19 Nov Momma Chan: My Biggest Inspiration
They say the hardest thing for a parent is to lose a child…I think the hardest thing for a child is to lose a parent. This will be the first Thanksgiving without my mom. She never had a proper funeral due to Covid, so I thought I’d share a little bit about her to celebrate her life and legacy.
At five feet, 90 pounds, she was a petite powerhouse and fighter from the very beginning. She was diagnosed with polio as a child in Hong Kong before a vaccine existed. She told me a story about her mom taking her to the roof of their home and remembered her mom saying, “Be quiet or they will take you away.” “They” being the Chinese Government. Thankfully, they never came back after that scary day. Although one leg was half-an-inch shorter than the other, she worked hard to cover up a slight limp so that no one really knew about the impact of the disease on her body.
At 15 years old, she persuaded her parents to send her to Immaculate Heart, a Catholic boarding school across the world in Los Angeles. She never returned to Hong Kong; instead, she graduated from UCLA with a BA in Design. She became a founding member of the Los Angeles Chapter of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) and started her own design business in her late 20s. It became successful enough to support sending her three children to private schools from kindergarten to 12th grade.
As a child, I remember my mom working around the clock—sketching plans, stopping by paint stores and marble yards, and constantly picking up fabric samples from the PDC (Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood). I grew up surrounded by construction and beautiful homes. When I was a teenager, she stopped taking outside clients and started working for herself, building custom homes in the Hollywood Hills. She had a knack for finding the worst homes on the best streets and transforming them. My mom was a master at tearing down dilapidated homes and rebuilding masterpieces that would make you say “wow” when you walked through the front door. She always said, “I just want to leave things more beautiful than the way I found them.”
She also had a gift when it came to throwing epic parties. Whether it was a Christmas party or birthday party, it didn’t matter the occasion, the woman went all out with big showcase productions and activities for guests back when that wasn’t really common. She would carry her vision out to the most on-theme detail, like a dessert bar featuring Drink Me and Eat Me cookies at the most recent party she threw for my Alice in Wonderland birthday. Guests were immersed in the experience and she reveled in it.
She lived by the motto, “Go big or go home,” and “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” She always said, “If you work hard, you can play hard” and “Presentation is everything.”
When my dad got sick with ALS, her strength was tested once again and she threw her heart and soul into making his last couple of years as comfortable as possible. She always remained positive during grim times and as his body began to crumble, she made sure he knew he was loved. Even after he became wheelchair-bound, she planned trips to Australia, Germany, and Budapest so he could travel and see a few more F1 races…two things he loved. After he passed, she grieved and continued to travel and she would place small stars with his name on them at various spots around the world where she knew he would love to be.
When my dog, Shanti, was diagnosed with lung cancer, she cared for her tirelessly around the clock so I could work. A few months after we said goodbye to Shanti, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The first thing she said was, “Thank goodness I didn’t get this before Tom and Shanti, I wouldn’t have been able to take care of them.” That was my mom…always looking to care for others before caring for herself.
At the time of her diagnosis, she was finishing up her first year of graduate school at USC. At almost 70 years old, my mom went back to school to get a Masters Degree in Integrated Design, Business and Technology. She said, “I’m not only older than the students, I’m older than the teachers!” Between cancer treatments, she studied and finished her projects early, knowing she would be floored for a week after being injected with the medication that was supposed to kill the cancer. Also, while undergoing treatment, she told my brother, Cory, and I, “we are going to go on two trips, Monaco and Singapore, to watch F1.”
The three of us took those two trips and while she never made it to the actual races while we were there (she felt too sick), she would light up when Cory and I returned to the room, smiling as she listened to us talk about the race.
She was a bright light even during those dark days. In the end, the only thing she complained about was not having enough time to do everything she wanted to do. “Wasting my time should be a crime.,” she would say, and, “I don’t have time for difficult people. All I want is comfort and no hassles.”
I learned so much from this woman. During her struggles, I saw her strength and learned that you can do anything you set your mind to do. She was the ultimate role model, disruptor, and visionary. She contributed so much to the this world and I pray I can continue her legacy and leave the world a little bit more beautiful than the way I found it.
I encourage everyone to celebrate the people you love while they are still living…tomorrow is not guaranteed.