said. “Isaiah needs the potty.”

I swept Isaiah off to the bathroom. I perched on the tub opposite him, tears streaming down my face. Isaiah was cheery and conversational. “Cows poop,” he informed me in his musical two year-old voice. “Horses poop. Camels poop. Lions poop. Every-body poops.”

In that moment I imagined Mom, perching on the edge of the tub and chatting with me as I sat on the potty, cheery and conversational. It must have been like this dozens of times, but I can’t remember any of them, just as I can’t remember all the books I read that she checked out from the library, all the meals I ate that she cooked, and all the times when I must have interrupted her in the middle of her own precious time to ask for help.

Instead of momentous events, my memories of Mom are everyday and almost mundane. On weekday mornings before school we opened the fridge to see a row of brown sack lunches, each neatly labeled, that she had packed in the wee hours of the night before. On Fridays we watched movies that she recorded from late-night TV. On Sundays she herded us to the local Mormon meetinghouse for church.

Every summer she had us enter writing, art, and baked goods in the county fair. Every December she changed all the linens in the house to Santas, snowmen, and fir trees to herald those wonderful, count-able days before December 25th.

Mom passed away on December 16, 2008. As I sat down to write her funeral talk, I tried to find some impressive memory that would represent her and the impact of her life, but couldn’t come up with anything remarkable or extraordinary. Does this mean that she didn’t do anything remarkable or extraordinary?

Just the opposite: the fact that I remember everyday routines, and not momentous occasions, shows the awesome significance of what Mom did for us, her children. Her love and care were all around us-like the water that fish swim in, the air that we breathe. As children we took it for granted. Only now do we begin to fully appreciate the magnitude of what she has done. Day by day, year after year, through the experiences that she helped us to have and through her example of how to live, she created our world.

It was-and is-an extraordinary world. It is a world in which food almost always tastes good, in which learning is exciting, in which service is rendered to those in need, in which God lives and is mindful of us, and in which I am known to have faults and shortcomings but am loved all the same.

I think of Mom especially in small moments with my children: nursing the baby, driving in the car, chatting with Isaiah as he sits on the potty, cheerful and conversational. In these small moments, I understand how she felt about me.

And because of Mom’s example and teaching, we have this faith:

– that this life is a season of growth in which we learn to appreciate the contrasts of human experience: good and evil, sorrow and joy

– that in this life, no suffering or hardship is for naught

– and that every experience has the potential to bring us closer to the ultimate purpose of our lives, which is to accept Jesus Christ’s atonement for our sins so that we may repent, and become a little better every day.

This is our faith, our hope, our expectation. This is the world in which we live.

This is my mother’s legacy, her gift to us, and for this we are grateful.


  1. Carin

    May 6, 2009

    What a touching tribute~~~
    “like the water fish swim in, the air that we breathe” your words are beautifully descriptive.

  2. Julia Wright

    May 6, 2009

    I remember your mom vividly Melissa, and that is a beautiful picture of her. I didn’t hear of her passing till a couple months ago, and it did surprise me as I hadn’t heard she’d been sick.

    I always enjoyed her, and she was one of the people I admired most in our ward. From the time you moved in my “excellent mother” radar went off, and I watched how she did things. I remember a homemaking lesson she gave on avoiding addiction of all kinds…especially prescription medications (which was new concept for me till she mentioned it). I remember her hosting our large family for swim parties and dinners when your father was our home teacher…no small undertaking!

    I always loved being at your house, even though you kids were enough younger than me that I didn’t have any peers in your family. I have clear memories of you as a small child studiously reading in an overstuffed chair…and your dad having you hold the book further away to help avoid near-sightedness. I remember being home from college and hearing you play the piano so beautifully…you were kind of a prodigy in my mind. I’ve always admired your family and appreciated your dad’s sense of humor. I am so sorry for your loss…and your tribute to her here obviously only scratches the surface but it’s beautifully written.

  3. wendy

    May 6, 2009

    This was beautifully written.

    I’m excited about this “Up Close” idea!

  4. kristine

    May 7, 2009

    thank you for this! I will always agree, as children you take parents for granted. I appreciate my mother in monumental ways that . . . I could have never imagined before having children of my own. I will be borrowing some of your comments for myself if that’s ok with you . . .

  5. Jenny

    May 7, 2009

    I really connected with you at the point in your essay where you mention the fact that your mother hadn’t accomplished anything extraordinary or earth changing.
    I have come to peace, myself, with the fact that the everyday mundane chores of being an attentive mother are what in fact make you special. Any mother would be pleased to hear her child speak in such reverent tones of admiration about her everyday acts of kindness. I’m sorry she’s not perching on the tub with you.

  6. jendoop

    May 7, 2009

    Melissa, Thank you for sharing your mother’s legacy with us. It reminds me of the innumerable acts of service my mother performed for me. Now that I am a mother I perform for those tasks for my children. Being in the middle of the mundane redundancy of it all it can be difficult to remember that the world I create for my children makes all the difference in their eternities.

    Right now our lives are somewhat serene. I know this will not last, that the bitter is bound to come in. The faiths you bulleted at the end of your post are important for me to remember as I prepare for difficult times to come.

  7. mmiles

    May 7, 2009

    Beautiful post.

  8. Ellen

    May 7, 2009

    Hey Melissa — I loved what you wrote. Your mom sounds like a gem.

  9. Courtney

    May 7, 2009

    Loved this. It’s easy to forget how all the little things add up.

  10. Emily M.

    May 7, 2009

    My grandmother died recently, and I remember her in the same way: sometimes it’s hard to single out a specific memory, because all the times she was there run together.

    And I think of my mom the same way… remarkable and extraordinary memories might be there if I dig for them, but I think I will find more of the “she was always there keeping our lives smooth and running” than anything else.

    Now that I’m trying to keep my own home smooth and running (trying being the key word) I am even more in awe of her.

    Thanks for the great post!

  11. Leslie

    May 7, 2009

    That is a beautiful tribute to the powerful lessons embedded in the everyday sacrifice and dedication of a great mother!

  12. smb

    May 8, 2009

    She’s gorgeous (in multiple respects), and this is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this.

  13. Katie B

    May 8, 2009

    It’s beautiful, Melissa. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Sue

    May 8, 2009

    “By small and simple things are great things come to pass.” (Alma 37:6) Clearly, your mother embodied this scripture.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful memories of her with all of us.


  15. annie

    May 8, 2009

    Lovely tribute; your love for her seeps out of every line.

  16. Merry Michelle

    May 8, 2009

    It’s ironic that mothers are so under-valued in the big bad world, when in reality they hold the greatest power of all: just as you so beautifully summarized–“she created our world”. A powerful tribute to a powerful mother. Thank you.

  17. Susanna

    May 10, 2009

    THANK YOU for sharing this beautiful tribute. Every time I go to the temple I think of your mother. You see, she gave me her temple slippers at your uncle Charles’ wedding in Manti. We shared the adjacent locker rooms. She slipped them under the partition as we were changing and thought they would fit me better. I’ve been wearing them ever since. She has also given me a pair of clogs she bought from D.C. Those are my favorite shoes. I wear them everyday. They are reminders of the giving nature of your mother. I miss her too especially at family gatherings like today for Aaron’s homecoming. Her influence lives on in the hearts of those whom she has loved so dearly and deeply. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

  18. Kristin

    May 12, 2009

    This was so beautifully written. I would be so honored if my kids could remember me like you remember your mom. She sounds like a phenomenal person.

  19. janiece

    May 13, 2009

    thanks sweet melissa for so eloquently sharing your mother with us.
    for me, my mother’s love is also like “water that fish swim in”; it is so omnipresent i sometime struggle to classify it. thank you for helping me.

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