Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The first death anniversary and the confessions of an ex-mechanical object.

Today is the first death anniversary of my mom.

One year later, I am sitting at a Starbucks cafe, suspended five stories in the air in the middle of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. I am enjoying a chicken mushroom pie and a nice cup of hot coffee.

Exactly one year ago at exactly this time, I was in a stuffy hospital room suspended 11 stories in the air in the middle of downtown Vancouver, staring at the body of my mother who had just passed a few hours before.

I don't have anything profound to say, nor did I spend the past year searching for the purpose of life though I do wonder about it everyday--then again, I always have. No, I just kept on living. I know that for some people, to just keep on living requires a huge amount of effort everyday and it is a struggle for them to decide whether to live or die today. But I don't feel that way at all. It requires nothing for me to keep on living; I just do, and I feel okay with that.

Originally, I was going to go to the mountain peak today and stay there for the entire day, trying to find some solitude in the colder mountain air. I thought, if I felt like bursting into tears at anytime today, at least on the mountain I could always run and sob while hiding in a bush or something. But I ended up getting up at three in the afternoon, getting dressed and riding the train in a daze. And of course I would end up at a Starbucks. I still hate capitalism and all that stuff I preach about everyday, but I really like how Starbucks looks practically the same in every country. I just need some kind of regularity in my life, you know? It's soothing. I'm grateful even if the coffee is watery and horrible.

I have never really talked with anybody about my experiences during the week at the hospital with my mom, or even about how I had been feeling over the following months. For the friends that saw me at my mother's funeral or at her cremation, I'm glad you were able to think of me as a strong person for not crying during my long speech at the funeral, or my lack of hesitation in pressing the button on the cremation furnace. But most of the time, I don't think it was because I'm particularly strong or anything like that.

I was relieved more than anything else.

No one can understand the agonizing half year that had passed before my mom died. Getting off work everyday in the summer to visit the hospital, and then crying behind my sunglasses on the bus ride home. Having nothing to say to my mom after she was transferred home since she could rarely use her voice anymore, then going upstairs at night and leaving her downstairs in her bed in the family room, only to sob into my covers about her in another room. Watching her sleep when she could manage to despite the pain, and then seeing her cry out even in her dreams. Seeing her stare at the same white wall of our house everyday.

Then, I went back to school in September because she had expressed that I should go. She was supposed to have a year more to live, the doctor had said so. I will graduate, and spend all my time with her after. I swore I would do that. But time was so painfully, painfully slow.

I remember writing a horribly corny yet also my most emotional letter to my mom on my last night in Vancouver.  I remember tearing my eyes away from her to step out the door to head to the airport. Feeling like screaming and jumping off the plane 'cause I was still wondering if this was the right thing to do. Sitting in silence at my apartment in Montreal and knowing that my mom was hurting with every tick of the clock. Stepping out into the hall away from my birthday party to call my mom, and then after hanging up, wanting to just run away because no one should really be laughing right now.

Receiving the call on the last day of November about my mom while I was doing my homework, and then sitting on the floor, unmoving, for a long time. Being angry at the five hour flight back to Vancouver for being so slow and expensive. Seeing my mom at the brink of death yet smiling, while I couldn't bring myself to smile right away. Feeling the presence of death hover over everybody I met the following few days, seeing both men and women cry. The fear of stepping out of the hospital room when I didn't know if that would be the last time I would ever see her alive. Sobbing, sobbing, sobbing outside the room.

Then she passed away six days after I returned to Vancouver. I was back at home to get some sleep for the night, when the phone rang and it was confirmed that my mom has passed away. And it was over. Her pain was over. And that was what mattered most to me.

Compared to that, the time after my mom's death was so, so much easier to pass.

That is my explanation for why I seemed "okay" to everyone. I was more than okay, I was much better than before my mom passed away. There, I said it.

I don't think it's disrespectful of me at all to say it, and I think my mom would understand. To me, her death was the start of something, my time finally starting to move again. Still painful, but at least each tick didn't echo in my ears with impending doom anymore.

And then came the post-death business. In my honest opinion, funerals and other ceremonial processions are purely for the living. I didn't care as much as most people think I should have because, honestly, this does nothing for my mom. She is dead. And hopefully much happier.

No, it's for the people still living. To remember her, to put things to a close in the minds of friends and family. So why hesitate in pressing the button to cremate her when her body (that was so beautiful while still alive) was just getting uglier by the hour? They applied make-up to her face horribly anyway; that lip gloss they put on her was appalling, and she would have never used that colour of blush. And they refrigerated her, for goodness' sakes, how could they do that to my mom who was so full of warmth and laughter? The clothes I picked out for her body would have looked better if she was standing and moving, but she wasn't, so they were of no use. Just burn them already. During the funeral, I said what would put people's minds to ease, of memories of my mom and to calm their worries for me. Clearly I was faring better than the people who attended, so I could at least reassure my mom's friends. Why would I put all the tear-filled things I wanted to say in my speech, when the only person who I really wanted to talk to then was my mom?

So those are my thoughts. I am often told even by my closest friends that I very rarely talk about my feelings, that they want to help and would "if only I opened up more". But it's hard to do, you know? I will talk to you when I have something to say to you. Otherwise, what I want to say is probably not for your ears. That is my personality.

I should add that I love my friends very much and I am grateful for all the people around me who constantly show me kindness. That is a different matter. I am only saying all this in regards to why I am so bad at "sharing my feelings".

But I think that, one year later, I do want to share something today.

I write an e-diary separate from this blog, and I wrote a few entries a year ago when all of this was happening. I think I'd like to share them today in hopes that you, dear reader, will forgive me for not being able to express myself during the times that people do expect me to. And to reassure you that I do, indeed, have feelings. Thank goodness you're not reading the blog of a mechanical object, right? Congratulations.

I am half-saying that to myself.


November 30, 2010 at 19:17

I just got a call from my dad. He said my mom was just hospitalized and may have only a day or two left. He told me to get on the soonest flight back to Vancouver.

I don't know what to do. I mean, I just booked my flight for 8am tomorrow (fastest route already), but yeah. I don't know.

I just finished a music assignment, it's due tomorrow. I have a Japanese essay due on Thursday. I have a research project due Friday. I have exams in the next two weeks.

My mom is going to die.

And I'm just sitting here.

Anyway I have to pack.

December 05, 2010 at 20:38

I've been spending my days at the hospital whenever I'm not sleeping at home.

It's been tough. But my mom's condition varies drastically from day to day, and going to the hospital early in the morning, staying in her room for hours and coming back at night has become a routine for me already.

The first day was a miracle; the day I came back, she was so awake and our family gathered in the room and we talked about funerary proceedings and all that business. Everything was sorted out, and I think everyone said what they wanted to say to her. She couldn't talk much as usual, her voice hoarse like a whisper and every word sounded laboured (and probably was), but she talked for hours until late into the evening, which was amazing.

The next day, she was in so much pain. It's become a rule now that you can't be sad in front of my mom... no crying. We also don't allow visitors anymore; my mom has a lot of friends, but, you know how seeing a patient sometimes is more for the not-sick rather than the patient themself? Having my mom see other people sad just makes her sad, and she already has enough physical pain to deal with. But sometimes, tears would just stream from my eyes, out of my control, because her pain was so great that we couldn't move her, her fingers and feet rotting black from no circulation, her rear end also starting to deteriorate so it hurt no matter how she sat or laid down... I'm sure that if she could and had a voice, she would have been screaming her lungs out. It broke my heart over and over again to see her like that. She was receiving painkiller needles in her arm every hour or two, it was insane.

The third day, she slept almost all day, She finally opened her eyes in the evening, but didn't respond, her eyelids hanging half closed and unfocused.

The fourth day, yesterday, she responded even less and was often moody and ill tempered, which is completely understandable if you're in pain. She slept half the time, but she ate something. I fed her soup at lunch time and plain congee at night.

Today, she recognized me in the morning as usual, and I know because when I came in, I said, "Hi Mommy!" and kissed her, and she had weakly moved her lips against my cheek which I assume is a kiss. Then she went back to sleep. But in the afternoon, she woke up again... and at first my dad would talk to her as usual. She's become less and less comprehensible throughout the week because of her voice and because she's been so heavily medicated... but this afternoon, she started talking to herself.

She talked to herself in hoarse, whispery gibberish for four hours or so. I left earlier this evening, but I called my dad after and he said they injected something so her nerves would stop jumping (her body's been twitching from the meds for the past two days) and she's finally stopped talking to invisible people and sleeping. I don't think she recognized me anymore, I was completely ignored when I said goodbye to her today.

But I am so proud of my mom. They stopped dialysis because this was the best way for her to spend the last of her days, which would be the most painless way possible (even though it's still incredibly painful). The doctor, seeing her condition, had said she would last maybe two days. Today was Day 6. She is such a fighter, and back when her mind was still aware, she was already ready to leave this world.

She said a lot of things that hurt me inside. She told me I was a good girl, but she kept telling me I was spending so much, and that even though I called her this semester, I never called her before and she said that there was a time when I was rude and she was so unhappy that I didn't call and talk to her more often. Everything she told me... I had already been torturing myself with these past few months. The big question: why didn't I talk to my mom more when I could? I was such a terrible daughter. I loved her so much but I never bothered to show it, hiding behind the excuse that "I'm not the type to show affection". Isn't that just a weakness?

I don't know if I've ever repeated "I'm sorry" in my head so many times while being with someone. I'm sorry Mom, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't do all those things in the past. I'm sorry you have to be like this. I'm sorry I can't do anything for you right now. I'm sorry for everything. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

But I've also never repeated "I love you" so many times to anyone before. The day she was knocked out the entire day, I whispered in her ear some of the things I probably wouldn't have said if she was awake. The next day, she mouthed to me that she knew I was beside her all day the day before, so I wonder if some of the things I said got across. The times I told her that I loved her a lot when she was awake, she always whispered back when she could, I love you too.

There are many doctors that see her from different departments. One of the main doctors had checked on her while she was sleeping, and I believe he was the one who had suggested stopping dialysis so we can let her pass away in the least painful way. And after looking at my mom, he told me, "This is the right thing to do." Even though that may be true, in my opinion too, I wonder. Does a doctor have the right to say that about anything, to anyone?

Another doctor talked to my mom briefly on the first day when my mom could still talk somewhat, and during the conversation, she turned to me and said, "Your mom is so beautiful." I think that was the most passionate moment of my life where I wanted to scream, Yes!
YES, she is!

There is so much that happened, so many brief moments, so many fleeting feelings as well as ones that will linger for the rest of my life. I can't possibly describe the experience these few days, and I will never be able to. But I think we've been really blessed that we were given that one day when she was awake and could talk, and most of the things that were hanging heavy in everyone's hearts were resolved and put to a closure. As painful as it is, it's a rare opportunity that we can have this time to say goodbye.

It's not over yet, but there's already so much that I've learned. There were many nights where when I left the hospital, I would burst into tears in the hallway. Also one of my first times crying in front of anybody--but I found that, at that point when i did cry in front of people, that I didn't care anymore. There are more important things in life than keeping one's dignity during a hard time.

Oh yes, and I had announced that I wanted to be the one to press the button when my mom gets cremated. It will be traumatizing, I have absolutely no doubt about that, but you know... I rather myself suffer than anyone else. This isn't an act of bravery or selflessness or anything, it's for myself. Seeing others suffer is ten times, a hundred times worse than having to deal with your own pain. It's for myself. I don't want to see anyone else suffer anymore.

December 08, 2010 at 13:25

General gist of things at the moment.

My mom passed away at around 2:30am on Monday morning. We stayed at her bedside for a couple of hours after that. The one thing I learned: bodies grow cold very, very fast.

We went out for dinner that night, it was quite a feast.

We did miscellaneous funeral preparations over the past few days. Yesterday, I picked out a flower arrangement at the florist to lay over the casket. It'll be wrapped with a ribbon that has "To be reunited in heaven, from Vinci" on it.

My mom will be cremated on Friday morning, and I will be pressing the button.

Her funeral will be on Saturday morning at our church; I'll be doing a short speech there. Assuming I'll be able to. Then we will be putting her urn and everything else at the cemetery in the afternoon.

And then things will finally progress. Maybe.

But everything is a maybe at this point in time.