Monastic Mom

Lessons from Life's Endings

As a child and a teen, I had an okay relationship with my mother. But during my adult years, I had difficulties being around my mother who hadn't quite learned to let go of me as a child. She was provincial and had fixed ideas of how life should be. I didn't often fit into her mold. It was difficult for me to listen to critics of my life. But living far away helped keep things at bay.

My mother recently died after a slow decline from Alzheimer's. Three years ago her mind was slipping. She couldn't recall words, and would perceive things oddly such as a tree perceived as a statue. Gradually she declined and sometimes would not even know my father, her husband of nearly 60 years. My father bore all this bravely and took each day one at a time. They had an awesome marriage and much love that bore them through the years.

You always hear that Alzheimer's results in memory loss, but I never knew that memory is not the only effect. The brain slowly stops being able to control the muscles. For a while, my mom would take forever to be able to stand and move her feet to walk. Then she started falling and was eventually moved to a nursing home where she was confined to a wheel chair. When she could no longer controls the muscles of her mouth and could not eat, she was hospitalized so a stomach tube could be inserted to feed her. Back at the nursing home, she mainly remained in a morphine daze and slept. About a month later she slipped away one night while my father and brother held her hand.

I live far away from my family and so did not experience most of the decline first hand. Though I did visit and see the decline in leaps and bounds. I was able to visit shortly after she was admitted to a nursing home. On several occasions I sat with her for hours and sang songs, tried to exercise her legs, pushed her up and down the hallway in her wheel chair. It was as if mother and child roles had become reversed. I always thought it would be difficult to do, but I was at peace with her then. I think I learned to love my mom again while there.

Looking back on the lessons I learned from my mom. She had taught me many valuable lessons as a child, many of which inadvertently fed into my becoming Buddhist. She taught me that having lots of money wasn't important, but that volunteering your time to good causes was important. She taught me to work hard, but have good times, too. She had a lot of saying such as "What goes around comes around" a good way to sum up karma! And another favorite of hers was "When it's your time to go, it's your time to go." A lesson in not clinging and accepting life's endings.

It was my mother's time to go, and I am glad it happened sooner rather than later given her quality of life had vanished. Her decline was difficult to take, but has inspired me to take better care of my own self. Her death has given me more of a zeal for living and enjoying life while we have it. So I thank her for all the lessons she has given me and helped me become who I am.

In memory of my Momma

October, 2009

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