A very different Mother’s Day

This entry poured out of me when I blogged at my newest joint over at the Nation last night, titled “Death Becomes Her”. I originally was going to rant about Thai hospitals and healthcare systems but it turned into something else. Together with the fact at that today August 12 is Thailand’s Mother’s Day, I figure I drop that here to share with my other blog family as well.

Happy Mother’s Day.


My mom is in Thailand, lying in a hospital bed, dying of cancer.

There. Now that’s out.

2 years ago, my mother had an operation to remove a golf ball sized tumor from her lung. It was cancer. She doesn’t smoke.

The surgeon proclaimed that he got all of the cancer out of her (along with almost half of her lung) and therefore she did not need chemotherapy. The oncologist protested, but being the younger doctor, he had to “respect the elders” and agreed with the surgeon.

America is no shining example of healthcare systems, but as far as I know, not following up a cancer surgery with a chemotherapy or radiation is almost unheard of. (That’s right. I am taking out my anger on this surgeon. I don’t even know his name. And frankly, I don’t want to know.)

And what is this business of respecting your elders? You are the oncologist, not him. You don’t tell him how to do surgery. But of course, being the junior doctor, you can’t possibly speak up. Someone’s life is at stake, but apparently people’s lives come and go and you first need to save your career. I understand. Anyway, I digress.

So the cancer went to my mom’s brain. They radiated. It went to her liver. They finally gave her chemotherapy. A day late, a buck short and the darn thing caused a stroke that paralyze my mom’s left side. Back on oral chemo at a ridiculously high price per pills for almost another year. She was moved back to our house with full time caregiver. It seems things were looking okay there for a little while.

About 6 months ago, she stopped trying to chew anything and eventually stopped swallowing altogether. We found out that the spot returned to her liver about 3 months ago and there is absolutely nothing else to be done. Her strength was gone and once she was able to take a few steps for exercise, now she is completely bedridden. She had stopped talking about 2 months ago and nobody knows why. And I was summoned home.

Mom went back to the hospital the day I arrived in Bangkok about a month ago and she is still there. The doctor gave us a few more months.

I don’t know who has it worse. The rest of my family over there is seeing her everyday and watch her deteriorate. And here’s me, far away from all the action but the guilt of not being there makes me feel a lot worse than when I was there at her bedside.

How everyone deals with the situations is also different. It’s going to sound horrible, but I wish this could end sooner than later. Mom is just shell of herself and it is painful to watch…and I’m not even actually watching. Her friends and some family members are holding on that she will continue to do okay and keep up the fight.

And of course, being Thai, nobody is going to jinx you. People keep telling you, “Oh, she’ll be alright. She’ll get better soon, you’ll see.” And “Oh, don’t go about it like she’s going to die. That’s bad luck.”

No. YOU see. She’s not getting better. She’s dying. Talking about her death is not going to make her come back to life. There is no hope here unless Jesus comes down from the heavens and performs a miracle. There isn’t anything anyone can do.

She. Is. Dying.

Why are we so afraid when it is so certain? Why would we wish her another day of pain, indignity, and suffering? Are we being positive for her sake or ours because we don’t want to face the music. The funeral march. The world without her.

My world as I knew it crumbled many months ago when I called home a few months ago to talk into a phone with no reply. I could barely hear her breathing into the phone. So I talked for just a minute and had to hung up before my voice could betray me. Now I’m just sifting through the rubbles, looking for good things to hold on to. She is in every piece that was the world I knew and I want to hold on to it all. I want to hold on but every piece cuts into my soul. The guilt. The pain. The emptiness. If I don’t start letting go, it’ll kill me.

So I start to let go earlier than my culture thinks I should. I start to ponder about the aftermath and have to keep it all to myself because nobody else is going to even give it a thought. My mother is dying but to think of her as such is still something I was told not to do contrary to what I have been taught in Buddhism all my life.

Death is a part of life. You are born. You grow old. You get sick. You die. We were taught to be at peace with our life’s cycle. To accept it when it comes. To not be afraid as it is the beginning of yet another cycle of life. But when it comes to our love one’s undeniable fate, we are supposed to throw all of that out the window and pin our hopes on her fading life.

I am standing between the cultural divide as my mom waits for her last breath.

My mother is dying. And I’m probably not going to be there when it happens.

Two days late, and a buck short.

ETA 2009: I thought I should probably add here that 8 days after I posted this entry in 2007, my mother passed away. Thanks for all of the thoughts and prayers and kind comments left here.

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