It’s been a couple months since I posted my last Mindful Musing—months filled with poignant life events, churning emotions, and deep family love. There were sad and painful moments, hours, days to be sure, but on the whole, those two months overflowed with living. Such was my experience with death.
Anyone who has cared (or is caring) for aged parents, grandparents, or someone suffering from a deteriorating illness like Alzheimer’s or metastasized Cancer will have an appreciation for these last couple of months.
My mother had lived a long life, ninety-one years of it, but was running out of steam. The Alzheimer’s was muddling her mind while Cancer ate through bones and organs on the right side of her frail little body. It was painful to watch, and yet we enjoyed some of our most profound conversations as she entered the final stretch. Between hugs and cuddling and laughter, she would make stunning statements about her life and nature that dropped my jaw with wonder at her honest assessments—wisdom, it seemed, did not depend upon mental acuity.
During her decline, I was able to visit often—enjoying my parent’s company, providing comfort, helping with doctors and such. What a blessing it was to have the freedom to hop in a car and be there on a moments notice. And to want to! We endured some hard years, my mother and I, but our last few decades brought us closer than ever. How could I not feel joy?
Emergency calls happened numerous times since the beginning of the year, most from my befuddled, frightened mother telling me Dad was in the hospital, yet again. But in July, the call came from Dad. Stoic Ma, who mistrusted Western medicine and feared hospitals, had requested an ambulance. When I entered her room, four hours later, her eyes widen with surprise, her mouth tremble, and her fingers reached for mine. “Oh Tori, thank God for you!” So began my fifty-hour vigil.
Alzheimer’s can whip fear to paranoia and frustration to rage faster than a California fire in high winds. My mission, even more than engaging and assisting caregivers or monitoring Ma’s pain and needs, was to keep those sparks from igniting. So as my ninety-year-old father went home to sleep, I stayed. Her first night passed in the comfort of morphine, the next night in heartbreaking suffering. Through it all, my father, sister, and I comforted Ma and each other and wrestled with the endless hit-or-miss decisions.
On the second morning, my sister sent me to her hotel to sleep, shower, and eat. They would watch over Ma during the day while I rested for another bedside vigil. If I had known she wouldn’t last, I never would have left.
I had stopped at the grocery store to buy orchids—one for Ma and one for the nursing station with a card thanking every doctor and nurse by name. I was delivering this gift when my mother died. At first, I was stricken. Then I realized she would have approved. Bow Kam (Ching) Brenno was a courteous woman. She would have been pleased to know I had properly thanked her caregivers.
The days and weeks that followed were filled with grief, joy, laughter, love, family bonding, and doubt… so much doubt. My mind flooded with all the wrong turns and unfortunate decisions I had made or advised others to make that prolonged my mother’s suffering. Such is the problem with hit-or-miss situations: too many times we miss.
I found comfort in family, friends, and helping others—a proven remedy for pulling one’s self from negative emotions.
I found comfort in acknowledging and accepting my misdirected thoughts, words, and actions—honest assessment and acceptance of one’s human imperfection is tremendously healing.
I found comfort in discipline—with writing, chores, and fitness.
Eventually the tears stopped, the sleep returned, and my decision-making improved. Doubt and sadness dissipated. I felt more like my familiar self. But through it all, I still managed to laugh and play and work. I traveled and wrote. I bonded with my sisters. I cared for my Dad and was cared for in return as all the men in my life—my husband, my sons, and my Dad—showered me with love when I needed it most.
My life in the last two months has felt so full— meaningful, purposeful, merciful, bountiful… So many blessings. So much growth. Like this lovely orchid I bought for Ma. It only had three blossoms. Look at it now!