Monthly Archives: March 2012
I am sure some of you will be able to relate to the kind of extended family i am about to describe. My parents immigrated from Egypt in the late 60s with a handful of other Coptic Egyptians. It was not long after that they along with a priest from Egypt formed the first Coptic Orthodox Church in North America…meeting in a small chapel on the second floor of a church that is still nestled behind the Eaton Center in downtown Toronto. Slowly more friends and families immigrated and congregated…and so, by the time I was born in the late 70s I was born into a community that was tightly knit by its roots of the home they left, the experience of immigration to North America and by their deep faith.
I was born into an extended family that knew me from the moment i came to be until this moment today. Going to church every Sunday throughout my upbringing i would see the same familiar faces, bond with the same friends i had since before i was consciousness of my own being and sense the many people loving me and watching over me and caring for me. Although i have been absent from Toronto throughout much of my 20s and into my 30s these connections were always there and this family would always care for me in my absence. They knew when i was overseas teaching in Southeast Asia, they knew when i was working in Yemen, they knew when I was living out East and through conversation with my parents were always thinking of and loving me.
The gift of this community and family is that it meant there were so many mother mothering each child. So many caring, smart, intuitive, passionate, warm mothers looking out for this flock of Egyptian youth making their way through an upbringing quite different than their own. We were all so lucky to have these moms lovings us in all directions…innately enveloping us.
And so, another such mother, just like my mom, passed away this weekend. It is not that i spoke with her very often but i knew she loved me and cared for me and always asked about me. She visited us in the hospital frequently when mom was sick. And she too has daughters who adore her because there is nothing not to adore. And she too has a congregation of children who grew up with her love wrapped round them.
It is the nature of life. It is inevitable. Our mothers are being taken. And it is juxtaposed by new mothers being given. Many of my Egyptian friends have children but it is only in the past couple of years and particularly this last year and in the coming months that so many of my dear friends from all different nooks of my life have become or are to become mothers. It is such an amazing time to see these sisters of mine become transformed…to see them born as moms.
And so, as always it is strange to feel as though i am watching something unfold beyond myself, beyond any of us. To see this great shift in life take form, where it feels as though changes are being made in order for new spaces to be created, where one things is making room for another without particular question or reason or qualifying manner as good or bad but rather simply being.
And so, much gratitude to mothers for all they have done and all they will do. To the moms that have mothered for so long and to those that are in their first moments. What a precious gift to be a mom and to be mothered be it by one or many.
I recently checked out the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Have you seen it? It is about a little boy who loses his dad on 9/11 and his journey through the grief that follows. Near the beginning of the movie, he made what I thought to be an excellent analogy. He said that if the sun were to explode, it would take us 8 minutes to notice because that is how long it would take for the light and heat to go away (based on the speed at which light travels). The boy in the movie says that after his dad passed away, he still felt as though he was in that 8 minute period in which he still felt his dad’s light and heat so to speak. He finds a key that belonged to his dad and spends most of the movie searching for the lock for the key. He says that he feels that finding this lock would help him to extend his eight minutes with his dad.
This analogy really helps put into words a lot of what I have been feeling since my mom’s passing. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I still feel her presence in our home through all the little touches that she left behind. Now that I think about it, I realise that this is me in my 8 minutes. Like the little boy in the movie, I fear what comes after 8 minutes and I find myself trying to elongate it as much as I can. There are a few things in my mother’s belongings that I have wanted to go through and look at, but have decided instead to “save” them for later, because I feel as though that will draw out my 8 minutes with her a little longer.
Without spoiling the movie for you, the boy does end off by saying that he never thought that he would be able to live without his father, and that making it to the end of the 8 minutes taught him that he could and would survive. Though I don’t think I have quite reached the end of my 8 minutes, this experience has indeed been life changing for me. There are people who say that life can be described as “life before losing a parent” and “life after losing a parent”. I think that is such an accurate description. Life will never be the same, but life will continue. This I now know.
Valuable Lessons Learned
Before my mom passed away, I had the honour of spending a diffucult yet wonderful and memorable ten days with her. I am still processing everything I thought, saw, and experienced during that time. One of those events is a visit paid to my family by a very lovely and kind palliative care doctor. Up to this point, I have been fortunate enough not to have had very much interaction with the health care system. However, during the time I spent at home with my mom, I got a small glimpse into her relationship with the health care system, both good and bad. I think that this particular visit was probably one of the best experiences she has had with the system. This doctor provided her not only with medical care and attention, but with the emotional support that one needs as they prepare to end their life on this earth. The doctor gave my mom some advice that I know I will remember for a long time to come. Here’s what he said:
1. You are not a burden until they say you are.
For whatever reason, my mom felt like she was a burden on us while she was sick. No matter how much we told her that we wanted to take care of her, she just kept repeating it. She even mentioned it to the doctor when he came to see her. I loved what he said in response. It was so powerful for an external party to tell her that she was not the one who could decide whether she was a burden on us: we were.
2. You cannot deny them the righ to take care of you.
To follow up with the above piece of advice, the doctor also asked my mom if we were a burden on her while we were growing up, or when we got would get sick. She answered “Never! It was a joy to take care of them!”. He then very wisely said “well then, in the same way that you had that right to take care of them, you cannot take away their right to take care of you”. I had never thought of caring for someone as a right, but I really liked the way he put it. It was a privilege to take care of her. One that I will always remember. I’m glad that was not taken away from me.
3. Even though the definition of your quality of life will change, you can still have quality of life.
This one was particularly special. It’s true. When one is sick, everything changes. Answers to questions like “how are you?” or “how is your mom doing” start to become very relative. The answer “good” has a very different meaning than it does coming from someone else. In the same way, how one defines good quality of life must also change. The doctor said that even if one could only lie down with their eyes closed on a bed, they could still have quality of life simply by having a close relative by their side.
4. You are not the only one suffering. This cancer belongs to this entire family, and everyone is suffering; albeit very differenly than you are.
This was another good one. People do not realize that in the same way couple’s say “we’re pregnant”, families can be thought of saying “we have cancer”. Though the family physically does not have the illness just as the husband does not physically experience pregnancy, the other members of the family are still very much affected, and the doctor was right to point out that we were all suffering. During my mom’s illness, I sometimes felt guilty for being sad and making it about myself, when it was clearly about my mom. It was comforting and reassuring for someone to say that it was actually about all of us.
It was amazing how often these insights stayed with me during the days that followed. They motived me to care for my mom as best as I could, as well as to make her quality of life the best that it could have been. I’m grateful to this doctor who came into our lives at such a critical juncture.