The pandemic is in every conversation. It affects the elderly, students, workers, health professionals and also people living abroad. Missionaries know this world of expatriates well, as they are part of it. Many expatriates, depending on their financial resources and the proximity of their country of origin, used to return home regularly. While in the 1950s missionaries returned home every five or ten years, today they return every year, or every two or three years, depending on the rules of their community. At the beginning of my mission in Vietnam, in 2007, I used to return home every two years. I liked this rhythm, enjoying my summer holidays in Vietnam every two years and the other summer in Belgium with my parents. Five years ago, I was appointed novice master and started going home every year.
Three years ago my mother was diagnosed with a lung tumour. Gradually, she became weaker. At Summer 2019, I took a month's holiday at home. I went on a few small outings with my mother, including a visit to the Royal Greenhouses in bloom. I left my parents at the end of my holiday with a heavy heart, thinking that I would never see my mother again. One morning in November 2019, I received an emergency call from my family. My mother was in a coma. 24 hours later, I was in her hospital room, listening to her irregular breathing. However, two days later, thanks to the medication, my mother was much better. I then spent three beautiful weeks between hospital and home, living in deep intimacy with my mother, and also looking after my father. However, my job as a formator in Vietnam was waiting for me and I had to say goodbye and shed tears again. For a year I called regularly, but gradually the phone conversations became shorter and shorter. My mother was exhausted. She finally died on 9 January 2021, a few hours after falling into a coma.
I had known for a long time that, with the airspace closed, it would not be possible for me to return from Vietnam to say goodbye to my mother and celebrate her funeral. In my missionary life, I had already been absent from the funerals of my grandfather (I was in China) and my two grandmothers (I was studying in Portugal). When my mother passed away, despite the distance, I actually experienced a very emotional and beautiful week of mourning. Although I was far from home, I received many messages of friendship by e-mail, by FB or by phone. In community, my novices immediately suggested me to print a beautiful picture of my mother and place it in the chapel with flowers and incense. We prayed every day for my mother's rest and for my family. I also wrote three homilies for my mother. One of them was the homily at Mom's funeral, which was videotaped for my family members. I also celebrated two memorial masses for her, one in Vietnamese and one in French, with many friends in attendance. I had my family on the phone throughout the week of mourning and they, in turn, recorded the video of the funeral which I was able to see on the web.
More than anything, what makes me happy today is knowing that my mother is following my mission in Vietnam from heaven. She now knows all the details, the joys and sorrows. The only thing that saddens me is that I cannot accompany my father in his mourning. Today I feel at peace and, although the physical presence of our family is essential, the most important thing, in the end, is the love we have for them and they have for us. All those moments spent with Mum over 48 years (nine months of which were spent in the warmth...) will always remain in my memory. I will end with an anecdote. Two years ago, when my mother was already ill, I said to her: "I am sad, you are ill and instead of staying in Belgium, I am leaving". She answered: "I am happy, you are a missionary and it is your duty to continue your mission". So, Mother, have a good mission in heaven from now on!