2013년 6월 20일 목요일
Wherever She May Be
It's been over seven weeks since mom passed away. In the past ten years or so she had tons of health problems that made her life miserable in all kinds of ways, especially last winter and spring. But she willed through a few serious crises and when she finally got home after the three-month tribulation in the hospital at the end of February, it was a great relief. We'd all thought she made a huge turn and therefore was going to be with us for some more time yet. She spent two full months at home, wobbly and fragile but no longer bed-ridden. She had a healthy appetite, and even her complaints were becoming as energetic as before. But going is always unexpected, I suppose. When I arrived at the ER she was already unconscious, and my brother who'd taken her to the ER told me that she had had a fall in the house. It was the brain damages--the doctors could not tell whether the fall caused the hemorrhage or an aneurysm caused the fall. No matter. The ER doctors showed us brain scan photos and told us that she was not likely to regain consciousness, and she did leave us that very night, only about 6 hours after coming to the hospital.
When her recovery seemed almost unlikely back in January, my sister and I worried so much about how to take care of her. For a time, her weakened physical condition affected her mental capacity so severely that we believed her lucidity gone for good, although the doctors repeatedly told us that they believed her dementia was temporary. Even with an around-the-clock medical aide, she was more than a handful, and we wondered whether we would have to put her in a special-care home when her surgical scars finally healed, for the university hospital was surely not going to house her then. But to our great surprise she did regain lucidity and control just enough to be able to live at home with the help of the live-in medical aide.
When she suffered the massive cerebral damage with the fall, she did not hang on for long. The slim chance of her recovery would have only meant permanent disability and paralysis, which we know happen to some families. She left in a hurry, as if refusing to be reduced to that state that she herself had feared so much, as if she had known our fears as well. I was let into the ICU, when the nurse told me she had only about half an hour in this life. She was already growing pale and cold, as her heart was slowly giving out. We held her hands and kept telling her she needed to hang on for a little longer, for her favorite son was on his way. Her heart quietly stopped the second he ran into the ICU to her bedside. Witnessing mom's passing, although it is impossible to describe the enormity of it all, I also saw that the final transition could be a peaceful closure to a lifetime of struggle. And that was an immense comfort amidst overwhelming emotions.
Two days after her passing, we put her ashes to earth. Leaving one's body, not physically having a place in this world, does not have to be terrifying, especially when the body has become such a source of disomfort and pain.
My sister and I had so many issues with her while mom was alive, which we never successfully addressed or resolved, but what does it signify now? I just don't believe that those unresolved emotional issues with mom translate into a "scar" or some such thing for me. However, I ache to imagine how lonely she must have been in her emotional alienation even from her children, which must have had to do with her bodily and mental deterioration.
Last weekend, we marked the seven week anniversary with the traditional Buddhist ceremony that wished the spirit a blessed journey to the afterlife. The ritualistic immolation of paper clothes and shoes at the end of the ceremony symbolizes the untying of the spirit from all things in this world. It probably meant that we needed to let her go as well so she could go freely. As the fire consumed those last symbolic ties mom was supposed to have had to this material world, I wished her well and I once again wondered where she really was. And I honestly wondered what ties I now had to mom which I was supposed to sever or retain.