Her decline has been rapid, to say the least, and we are now caring for her full time. I feel I need to make a formal apology to all my friends and all those out there that have been through this as I had no idea how deeply devastating it is.
I have had a strained relationship with my mother since the day I was born but all of that pales in to insignificance when life brings us to this point. In her fragility I have come to understand the depths of who she is as a person and why she behaved the way she did. This has been liberating for both of us.
My mother is of Thai heritage and spent her formative years, from three to five years old, in Changi women’s prison with my grandma. Upon returning to Thailand she was brutalized by her grandmother and by the age of 11 she was blamed for the death of her sister and sent, by boat, to a boarding school run by nuns in Western Australia. Unable to speak the language and with no family to support her, I cannot imagine how difficult this was. Compounding this was her family’s refusal to have any contact with her for several years. Needless to say, by the time she hit adulthood she was a highly anxious person.
Given her lack of role modeling she did an incredible job as a mother. For me, there was the ongoing issue of being a daughter to an Asian mother. Only those who have experienced this can truly understand what I am referring to. My daughters received a similar treatment from mum with the grandsons being the prized possessions. By this time I had a better understanding of this trend and I did the best to protect them and find a way to laugh at the insanity of it. As I have grown a little wiser, I no longer hold my mother responsible for this as it is deeply embedded in her culture.
As many of you know, I have spent much of my time caring for children over the past 20 years. My reasoning behind this is that I don’t think anyone should go through life without being deeply nurtured at some point. It is critical for a life well lived. When looking back across mum’s life, I came to realise that she, like many of the children I had cared for, had not received this nurturing. When she became ill I didn’t know whether I could provide such care; whether I was capable of putting my own petty issues aside. Never, in my wildest dreams did I think I would come to know what I do now.
As my mother has returned to a child-like, dependent state I have become as protective and nurturing of her as I would one of my own children. I know I am not alone when I reflect upon this as I have spoken to many who relate. In exactly the same way I responded to a new born, I wake when she makes noise, I look over her tentatively when she sleeps, I listen to her breathing and tend to her every need. The most startling and harrowing, however, is the sense of helplessness felt when she cries in pain or sobs quietly in fear of dying and leaving her children behind. There are no words to adequately describe this as it has to be experienced to be truly understood.
In a society where, I believe, we don’t do grief well I am stunned at how little we talk about this inevitable part of life. I must confess my own guilt at having underestimated the journey some of my dearest friends have been through when losing one or both of their parents. Like many of us, I have simply accepted it as a part of life, which it is. In doing so, however, I have failed to recognise that it is possibly one of the most difficult parts of life and, therefore, I haven’t acknowledged the depth of their grief.
It is an experience that binds us together as a race of people; one of the few that we are all privy to at some stage. I have a sense that our response to this time goes a long way in shaping our memory of the person we hold so dear. I am sure there are many out there who have gone through the mad scramble of piecing together a life while there is still time. I find myself frantically jotting down stories, seeking information I previously thought irrelevant and most importantly, writing down treasured family recipes from my ancestry.
As I lay in bed last night staring at this person who has given me life, I felt incredibly blessed. To have known such a wonderful woman, to have been a part of her incredible journey and to be able to show her the gratitude through love that she so deserves. More than anything, I am grateful for the freedom that forgiveness has granted me and the memories it will now reward us both.