In the quiet of the butterflies, I feel my mother

My dear sweet friend,

I have so much to be grateful for.  This past week was filled with butterflies.  Everywhere I looked I could see them flying north, like tiny stars twinkling in the middle of the day in the bright sun.  They were just beautiful and so quiet in their journey!  There was no noise, just the flitter of their wings, as they made their way to their new home.

And of course I thought about my mom.  How she loved caring for her flowers, listening to the birds, and watching for the quiet landing of a butterfly.

I thought about how quiet and peaceful she was during her final years with us as she made her way to her new home.

It’s moments like these – these unexpected reminders that she’s still with me, in all her beauty – that give me such joy and gratitude.

Sharing the personal loss of someone you love

Dear sweet friend,

I received a beautiful call from my son yesterday.  He was calling to let me know he was thinking about me….that he had just realized that I had lost my mom.  In his personal grief, he was immersed in missing his grandma, and thinking about how grandpa must be so sad…that he was making the effort to check in with grandpa but hadn’t zoomed into the fact that I must have been hurting too.  So immersed in his emotion, he didn’t realize until two weeks had passed that I had lost my mom and how sad he would be if he had lost me.

I love how open and honest Tai is.  He went on to share that he always associates me as the one who is there caring for his grandma and grandpa, and that my central role during this past month, has been to care for grandpa’s state of despair.  Our defined roles in relation to our selves is how we often experience the world.  It’s when we can step into the other person’s shoes that we have a true sense of the whole experience because their relation to the situation or the person is very different from your own.

As I sit here experiencing the waves of emotions, my feelings of sadness and gratitude weave in and out of me.  There are many moments that I get so wrapped up in feeling the pain of my father, that I forget to acknowledge the pain of my loss too – the special relationship I had with my mom, just the two of us.  Sometimes I feel like I’m underwater searching for air, and every time I come up for a peek, a wave hits me and I’m down on the bottom again thinking about the pain my father must be experiencing.

After I hung up with Tai, for the first time in a long time, I actually wanted to pick up the phone and talk to my mom about what’s been brewing inside me – something I never did, because the relationship I shared with my mom was that of successes shared, not of broken times.

She wouldn’t have been proud of me if I shared any failures, and I wanted her to be proud of me so I could be loved.  And that’s a story for another time.

 

The Language of the Heart

Dear sweet friend,

There were so many incredible moments during the weeks we spent as a family while my mom transitioned.  These moments were filled with lessons from above that moved me and my siblings to a greater understanding of my mom and dad.

They grew up in China, and only knew people of Chinese background.  They also had come to learn that America was a land of opportunity.  When they arrived in America in 1949, both the Chinese and African Americans, along with other minority groups were not well regarded, nor treated with respect.  They only knew what they had been exposed to and to fear the unknown.  They wanted to more like the ‘successful’ Americans, and not like the ones who were being mistreated.

They had never been exposed to African Americans and so I can understand now how they had developed a mistrust and judgement of them as a people, but at the time I could not understand why my parents didn’t like blacks – Hay-zens, my parents would call them.

They tried to hide their prejudices by hiring our first and only babysitter – a thin, elderly black woman named Mary Washington.  I loved her.  She would listen to me practice my piano everyday at 4 pm.  She’d stop all her work, and sit and listen.  And when I was finished, she’d let me sit on her lap and she’d hold me.  Looking back, I understand why my mom and dad had hired her.  My mom was a chemist at a local hospital, and my father was just starting off at his first job as draftsman at a reputable local architecture firm.  Money was tight, and they could afford to pay an elderly black woman.  In their act of being frugal, they taught me as a little girl, to trust and love everyone, no matter their color.

But their prejudice against blacks became obvious when my niece chose to marry a black man and she was expecting a baby.  My father cried, “I’m going to have a black grandchild…!  What are we going to do?”

“you’re going to love her, dad,”  I would tell him.

Our very first hospice nurse was a black woman named Diane.  She was kind, quiet and loving.  But my father would have nothing to do with her.  He wouldn’t allow her to touch my mom.  As much as we tried to reason with him, he refused her care.  The next nurse they sent was another beautiful black woman.  And our spiritual counselor sent from hospice was a tall, soft spoken, wise black man.  My father had no choice.  He listened and learned and over the course of just a few days, he changed.  He began to see the beauty and love that he was to learn from people who only wanted the best for our family as my mom made her transition to another place.

And my mom got to feel the loving care her hospice team provided.  These angels were of all different colors, but of the same beautiful heart, and they all spoke the same language – the language of love and kindness.

Sunrise, Sunset

Dear sweet friend,

We made our weekly visit to my dad’s village in Northridge, where I teach meditation to a bunch of 90 some year olds.  I love these friends of my father and mother.  I treasure every moment I can with them.  They are filled with wisdom, stories, and experiences and as I get to know each of them, I’ve come to understand why I like to read multiple books at a time.  Each one of them is like a book.  Each has a story s/he to share….they just want to share that story with someone – someone who will listen.  And I love to listen.

The letter of the week was ‘S’ and my father chose to share about the word ‘sad’.  He said he felt guilty that his wife was no longer with us.  And that his children had made her leave the hospital without her feeding tube.  This, of course, was not true, but this was his perspective.  If he chooses to blame his children so he doesn’t have to believe that it was her decision to go home without the tube, so be it.  The thought that he wants to blame his children hurts, but I can also choose not to let it hurt me.  Instead I can try and understand his pain, and how it must feel to know that your wife chose not to keep on living.  As much as she loved him, she chose to stop running the marathon – she chose to rest and stop pleasing him, she chose to no longer be in pain.  Bless her heart.

The session closed with him playing ‘Sunrise, Sunset” on his harmonica- his way of expressing his emotions.  We sat there drenched in tears listening to his pain, and his acceptance that life does go on with her spirit by our side.

Dear sweet friend,

I’m making some time for myself – sleeping in my own bed, back to my routine of yoga and meditation first thing in the morning, cooking in my kitchen and gardening in my yard.  I’m starting to surface and find the air I’ve been missing.

The month of February just flew by, beginning with Feb. 1, taking my mom into the doctor’s office due to her rapid, raspy breathing, only to discover that her heart was racing at 167.  My poor mom had been running a marathon all this time, trying her best to be there for my dad, who just could not see what life would be like without her.

“You can’t leave me, mommy!  Please!,”  he begged,

as she lay there hooked up to machines.   I could feel her slipping away so I asked her to squeeze my hand if she wanted to go home without any tubes.  She squeezed just as hard as her little body could.

The palliative care doctor told us that it would be a matter of a few days, but he didn’t know my mom.  She stayed with us without any tubes or machines for 16 more days, allowing us to gather around her everyday to sing, play music, share stories, cry, laugh and express our gratitude.  Odin was scheduled to visit Feb. 16th, so she hung on.  She was a woman of strength, determination, and love.

yes, my father was a wreck.  We tried our best to have him focus on telling her stories, playing his harmonica and singing to her, and when he did, you could see his love for her.  But when he wasn’t in the mood to share, he was in a place of fear, begging her not to leave.

They had known each other for nearly 70 years, and I guess if you only know life with someone in it, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like without her.  Even though he could see the pain she was in, he just refused to let her go.

I tried to prepare him for the inevitable.  We all did.  The spiritual counselor, Earl, had seen this before, but nothing this severe.

“You’re giving up!  Stop talking like that!  she’s permanent!!!!,” he yelled, walking away, hitting the air as he did.  He’d never heard someone believe that a person could be ‘permanent’.

Denial is a powerful force that keeps our hearts from opening and experiencing the truth.  Perhaps it’s our way of staying in control.  It allows us to keep living the dream, telling ourselves the story we want to believe.  In the end, when the truth can no longer be blocked, the lie we kept wanting to be reality, finally dissolves.

Acceptance is a beautiful place where we no longer have to be tortured.  Acceptance brings us peace and serenity.  It is here that we are finally aligned with the universe – that which is just as it is.

 

Transitions

Dear sweet friend,

We can think we’re prepared, for whatever the event may be, but until you actually experience it, one never knows.

My mom was beautiful.  She taught me many lessons.  Some positive, and some not so positive.  Her lesson of love and listening the last ten years of her life were profound and everlasting, and for this I am so very grateful.

Her choice to leave the hospital and all the wires and tubes and beeps, gave my siblings and me, time with my father to sit with her in peace as she transitioned to the other world.  We sang songs, listened to stories, shared memories, and told her how much we loved her and thanked her for all she shared with us.  She heard it all, and at times would be able to open her eyes or raise her eyebrows.

I’m still processing it all, and find my head underwater as I walk robotically through my day.   My hearing became muffled on the day I took her to the hospital for her high heart rate.  The voices around me became muted much the way I remember the sounds as a little girl playing tea party on the bottom of the pool.  I can imagine what people are saying, but the clarity isn’t there.  Perhaps it’s from the many years of trying to understand my mother, who began to lose her ability to talk 8 years ago, and it’s my mind’s way of holding onto the memory of her beautiful ability to listen and her heroic efforts to communicate.

Thank you for your patience as I find my way, dear friend.  You are so kind.  I am so grateful for all the support you have given me throughout the years as I tried my best to enjoy every possible moment I could while she was still here.  She will be with us, in our hearts, always.

 

 

 

Entering the Quiet Where There is No Pain

It was early saturday morning, two days after Valentine’s day.  Her spirit came and visited Odin while he slept – Ren and I could hear him talking to her.  Then she went to visit my father.  He said he woke up and could hear her beckoning him to come take her wedding ring.  He got out of bed at 4 am and went to her side.  There he held her hand, and proceeded to look at her wedding ring while measuring her oxygen – this is a habit he had come to do regularly over the past week, at least twenty times a day.  A small device is placed on the index finger and it reads the person’s oxygen level and blood pressure.  Anything over 90 my father had come to sigh with relief.  Over the past few days she had been hovering just over 70 and my father would be in a panic, but the nurses would tell us that this was a sign of her preparing to leave.  So when the device read 88, at 4:25 am, my father was ecstatic.  She wasn’t going to leave us after all, my father had convinced himself.

But double 8’s is also a very lucky number in the Chinese culture because 8 means good luck, which means two 8’s is double the good luck!  He smiled and began looking at photos of them together that he had put in his phone.  The hospice nurse could tell something wasn’t right, and stood on the other side of her and took her pulse.

While in his dream world reliving his past with the only love of his life, the nurse told him the news, “She has gone to heaven.”

My father’s wail of despair broke the early morning quiet as the lights throughout the house came on one room at a time.