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Personal columns

Previously published by The News-Press

"So many agonizing tears; so much frustration; too many misunderstandings."

"Even in his dark recesses, (Dad) knows he must obey you."

Open letter to Mom

Published in The News-Press on 5/29/12


Dear Mom,


It’s been so hard for you, I’m sorry.


To become mother to your own husband is heart-breaking.


We couldn’t have imagined how quickly Dad’s health would deteriorate when we moved to Southwest Florida two years ago. 


We had noticed changes of course: he had started disassociating, became less active, started appearing lost. Now his mind is imprisoned by the harsh effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. While his body is relatively healthy, his moments of lucidity are few. Except with you.


You have always been the sun around which his life orbited. You are the fiery star who led us from China to America to make a new life for the three of us, largely by wheedling, cajoling, advising, directing, pushing, ordering. Both Dad and I obeyed—he better than I.


After years of sweat and sacrifice in Chicago, you two had an idyllic retirement in Seattle, just five minutes from us. You loved your luxurious garden of roses, dahlias and vegetables, and your close friendships at the Blessed Life Chinese Church.


So the mutual decision to bring you with us to Florida was difficult. Leaving you would have meant cross-country journeys, precious time we feared we didn’t have. As you are Dad’s sun, I am his moon.


And thus, we came together. And we struggled to come together, merging two homes, two continents, two languages: you and Dad, me and Randy, under one roof. So many agonizing tears; so much frustration; too many misunderstandings. And all the while, Dad slipped further.


We retrofitted the house to keep him safe and mobile; we got a hospital bed and incontinence supplies.  Medications have alleviated the decline, getting him from 112 pounds back to nearly 140. Dad eats like a machine! He wields chopsticks like a pro, often putting anything within reach into his mouth. He’s able to shuffle around with or without his walkers, though he’s fearful of each step, especially if the lighting changes.  And he loves to fiddle with his hands, absorbed for hours in winding straps and folding tablecloths—perhaps faint remnants of his early years working in laundries.


And you, mom, you have devoted yourself to his care. As you have been his life, he is now yours.


“I owe him everything,” you say.


Every day, you get his inert body to restart. It’s hard enough for me and Randy to manhandle Dad’s dead weight on and off the toilet—and you’re a puny 97 pounds. You clean, clothe and feed him, take him for walks, clean, clothe and feed him again. Three days a week you send him to “school” at Millenium House in Bonita Springs, which has helped maintain his alertness.


Most importantly, you coo at him, tease and nag him, just like you used to. You are able to elicit coherency from him because you demand it. Even in his dark recesses, he knows he must obey you.


For you, this is akin to Job’s trials. You’ve always been a fastidious perfectionist. You can’t abide one hair out of place, one spot of dirt, one mote of disturbance within a mile of your sanctum.


Dad is messy, in every way imaginable. So you are constantly washing, ever in motion, always exhausted. Our laundry runs non-stop. You take his soiled diapers out to the community trash to get it out of the house. You ruin carpets trying to scrub out stains. You spend your time cleaning as he eats, and forget to eat yourself.


You’re 77 and he’s 79. Over and over, we’ve said: “You cannot take care of Dad if you cannot take care of yourself.” You’ve stubbornly refused to adjust, to accept other assistance.


Your hospital stay on Easter for gastrointestinal cramping was a warning, a red alert. You are physically and emotionally depleted. Now we all agree, “You cannot take care of Dad yourself.”


We are all relieved with our plan to hire your friend Yee full-time to care for you both. Dad likes her, as he does all pretty girls, and she speaks the Toisanese dialect of his youth. You like her, and she very much wants to please you. When you’re happy, Dad is happy.


It’s good to hear you laughing again. You’ve got your sweet tooth back. You’ve resumed your early morning ride on your snazzy red bike. You’re eyeing my nice clothes again. You believe again that you can have a joyful life.


May 13 is Mother’s Day. I love you, I thank you, and I wish you happiness. Today and every day.

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