Margaret Kwei-On Yuen
(December 21, 1946–June 17, 2017)
My dear mother, Margaret, was born on December 21, 1946, in Hong Kong, to Yuen Chee Yeung (father, born in Kwang Tung, China on 1/16/1913) and Fung Pik Bun (mother, born 8/15/1913) at hospital address 45, Leighton Hill Road, 2nd floor. She had a total of seven
other siblings, two of which died in infancy. Her siblings include: Lun (b. 9/10/1942), Shi (9/16/1944), Shiu Pau (8/25/1949), Siu Lung/Michael (1/25/1956), and Kwai Po/Magdalene (8/12/1952). She spent the first nineteen years of her life in Hong Kong, on Causeway Bay, Tung Kwok Road, Hong Kong. She attended the Catholic boarding school Sacred Heart Canossian College at 36 Caine Road, Hong Kong, during her early years, including years 1957, ‘58, ‘59, for which I found these report cards. Her first language was Cantonese Chinese, but this was an
English-speaking school, giving her some English foundation before she moved to the UK. Mom liked being in the boarding school more than home at times, because her mother could often be mean to her, which she has struggled to understand for the rest of her life. Her father was well-off, and he owned a vacation farm and had a staff of people working at the house, including her caretaker. My mother adored her father, gung-gung (grandfather) to me, and this may be the only vacation where she was alone with her parents, one of her treasured moments.
At nineteen, she traveled to the UK, where her father was to pay for her to attend a very small boarding school in Wales, during or after which time she learned English by living with a family. Her father offered many of her siblings the same opportunity to study abroad. In the summer of 1967, she took an Advance level Classical Chinese course or examination at the University of London, for which she earned the grade of C. In April 1969, she was awarded a Certificate of Completion in the study of IBM System/360 Computer Programming, from the Commercial Programming Unlimited, Inc. Institute of Data Processing. In November 1969, she earned a Certificate of proficiency in Computer Programming from B. I. E. T. Computer Training (15-16 New Burlington Street, London, W.1., 24-32 Kilburn High Road, London, N.W.6.). Angered that Hong Kong citizens were British subjects but not entitled to a British Passport, mom fought a mini-battle and was granted a British Passport on January 14, 1971 as a “British Subject: Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies.”
After a while, she felt that her father couldn’t afford it, and she began working service industry jobs, unauthorized on a student visa, in London and other parts of the UK, including as a waitress in an Indian restaurant, as a nanny, and working as nursing aid.
Years later, she migrated to New York City, where she had an aunt Fung Big Quan (Agnes) and cousin Teresa Tong. Instead of having her HK degree recognized and transferred to the US, she earned a High School Equivalency Diploma from the University of the State of New York Education Department in 1973. On August 22, 1969, she earned a certificate in Practical Infant and Geriatric Care from the Metropolitan School of Infant and Geriatric Care, Licensed by the New York State of Education Department. She spent years in New York, where she worked service jobs, including at the grocery store Gristedes and attended various schools. From September 22, 1971-May 18, 1973 she attended the Collegiate Institute at 501 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022. It was in New York City where she met her lifelong friend and partner Rita Iu, also from Hong Kong.
They decided to attend college together across the country, in the tiny town of Cheney,
Washington, at Eastern Washington State College from September 1973-June 13, 1975, because Rita’s brother Simon was a student at this school. It was here that mom soon met my father, Robert Glenn Thompson (b. 1926, Primrose, Nebraska), who was her professor in a business math course. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration with high honors on Friday, June 13, 1975. On September 17, 1975, my parents were married by R. Franklin Thompson in his home in Tacoma, Washington. My father had been named after this uncle. Robert Franklin Thompson (pictured here with JFK!) was the former president of University of Puget Sound from 1942-1973, where he has a hall named after him.
After my parents married, they moved from my father’s apartment, to a larger one on Garland Avenue, where they were joined with my mother’s sister Magdalene and their brother Michael (pictured in wedding photo). Because of the building’s no children policy, they bought a house at 423
W. York street and moved in August 1977, three months after I was born. It was a nice corner lot house, in an idyllic working class neighborhood, where I road my bike all over the neighborhood, played wall ball, and was a key-latch kid. I attended near-by Garfield Elementary where I would walk alone each day, avoiding the crossing guards. Mom went back to work when I was three months old and I stayed with the babysitter Mrs. Peatrice, whom I called Grandma Peaches. Mom worked in a variety of offices where she sold insurance, real estate, was an accountant at public radio station KPBX, where she met her other lifelong friend, Esther. She met her longtime friend Judy Shapiro at American Sign and Indicator (1976-1977) and introduced Judy to her soon-to-be husband, Howard, an accounting professor at EWU. Judy and Howard were a big part of my early life, and introduced me to cultural events, such as theatre, art museums, and cafes, which my parents weren’t interested in. Mom also worked at a company called Capp Homes, which made housing parts; as well as Waddell & Reed in financial advising. She worked at Metropolitan Mortgage & Security on Sprague Avenue January-September
1978, shortly after I was born in June 1977. Mom was always working in an office, but she also faced a great deal of discrimination based on gender and race, or was otherwise treated poorly, so that she often changed employers. In one story, after speaking with a potential employer on the phone, he invited her in for a face-to-face interview. Upon seeing her face, he asked, “can you speak English enough to conduct business?” Never mind that he didn’t question her English on the telephone. She also owned four houses, two of which were duplexes that she rented out to tenants, on the streets: Standard, Princeton, Dalke, and Queen. These rentals were constantly trashed and she and my father were always going to clean up the messes. I wish I had joined them. Mom was naturalized as a US citizen on June 20, 1980, when I was three years old. My childhood was idyllic and normal, too normal for me, which I was anxious to escape. In my teen years, I would study abroad in Mexico and homeschool instead of attend high school, earning a high school equivalency on my sixteenth birthday, after which I started college at Cornish College of the Arts.
Mom had always been obsessed with the stock market and getting rich, for which she attended many seminars and bought many books and cassettes on “how to get rich quick,” which she studied intently, often making me feel ignored by her single-mindedness focus. The stock market was something that she paid attention to quite a bit, and in her later decades she was obsessed with learning the secrets to stock option trading, to which her book collection would attest. In 1988, she attended Mark O. Haroldsen, Inc.’s “Millionaire Training Retreat” in Salt Lake City (pictured). In 1993, she attended Money Concept’s summer congress for a certificate as an Accredited Financial Planner, in Vail, Colorado. She attended many others.
My parents’ divorce was finalized on February 18, 1993, after eighteen years of marriage. Dad remained in the house and I stayed with him on and off, while I attended Spokane Falls Community College for an AA degree in 1995, and then EWU when I was 18-19, earning my BA in Government in 1997. I briefly attended University of Washington in Seattle and quickly dropped out. I left for San Diego State University to pursue my MA in Women’s Studies, which I earned in 1999. I then moved to New York City in 2000. He eventually sold the house in 2002.
Mom reunited with her friend Rita Iu, who was now living in San Jose, California. They lived there from around 1992-1996. Mom worked at Progressive Car insurance on Steven’s Creek Road for two years. They then sold Rita’s condo and bought a house in Reno on Cheshire Court, where they lived for about four years, from 1996-2000. They both worked together at the AT&T Wireless Call Center for nearly two years. They moved to Las Vegas, where they rented an apartment for a year as their custom home was being built on Starlight Evening Street in 2003. They worked for First Source Insurance, and other companies, including their own they called Margarita Team, in the mortgage industry while Las Vegas was experiencing its momentous growth in the housing market, for quite a few years. They bought a second house on Elberton Avenue right before the market tanked, and they were stuck holding mortgages on both houses. Rita’s brother bought one of the houses, and the other was lost to the banks. Once they lost their house, Rita moved in with her sister Georgiana, who had purchased the house next door, and mom moved in with her co-worker Dave and his wife in their McMansion, with whom she lived for several years as she began to put her life back together financially.
On March 1, 2013 mom moved into the Santa Barbara Palms retirement apartments by herself, and this was the first place where she had ever lived alone in her lifetime. Mom and I had becoming closer and closer in our relationship and began traveling together. She would stay with me for extended periods of time when I lived in north Texas and Albany. We shared interests, like nutrition, whole foods, and social justice. We made cooking videos together:
And she talked about her cancer and her desire to cure herself with whole foods in another video:
She was also quite religious during this latter part of her lifetime, first as a Catholic, and then as an exploring Christian, never quite able to find a church that she could call home, welcoming her. She loved working with homeless populations and would volunteer to do those related activities at churches. She was compassionate, sensitive, caring, giving, self-less and loving. She was often disappointed by the lack of such emotions in those she would encounter in churches. She was also quite religious during this latter part of her lifetime, first as a Catholic, and then as an exploring Christian, never quite able to find a church that she could call home, welcoming her. She loved working with homeless populations and would volunteer to do those related activities at churches. She was compassionate, sensitive, caring, giving, self-less and loving. She was often disappointed by the lack of such emotions in those she would encounter in churches.
In September 2013, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, not long after moving into the building, where she was quite social, and spent time with many of her neighbors, and attended social events offered by the community. I visited mom as often as I could from my teaching job in Albany, New York. I went with her for her first chemo treatments, and several more of the twelve total treatments she endured. She hated it. She lost her hair, felt weak, couldn’t eat, and wanted to die. Her weight went lower and lower, to 75, 70, even 67 pounds on her 4’10 frame. Even after the horrors of chemo, which subsequent doctors admit were probably too many treatments, she endured radiation for 25 treatments over five weeks, by a doctor that was pushy and unethical. He offered to drive her himself and said, “It’s only a half hour of your day.” We should have sued him; but mom didn’t want the stress. She hated this and again was miserable. After enduring the 25 treatments, the doctor wanted her to continue endlessly, until he had taken all of her money and her life. She quit and swore off poison treatments. Doctors would berate her, yell at her, slam the door in her face, and scream, “if you do not obey me, you will die right away!” None of them respected her right to make her own choice as how to live her life.
During her cancer treatment and afterwards, mom was very involved with attending classes in crafts and exercise at The Caring Place, an organization dedicated to providing free activities and support to people suffering from cancer. If you are interested in donating to a cause mom believed in, this would be the place. The local news did a story about their craft classes, and mom was shy, but excited to be included in the video:
One of her last goals was to see the Holy Land Experience park in Orlando for her 70th birthday, and I was lucky enough to take her on this trip. On her birthday, she was sick, and could barely get out of bed, but she forced herself to go.
On one of our last trips, we drove from Las Vegas, through California, Oregon, to Washington, where my parents saw each other in December 2015 for the last time:
We were looking forward to our next big trip together, to Costa Rica in July 2017, for which she renewed her passport and held onto the dream.
In May 2017, I just began my eight months of world travel, combining my summer vacation and my fall semester sabbatical. I would travel South America, take Spanish classes, write, conduct research, and be a tourist. I first headed to Lima, Peru for two
weeks. Then to Buenos Aires for a few days, before my month-long stay in Montevideo, Uruguay, where I would take a month-long Spanish course. However, it was after one day in Buenos Aires, the night before Mother’s Day, when mom was admitted to the Mountain View Hospital in Las Vegas, after having a very painful sensation in her abdomen. They wanted to do emergency surgery. I didn’t receive the messages until a full eight hours after they were sent, when I woke in the morning, to my horror. I jumped out of bed and began calling, the doctor, Rita, mom, and dad. Surly any surgery would kill my weaken mom of 67 pounds, and why put her through such a degrading process, from which recovery would be nearly impossible? Luckily, the next surgeon on duty said to wait and watch, and the surgery was avoided. I jumped on a plane from Buenos Aires to Houston to Las Vegas that very night, and was a nervous wreck wondering if they would kill my mother before I arrived.
But I arrived and she was awake and alert, immediately putting me to work on getting her business issues in order. She had me running errands, collecting things, returning things to stores, making calls, and making arrangements. After two days in the hospital, she was moved to Nathan Adelson Hospice in the same building on May 15th, where she would spend the next three weeks. I was by her side 24/7, sleeping on an air mattress in the room. Mom couldn’t walk, turn over, or even use her arms to feed herself. She could push her call button most of the time. I fed her, held her hand, kept her company, talked with her, and did whatever she asked. I kept a daily hospice journal and took daily pictures. I videotaped her talking about some of her thoughts. Rita visited often, every few days. Some of the neighbors and friends would come by. My good friend Bill visited for several days from San Diego. My Australian co-author John sent flowers and birthday gifts that brightened the room. Mom was holding out to make it to my 40th birthday on June 3rd. For days before, she would wake up and ask, “Is it your birthday yet? Let’s eat cake.” She sang me happy birthday and I got a short, heartbreaking video of it. Mom could barely eat or drink for the entire month, she would take small bites of a meal, maybe one or three. She would take one sip of a drink, cranberry juice or Burdock root tea. But when I bought coconut water from the downstairs store, she was able to drink up a lot more of that, so soon that is what I was offering her mostly, and I feel that coconut water really brought her back to life. While the first week was very difficult and she nearly died, the next three weeks showed marked improvement. She said, “God spared me.” She started making plans for the future, she wanted to move into an apartment in Henderson—with me. Only once did the staff prop her up to sit on the edge of bed after she insisted. Soon, she was insisting on moving home, and on June 8th, we did make that move.
Back at home, I would be the 24/7 caretaker, though I had slept little in the last three weeks. I had watched the nurses and CNA’s work, but now would be doing it myself. The nurse would visit once a week or as needed, and the CNA’s would visit three times a week. I would be responsible for feeding, changing her positions, attending to her needs, and letting the neighbors in for their visits and offerings of food. We were able to maneuver mom into a wheelchair about three or four times. In one of her last days, I actually dressed her in real clothes for the first time in a month, got her into the wheelchair, fed her some fresh juice, and we went outside for the first time in a month. We took pictures by the pool. It was a good day. It was the last good day. The next two days she slept and did not wake up. After the first day, I spoke sternly to her, “Wake up, you need to drink some water, have a few bites of food.” She woke up, “Okay,” she agreed. I gave her some coconut water and a few bites of mango gelato, her main sustenance. “I want red bean ice cream,” she requested. She ate half of the red bean mochi. But then her gurgling breathing came back for quite a few hours, scaring me.
The next day, she never woke up again. Longtime hairdresser and friend Christine visited and gave both me and neighbor Gloria haircuts. My good friend Anita visited during the day. Other neighbors came and held a vigil: Gloria, Cecile, Larry, and Ruby. Mom was fading. Her breathing sounded good, no more gurgling, but it was faint. The time was getting near. Eventually the neighbors returned home, but I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping this night. The nurse came. The last neighbor, Cecile, returned home, so I was left with the nurse. But my good friend Anita surprised me by returning around 11pm. It meant the world to me, I couldn’t have been more touched by any act of kindness and consideration. I hadn’t even thought to ask her back, knowing I saw her this afternoon and would see her again on Sunday. Anita and I sat and held mom’s hands as we watched her breath become more and more faint. The nurse left, but a CNA, Robin was on her way. Around 12:17am on Friday, July 17th, I said to Anita, “I can’t tell if she’s breathing anymore.” Soon after, Robin showed up and a few minutes later the nurse returned to pronounce mom dead at 12:30am. I could finally climb into the bed and cuddle up with her, knowing I wouldn’t be hurting her anymore. I couldn’t have planned the moment better: with my good friend by my side, knowing that the time was coming, and having her simply fade off quietly. I called dad, sent messages to close family and friends. Anita and Robin stayed with me as long as I needed. And then I finally got some sleep before the neighbors came the next day to attend to my emotional needs. Mom was cremated and placed at Davis Memorial Park on Eastern, across from the airport.
I was tasked with clearing out mom’s apartment of her belongings, while visited and comforted by the neighbors in the building, during this most difficult time of my life. I have never experienced such an enormous loss before, and am devastated to lose the person closest to me in my life, the one who showed me the most unconditional love and support I could imagine. We had so many plans of future travel together, so many dreams. I never was able to go to Hong Kong with my mother, one of my biggest regrets. But now there are other family members to go with, who grew up in the same house as she did and could take me to the grave of my grandparents, if only they would make the effort, so meaningful to me.
Now, my life goes on, into this period of raw grief, overcome with emotions, loss, and love. I am so grateful that the surgery was avoided, that mom and I had one more beautiful month together where she was able to express her needs and wants clearly, and that I was by her side. I am grateful that I was aware of the moment when she was dying, and was alert and next to her, and that it was peaceful. All month in hospice, I was terrified of how the moment would come to pass and where I would be, as it was so important to me to be there, to be present and aware. But now I have a loss in my life that I must learn to live with and will not be the same person I was before this journey. Well-meaning people who have not had this experience continue to say cliché comforts that are anything but comforting, which are, in fact, infuriating. Hearing others’ stories of loss and grief is helpful to me at this time, realizing that I am not alone in this experience and that it is a universal experience that most will endure. I am not a religious person, I am a rabid atheist, and the religiosity of this end of life experience has overwhelmed me in a negative way. While mom found comfort in religion, and I supported her beliefs in any way I could, I do not find such comfort, and have been appalled at how some religious people have used this moment of my vulnerability to shame me into believing in their religion, and their god. They have forced their prayers on me and I do not want them. Do not pray for me, it pisses me off, truly. How does one comfort an atheist during the end of life experience? Listening, sharing stories, spending quality time together, being present, and not forcing comfort or avoiding the sadness and grief necessary to heal. During this time, I need to cry, endlessly. I didn’t know I could cry so much, feel so much loss. But I intend to take this experience and grow from it positively, to be the better person that mom wants me to be in the future, in honor of her memory. To never see my sweet mom again is devastating. I have to envision a different future life, one without the physical presence of the most important woman in the world to me. I love mom more than I ever have, miss her more than ever, and now I know what she means to me and my life. I love you forever, mom.
To honor mom, be good to others, give to them, and take time for them. Help someone out by offering them a ride to the store or the assistance that they need. Check in on your neighbors. Be compassionate, thoughtful. Strengthen and give time to the positive relationships in your life. Give money to homeless people on the streets. Make a donation to The Caring Place. Visit mom at Davis Memorial Park on Eastern Avenue in Las Vegas. And share your time, memories, and comfort with me, as I am looking for dear friends with whom to travel the world.