12 chapters, 365 chances

Every new year heralds new beginnings. A fresh start.

I started this blog a year ago on a quiet winter morning in Tokyo while watching over my mom (who’s ambulatory challenged), while the clan went shopping. Her snoring was both bothersome yet melodious in some strange way.

Growing up, my sister and I knew her as a frail woman who had to overcome every ball life threw her way. Married off at an early age and had to literally raise a family after my father passed away early, she is the reason why I write about relative joys in life.

Taking care of the elderly and the disabled will always be a painful reality in all our lives.  Many of my friends around my age will have several stories to tell about our parents and grandparents.  As we came out of anticipated New Year’s Day mass today, my mom gave a long sigh.  And I couldn’t help but feel that tug in my heart.  

You see, during those days when we are able to engage in a good conversation, she sheds tears.  Always asks why she is unable to walk already.  How she has become a burden to me (and to everyone).  How frustrated and angry she is because the household help does not pay attention to her especially when she needs to go to the bathroom. (Yes.  The toilet is their place of joy at this age.) And then the minor rants – on the cost of goods and commodities; being unable to cook for me; not being able to drive (another absolute joy as it is her anchor for freedom) – anything under the sun will always serve as a reason for depression. And I get it.  After all, an idle mind will always be the devil’s playground.

Then there is having to watch the slow deterioration of her physiological and physical faculties as a human being. It’s the most painful part of our journey as mother and son. If there is one thing that she always reminds me, is to be good when she is gone.  I always joke around with her that with her resilience in life, I’d probably go ahead of her.  But that would not be a laughing matter to her.  I would look away because her eyes would be filled with glistening tears.  And I would need to choke on my own so that I can pretend (yes, that’s the operative word) that I am strong at I time when she is weak.

There comes a point in our lives when you realise that time has caught up on you or your loved ones.  I know that.  When my father passed away, we were all caught unaware.  Like a thief in the night, death came without a warning. I guess to him it was a good way to go.  After all, who wouldn’t want to go the way he did? I kissed him goodnight at the hospital bed.  I’d be back tomorrow because we were being discharged.  He smiled.  He was coming home.  That phone call at 2AM.  We rushed to the hospital.  They had been resuscitating him for the past hour. I was in a state of disbelief.  But I knew my father.  This was his way of saying goodbye – dignity intact.  I told the residents to stop resuscitating. I went to my mom and hugged her.  It was over. My mom was hysterical. It was difficult for us. That loss still resonates today and every day of my life. A very peaceful ending to the book of his life, yet painful beginning to ours.

The untimely passing of my father taught me many things. 

1. No one is ever ready for death. No matter how well prepared you are, it does not make a formal announcement when it is time. Not even the dying.

2. You’re never able to rewrite the past.  Often times we think that we have time. Time to repay the kindness.  Time to right the wrong. Time to apologise and make amends.  You’re wrong.  Life isn’t fair. Reality is, that like the life of my mom and dad, every day life throws lemons. How you make out of those lemons makes the difference.

3. Aging isn’t easy. Growing old is difficult. After 50, we’re taken aback when each of our batch mates or friends are buried earlier than us. After 60, we get used to the fact that each reunion has dwindling numbers. When you get to survive 65, there are more funerals than weddings we attend each year. After 70, it becomes lonely that you’re one of the last survivors among friends. If you make it past 80, consider it lucky that you have family taking care of you…that’s if your mind is still functioning as sharply as it did a year ago.

4. When they’re gone, the first grief is of the loss. Then the rationalization that they’re probably at peace with no more pain idea takes over. It’s when you’re back home after the burial that hits home. Those special occasions that you all celebrated together are replayed every holiday. As you comb through the photos and memorabilia left behind, one cannot help but recall or feel chagrin of losing a love one. After all, every loss ends in “what if’s”. You will always keep pushing the replay button as you move forward.

They’re a bit tougher to handle as they age. More difficult to understand. A bit more tactless to the point that sometimes you’re ashamed at the stories they tell. It is tiring. But it is what it is. One day, no matter how much we promise ourself that we will not burden our children, we will walk in our parents shoes.

Like the cycle in every calendar year, each new year gives up the opportunity to write 12 new chapters because each day gives us 365 chances to make beautiful endings.

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