A Parent’s Journey through University Transition: The Day of the Send-Off and What to Expect When You Go Home

Send Off PArt two

So the dreaded day of sending-off your young adult to their dorm or other new transition has arrived and you are only days away from returning to a home minus someone you brought home to raise.  Of course, I am also excited for my son and overwhelmingly proud of him for reaching this stage in his life.  Yet, we as parents must have a safe place to acknowledge that this part of the university transition can be one of the hardest moments.  

I don’t believe that most parents or guardians, when they bring home a child from the hospital or as a foster or adoptive parent, think of this day.  Even when you prepare for it in your head, it is still not the same as experiencing it.  As I mentioned in Part One –  What I Wish Someone Warned Me About the Send Off: Perspectives from my RAFT, “Much of the difficulty of this transition is the emotional process of what you conceptually prepared for.”

This is Part Two of The Send-Off to Adulthood: A Parent’s Journey through University TransitionThe Day of the Send – Off and What to Expect When You Go Home.  As I shared in Part One, I hope my sharing of my own journey will help affirm the journey of others and encourage the processing of this transition.  By sharing my story in Part One, I found that it has helped me move through this transition.  I hope it will encourage you to share as well, below in the comments and within your circle of support.

The Day of the Send-Off

I was both dreading it and excited for my son.  Processing the emotions leading up to this day, as I did through the process of writing What I Wish Someone Warned Me about the Send-Off helped me tremendously.   Between the logistical tasks that needed to be taken care of and the fact that we as a family didn’t have privacy to huddle and cry like it would have the effect of a game plan strategy for how to win the day emotionally, I held myself together as much as a mother can. 

Here are some tips for how to get through the day of the send-off:

SendOFf KeepCalm Med

Keep calm and cry in the car.  Unless you have a expressionless-cry face that allow you to tear but without the dramatic expressions or don’t mind people seeing your cry today, I suggest to cry in the car before you step out and when you step back in. If you have anything emotional to say that you didn’t get a chance to say before you left the house, say it in the car, before the hustle and bustle of the move-in day starts.  Chances are, however, that you all will be too busy on this day to have time to be as emotional as you have been at home.  

Try to save your emotions for when you’re alone or away from your young adult so that it isn’t harder on your young adult.  They might seem emotionless today or can’t wait to break free, but know that there is much going on within them as well and might be fighting tears themselves.  Hopefully, you aren’t alone during this send-off so that when you step back in the car, you’ll have someone to speak to and ensure you are driving safely.  (And please know you’re not the only sappy parent in this world.)


Seeing more of my son’s self-determination helped me have less concerns about his adjustment.


Get out of the way helpfully.  Allow your young adult to focus on what they need to get done in the way that makes sense to them.  There is most likely a part of them, even if it is small, that is trying hard to not succumb to the overwhelming mixture of sadness, excitement, fear, and tremendous courage.  As I helped my son with little but practical things that wouldn’t get in his way of taking charge of how to handle move-in day and the move-in week schedule, I started to see more and more of his personal self-determination come out.  

Seeing more of my son’s self-determination helped me have less concerns about his adjustment.  If he made any mistakes along the way today or this week, I had faith that he would learn from it and that it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  For someone with some OCD tendencies, this was a big step for me, but observing how he has been becoming more and more mature this summer helped me let go.

Day one of being their own boss.  Today is a day your young adult will need to be the boss while receiving your age-appropriate guidance.  It’s a smoother drop from being a co-boss on the day of the send-off to being the only boss after the family leaves for your young adult than being completely dependent on parents until the last minute.  Allowing them to take ownership of their decisions and as a parent, balancing that task of guiding your student on a day they are most likely trying their best to be strong and brave will need to be flexible today.

It would be wise to still provide solid and well-timed guidance of major things like making decisions that ensure personal safety and security, and the smarter options for purchasing textbooks. However, as young adults, they will only need to be shown how to do such things so they can practice making these decisions themselves.  If they make a mistake, they will learn from it.  Just like when you were younger, the lessons you learned were also the mistakes you made.  As a parent, in reality, your guidance will not really end, but it will most likely involve more and more respect.

Find your co-supervisor in your young adult.  Certain things, like billing and matters related to your young adult’s student account, will still need to be supervised by you as a parent, of course, but you can start to share that responsiblity with your young adult.  Your guidance will be teaching them how to supervise it themselves and as a co-supervisor, follow up on anything confusing while allowing them to be part of the finding the solution.

And finally…

 

If you feel like stalking your own young adult child, it’s normal (I hope) but not advisable.  It’s funny looking back now, but after we emptied the car of the last of his belongings (the next day), I wanted so badly to stalk my own son around campus.  How do you just leave a child you raised and just drive off?  I literally visualized tiny invisible vacuum cleaners sucking the tears before they could fall from my tear ducts.  Of course, he didn’t invite us to attend all the things he needed to (mostly because we might have looked like the Addams family creeping up from spot to spot with the way my eyeliner had run around my eyes and how relatively quiet I was behind my arms intentionally composed at my waist), so if I wanted to see where he’d go next, I’d have to stalk him.  

My senses came to me however, and I didn’t.  I just stalked his bike (to make sure it hadn’t been stolen of course).  I noted that it had moved and that gave me a reason to call later and follow up with him on how it was to ride around campus for the first time.  To mothers for whom this day is a very dreaded day, please know that there is grace for you for things like this (but not forever).  Big hugs!!  

 

What to Expect When You Go Home

It was a hard process to get through the day of the send-off.  Of course, you are also excited and rejoice for your young adult’s success at coming this far.  However, the type of sadness you can feel on move-in day at the dorm or other transition is not like any other because this is a child that you raised.  Also, as I described in Part One, home will be so different now.

Here is what you may expect when you return home and what can help:

Minus one at home.  Visiting my son’s room, of course, felt very lonely.  Especially the first few days, I had to catch myself and retrain my brain to remember I wouldn’t be hearing sounds from his room.  Emotions always take longer to catch up.  Not having your child at home on a daily basis can truly be very emotionally dislocating.  If you are the type to need time to grieve over changes that are very emotional in nature, allow yourself to just stay home and minimize social interaction or being out in public. Unless it’s social support to help get your through this transition, you don’t need to pressure yourself to get right back in the routine of things because your daily routine, up to a few days ago, always involved your child being present when you came from your routine. 

Minus one while at work.  Being in a job where you have been in a long time will feel different becuase at the end of the day, you most likely always looked forward to coming home, and home is different now without the daily presence of your young adult you just sent-off.  You may need to develop a coping method for work (or school if you are also a student).  If you need to report back to your work or other responsibilities so soon after the send-off and cannot take time off, you may need to have a way to put your emotions on hold so you can function at work.  Try to take it day by day and if it helps to talk about it with certain people during your lunch breaks, just remember to choose who you speak to wisely.  Make sure they can help you end the lunch break with a way that will bring you back to focusing on your job responsibilities until you can go home.  

Minus one on your driving route.  If  you are like me, driving anywhere on the streets of anywhere I used to drive just feels different.  Driving the same routes I used to drive on my way to pick my son up when he was younger or drop him off felt really sad.  I know this is how it feels this first week and it gets better, but just have the tissues ready during your drive.  The first day, I almost wanted to just leave a tissue under each of my eye held by my sunglasses while driving around.  The only thing is that my windows aren’t tinted that well.

Minus one on the first grocery run.  Oh boy.  It’s time to do the groceries or eat something you only have in case of emergency that you wouldn’t eat under normal circumstances.  If I would have thought of this sooner, I would have stocked up so that I don’t have to grocery shop within a week after the send-off.  You’re in public and it’s the first time you are grocery shopping.  After almost two decades (for most parents) of grocery shopping with the individual you just dropped-off away from the home in mind, this is the first time you are grocery shopping without him or her around.  You now have to have the mindset that the food won’t be eaten across the table from you, or that  you won’t have to buy certain things or as much.  This was hard, but I made it and I know you will too.

These are just some of the things I have personally experienced.  When I think of parks, homes of family friends, churches and other places my son and I used to go to together regularly, I know that I will need to adjust my emotions to match more of what I know cognitively. I know the first times will be sad.  The behavior part of the cognitive-emotional-behavior adjustment for this transition seems simple enough, but I know it will involve a new pairing of emotions for each behavior I used to routinely do with my son as a young child especially.  


If you are a parent dealing with mixed cultural expectations about what the send-off signifies, please rest in the thought that the future does not all have to be pre-determined now.  Allow yourself time to just process the moment.


A note about cultural expectations and the send-off: a perspective from a TCK who grew up with Filipino parents.  Allow yourself to reflect on your own expectations about what this life stage means and try to communicate with your young adult child throughout the various stages of this transition.  In many Asian families, a young adult going to college does not necessarily mean a breaking away from the family.  Often, under a less individualistic and more kinship sense of identity, a young adult stays with the family until it is time for them to marry. It’s important to allow yourself space to grieve according to your own cultural expectations.  If there are differences between your expectations and your child’s expectations of what this stage in life signifies, allow each other time for adjustment and seeing what each of you want as individuals with culture as an influencing factor.  We are at the end of the day, human with certain personality traits before we identify with culture.  I expect that this expectation may be fluid and depend on several factors, such as finances, the job market, and other career-related decisions, and not just culture.  

Also, I expect that there will be seasons in life related to the decisions that have to be made about the future.  If we can rest in just experiencing the moment for how it is in the moment, it may just make it easier to process rather than being caught in “cultural expectations” as a formula to follow and create expectations with to determine the future.  There are certain things I’d prefer and there are certain things my son would prefer.  It will be up to us to figure it out together as a family with sensitivity and respect for one another, but it does not have to all be determined right now especially the week of the send-off.  If you are a parent dealing with mixed cultural expectations about what the send-off signifies, please rest in the thought that the future does not all have to be pre-determined now.  Allow yourself time to just process the moment.

I hope this has been helpful to my readers. Please share your own stories in the comments below to help encourage others to process this transition.  Giant hugs to all!

 

The Send-Off to Adulthood: A Parent’s Journey through University Transition Pt 1

Send Off Part One - Large

The journey of sending off your child to college, joining the military or other life transitions after graduation from high school can be one of the most emotionally excruciating transitions as well as proud moments for parents or parental figures.  Just as there is nothing that truly compares to all a person puts into raising a child as a parent or guardian, there is nothing that truly compares to all a person adjusts to at the point when their young adult embarks on the bridge to their own life.

This will be the first in a series designed to help the parent, with some insights available for the young adult, through the college transition as I go through this transition myself.  It is important to discuss here because caregivers, especially sandwich generation caregivers, can play other roles in life which should also be acknowledged.  As an adult Third Culture Kid, some of what I share will be especially helpful to adult TCKs and adult Cross Culture Kids, but this series is written for all going through this transition.  For the college-bound and college students with a global nomad background and for parents as figures of support through this transition, Tina Quick’s The Global Nomad’s Guide to Univeristy Transition is a valuable resource.  

This series will be about the transition parents go through in redefining their role as parents and their relationships with their young adult children entering college.  The voice used in this series will be genuine and from the moment of experiencing these things and not only after I have processed each stage of the journey.  I hope that by doing this, it can prepare some of you for what you may experience and give affirmation that you are not alone. 

Part One –  What I Wish Someone Warned Me About the Send Off: Perspectives from my RAFT

Tomorrow, my son will be moving into what will be his dwelling place for the next two semesters.  Preparing for it involved preparing him as well as myself.    In the few weeks leading up to this day, I started doing what becomes instinctive for parents, preparing your child for all the practical things for college living.  As any other parent, raising my son itself was preparing him for this moment and my style of parenting always involved using big and small opportunities to equip him with various skill sets and useful knowledge both practical and for social relationships.  That was the teacher in me.  The TCK in me started to refer to the Pollock-Van Reken RAFT (detailed below*) from Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds as a type of “checklist” and Quick’s Guide to ensure I was preparing him holistically.


Because you don’t stop being a parent to your child as a young adult and your child will not stop being your child, it is equally important for parents to also build a RAFT for themselves through this transition as well.  


Tina Quick does a very thorough job in laying out how to build a RAFT* to support the college bound student and has a useful chapter for parents about the diverse range of what can be expected in the parent-child relationship during the summer before college and the adjustment period after college starts.  I want to add that because you don’t stop being a parent to your child as a young adult and your child will not stop being your child, it is equally important for parents to also build a RAFT for themselves through this transition as well.

Not only is it important to move through this transition and avoid unresolved grief, the importance of which Pollock and Van Reken discuss in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.  For the relationship between the parent and child to evolve in a fruitful way, the parent must also have a way to process the internal transition of redefining the role as a parent as well as the external relationship with the child.

The RAFT* for parents going through this transition may look different for each parent and parent-child relationship due to different parenting styles, cutural standards and ways of expressing oneself.   There are four things I wish to share about the internal process of redefining my role as a parent, which some parents may need to prepare and establish a support system for as they move through this transition on their RAFT. 

I wish someone warned me that I’d feel actual pangs of hollowness that come and go during the transition to sending off your adult child to college.  This most likely also applies when a parent sends off an adult child joining the military, or moving elsewhere to start some other life transition.  I’m here to tell you that it’s going to hurt, at least for a period while you are adjusting.  Years ago, I knew this was going to be hard. However, knowing it is going to be hard is not the same thing as the actual emotional experience of it. It’s not a constant non-invasive phase in the adjustment process that you just have to wait out. It can be an actual pang that you feel that you have to really work through.


I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.


Daily regular activities, like falling asleep, waking up, walking around the house, turning on the faucet suddenly felt hollow.  I found myself in tears at the thought that the house would suddenly be lacking my son’s piano and guitar playing at various times during the day or late at night while I fall asleep, for longer periods of time while he is living elsewhere.  Not being able to walk into his room to say good night face-to-face while he hugged and kissed me back as a little child, through the later years of a more detached “good night mom,” (with a now-please-let-me-have-some-privacy” tone typical of teens forming their own identity) feels really lonely.  It’s not just a sleep over either.  I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.  Much of the difficulty of this transition is the emotional process of what you conceptually prepared for.


“Home” to me always meant having my son at home physically.  The knowledge that he will be elsewhere for an extended period of time is an emotional dichotomy.


I wish someone warned me that “home” will become more fluid from now on.  Building and maintaining a home is a major aspect of the role of parenthood.  The concept of home by default involves an identification of who comes home to the home.  This is why the little things like falling asleep, turning on a faucet, and other little things I do daily at home suddenly feels sad.  The layout of the physical house is the same and realtionally, I am still my son’s mom.  However, “home” to me always meant having my son at home physically.  The knowledge that he will be elsewhere for an extended period of time is an emotional dichotomy. I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.   Home now will have to be where we will be together even though some parts of the year, we’re apart.  Yet “home,” at least as the physical place where you are not a visitor, will also remain “home” for my son when he is back, even though during the school year while he has his belongings elsewhere, he is technically “visiting.”

Home now will be different for my son and for me. It will not be in the same physical location, but emotionally, being home is also when we are together, whether I visit or he visits.  A physcal home that has history of us being together under the same roof is an option but not necessarily obsolete because we will be geographically apart.  Home now involves different aspects that will require fluidity.  While it was more simplistic to have home be the same as each others physically and relationally, this redefintion of home is as genuine and significant, but it is a painful process right now.

I wish someone warned me that the change in my role as a mother is really rough emotionally.  This is another thing that is easier to have a concept of than to actually experience.  Ive taken it for granted that my grocery list will always plan to feed my son as a member of the household.  It feels lonely to think that I can still buy things for him, but I will be sending it as a care package while he is away.  The same goes for managing his education.  When he graduated from high school, I graduated from having his mandatory education under my watch.  It all should be a completely freeing feeling, but at this point right now, it is still a shock to my system and I was not asking to be liberated from it all.  This adjustment is hard emotionally even though rationally I knew this was coming up.


There doesn’t seem to be an instinct for ceasing to guide and protect and it takes an emotional effort to adjust this instinct for the college years and beyond.


While raising my son,  whenever an opportunity arose that I could use to teach him a new skill, I would, such as how do a simple repair for a toilet leak, how to change oil in a car, how to prepare a healthy meal, and how to manage and balance time between what you’d like to do vs what you have to do.  Logically and instinctively, my interaction with my son was always in preparation for him to become independent.  The guidance and protection parts of my role as a parent involved my behavior and my speech being geared towards him ultimately separating and having the skills and knowledge to care for himself independently.  I believe it’s a primal instinct to do this, as much as nurturing and loving a child is.  

It’s still a shock to my system however, to be at this point of my role of what I’ve been doing instinctively for almost 18 years coming to an end.  There doesn’t seem to be an instinct for ceasing to guide and protect and it takes an emotional effort to adjust this instinct for the college years and beyond.  I understand that he has some basic skills now to be independent but it still feels anti-instinctual to just cease what I’ve been doing.  It seems that I will need to work on making the guidance role more subdued from now on and hope that the seeds I have planted for practical, emotional, relational, spiritual, financial, physical and other purposes will just continue to grow.  


…Knowing it is going to be hard is just a surface scratch to the actual pain of experiencing it.  You may need to prepare a serious support system for or plan coping mechanisms ahead of time for to get you through the “hollow pangs.”


I wish someone warned me about the pain and sadness that come before the victories and celebration.  People always talk about the end result, “It was hard but I adjusted.” “Now, he has his bachelor’s degree and he’s about to start a paid internship that can lead to a permanent job. I’m so proud of him!”   I’m here to tell you that before all of that, you may go through a period of extreme sadness.  Years ago, I knew this was going to be hard. But knowing it is going to be hard is just a surface scratch to the actual pain of experiencing it.  You may need to prepare a serious support system for or plan coping mechanisms ahead of time for to get you through the “hollow pangs.”

Before I close, I want to also share how the RAFT may look for the internal adjustment for the parent and the parent-child relationship.

The RAFT stands for the following:  

R= Reconciliation, which “includes both the need to forgive and be forgiven” (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., Third Culture Kids, Growing Up Among Worlds, 2009. p. 182.).  

A= Affirmation, which involves “the acknowledgement that each person in (a) relationship matters,” (Pollock, S. and Van Reken, R. 2009. p 182) including family members, significant adult figures or role models, and friends.

F= Farewells, which includes farewells to “people, places, pets, and possessions” (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., 2009. p 183).

T= Think Destination, which refers to considering what you need to prepare for both “internal… and external…resources for coping with problems” that may be encountered after arriving at your next destination.  (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., 2009. p. 184).

The following is my application of the Pollock-Van Reken RAFT for the internal process of this transition as a parent and between the parent-child relationship:


Some of this may not need to happen before your child leaves, but if anything is unresolved, it could determine how your child will visit after leaving.


Reconciliation –  If there are unresolved matters that have weighed heavily on the relationshp between you as the parent and your child, it would be healthy to address them with the goal of coming to terms with it before your child goes to college.  Some of this may not need to happen before your child leaves, but if anything is unresolved, it could determine how often your child will want to visit after leaving.  

Internally, if there are any areas where you as a parent need to forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made, it is also important to work through them if you have not yet.  No parent is perfect and we all have made mistakes.  If you need to seek forgiveness from your child, it may help to do this before your child leaves because again, it may determine how your child visits after leaving. 

Affirmation – Communicating about the various significant pleasant memories from the time spent with your child and what you cherish about your bond with your child can help affirm special aspects of your child’s character and personality.  This may help how he or she relates and builds relationshps with new people he or she will be encountering.  

Internally, it is important to cherish and congratulate yourself for your own accomplishment that led up to this new life stage for your child.  Before that may happen, however, it may be important to acknowledge and validate for yourself the losses you feel during this transition.  In a way, sharing what has been painful through this process is a way of grieving them so that I can move forward.  I invite you to also reflect on, allow yourself to completely feel and, if you feel comfortable, share here what are the hardest moments for you.

Farewells –   As far as the farewells my son and I face together, looking back, we have always done this throughout my son’s chldhood and adolescence as he entered each new stage of his development.  We often discuss changes in his relationships with people in his life.  We have reminisced about special places that have come and gone. My son isn’t the type to be attached to a geographical place unless there is significant memories attached to it, which may now be more associated with moments with his friends.  We are in the process of determining how I will takeover his share of care for the pets.  I will need to let go of certain souvenirs from his childhood. 

Internally, I am still working through this.  Much of what I share above is what I am working through as I bid farewell to how parenting has been for me, in sharp contrast to my role now as a parent of a college student. It was a reassuring experience for me, however, when I was present during one of the times my son hung out with close friends. My son as well as his friends seem to be very genuine about their friendships yet realistic about how often they will be seeing each other.  My son also has taken intiative to bid farewell to other special people in his life he has not seen in a while before leaving and has made efforts to make sure I will be ok. All of this is helping me with my own farewell to my previous role as a mother.

Think Destination –  Between my son and me, we have discusssed how he and I each feel about the next stage in life. I told him about the plans I have for starting a business on the side that involves something he’s known that I love doing and the possible nearby cities I plan to transition to after he leaves for college.  Yes, I’ve also expressed how much I miss him (probably more than I should have), but I hope that I have also expressed well enough about other passions and goals that I have.

Internally, the emotional impact of how my parental role will change is what I have been avoiding.  My son has resources for the next stages of his life, but internally for me, it’s completely foreign territory. I’ve been in college.  As much as my dad now will guide me through this transition, I have never been through it.  What I can say at this point is that translating the instinct I’ve had in equipping him with skills and knowledge that will help him take care of himself into  equipping him for this next life stage is what propels me forward emotionally. I just have to attach new emotions to this stage that involve more unfamiliarity and change. Each step of parenting as your child ages is new of course, but this transition is completely different.


There is no emotional “pre-nup” equivalent for the parent-child relationship. There isn’t supposed to be one.


Although I wished people warned me about how tough this transition can be, I think that in the end, the emotional process of this would still be difficult.  There is no emotional “pre-nup” equivalent for the parent-child relationship. There isn’t supposed to be one.  For those also going through what I am, we are supposed to risk feeling this pain because becoming a parent involved an investment of so much of ourselves.  There shouldn’t be some type of safeguard to prevent parents from feeling the pain when letting go.  If others are going through the same thing as I am about to go through tomorrow, please know I am going through this with you and yes, it hurts like crazy.  Allow yourself to experience it and as you move forward, I will be also. Grab your tissues, let it out, reach out for your support system and find all the strength you have within you to get through this.  And we will get through this.

 

 

TCKs and The Twilight Zone

“Message in a Bottle” by Kraftwerck

Once in a while it’s important to reflect on how significant personal journeys start, particularly the one that initiaited with what means to be a TCK.  This blog was started was to be a resource for Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and the cross culture community.  This article, Where Everybody Is: TCKs  and The Twilight Zone, written for global magazine Culturs, published in April of 2015, is just that: a reflection on the TCK identity.

 

No matter what country I was living in while growing up, there was one television show that was constant and served as “comfort TV”:  Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and it so happens that the first episode touches on Third Culture Kid themes.

(***SPOILER ALERT for those who have not yet watched this episode!***)

Recently, I decided to search for the first episode to see how this classic TV show, which had me glued to the TV screen for each airing in any language at any age, started.  Of all the topics in the science-fiction-psychological thriller-fantasy-suspense, short-story-with-a-twist-at-the-end world, Rod Serling started this classic TV program, which first aired in 1959, with the theme of aloneness in Where Is Everybody?  

In this first episode, a man wanders into a completely deserted but fully functioning town he doesn’t recognize, with no memory of who he is, how he got there or why the town is empty.  The town is complete with running electricity, shops open for business, and cars as if they had just been parked.  In a diner, the man finds freshly prepared food and a burning cigar resting on an ashtray, but like everywhere else in town, nobody is around.  The man, dressed in an Air Force suit, roams through the town looking for anyone to talk to. However, he only ends up speaking to himself and gets as far as figuring out part of his identity when he sees a movie poster of a film based on the real life experience of Air Force pilot Col. Dean Hess.

At one point in the episode, the man says outloud, hoping for anyone to hear him, “You see, there’s some question about my identity.  Let me put it to you this way, I’m not sure who I am.”  Finally, he breaks down and starts despereately asking for help. At the end, the reality of who and where he is is revealed.

The plot twist in this The Twlight Zone episode involves references to isolation and the American entrepreneurial spirit in space travel.  A quick Google search about the days of the original airing dates of the The Twilight Zone  shows that they were aired every Friday at the time.  This episode, originally aired on October 2, 1959 may or may not have given a one-year anniversary homage to NASA, which “began operations on October 1, 1958” after being established through the National Aeronautics and Space Act signed by President Eisenhower on July 29, 1958.  There is more to be said about the political and historical context about the purposes behind American space travel at the time, especially during the Cold War, but to summarize a few, part of the purposes include: representation, opportunity and positioning.

The general reasons why Third Culture Kids (TCKs) grew up in different countries are due to a similar entrepreneurial spirit.  In most circumstances, global expansion can be seen as a socio-economic-political after-effect of historical Western expansion and imperialism, if considering the root reasons of how TCKs and the parents who raise TCKs came to international assignments in the first place.  The series of developments leading up to the economic structures and globalization trends we know today have roots in the economic intentions colonialists like Christopher Columbus and other settlers had in seeking new territory for expansion.  Although not all intentions for international assignments are imperialistic in nature, of course, the economic relationships between the global North and South and the context of international commerce cannot be divorced from the past of colonialism.

While there are various sectors within the global nomad community of individuals with families sent on international assignments by host nations as well as individuals with personal economic and other interests, representation, opportunity and/or positioning have been common purposes for international presence, most obviously for the military, corporate and diplomatic sectors.  There are similar, but more faith-based and/or philantrophic intentions for missionaries.  The decisions and options of those who become migrant workers who relocate for a job and others who do not fit the above categories are also influenced by the state of international commerce as we know it today.

Along with the benefits of a cross-cultural life, TCKs can also make personal sacrifices as a result of nations expanding their interests into new frontiers, similar to the man in Where Is Everybody?, who symbolizes the sacrifices NASA astronauts and other employees made as space travel became one of the nation’s priorities. (I left a few details out so you could possibly enjoy some element of surprise if you have not seen it yet).  The children (TCKs) and spouses (Third Culture Adults) of those with a globally mobile career have our share of sacrifices as a result of being sent out to international postings.  TCKs and Third Culture Adults sacrifice stability of the living environment and staying close to family members, such as parents, siblings, other extended family members and, in some cases, children.  TCKs and Third Culture Adults also experience feeling different and isolated as a result of frequently being uprooted, which has the greatest impact during the developmental years, and experiences like feeling like an outsider in your own birth country.  (You may read more about the the experiences of Third Culture Kids in David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds)

With the topics of identity loss, isolation and loneliness brought up in Where Is Everybody? and the parallels I saw between the character’s experiences in the episode and expereinces common to TCKs, I could not help but reflect back on the time when I felt so displaced about my own identity and felt so alone because of it.  Throughout the years before I discovered I was a TCK, especially when I was not surrounded by other kids who grew up internationally, I had to internally try to deal with feeling so different by myself in ways I could not even speak to others about because I lacked the language for it at the time.  I could not name my losses and much like this man who was tortured because he did not know who or where he was nor where everybody was, there was a large part of my identity and therefore ability to connect with others with my whole self that was suffocating and suffering.

Even Rod Serling has language for isolation being a serious “enemy”:  “Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in the Twilight Zone.”  Towards the end of the episode, one character states, “The barrier of loneliness — that’s the one thing we haven’t licked yet.”

Without a langauge for my experiences and without acknowledgement of who I genuinely was or what I’ve struggled through as a child, I felt invisible in front of everybody and therefore very alone and isolated, like the man in the Twilight Zone episode.  Without acknowledge of who you are and your personal journey that involved struggle, it can feel like being in a deserted town, speaking only to yourself, questioning your identity and maybe even mental state.  Some throughout the years have been able to only see the “me” that was familiar to them or that they could relate to.  However, they could not see my whole self and everything I fought hard to not be defeated by throughout chidlhood, even though I had no words for it at the time and had no idea how many other people felt the same way I did.

The threat of isolation only points to the very basic need for human connection, which validateswhy TCKs feel the sense of urgency to just be seen, understood and connect.  This is also why today, I am so very grateful for coming across the cross-culture community of global nomads and TCKs.  Thank you to you all who have spoken up and created space for us to connect.  The moment I discovered you all, I was able to start feeling like I knew where everybody was at.

Love, Commitment and Wormholes: Three Observations about Marriage, Disability and Caregiving

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The best marriage training anyone could ever receive is through helping a married couple when one has a disabling condition requiring caregiving.  In the system of services for family caregiving, aging and sudden disability, there is little focus on the pre-existing quality of the marital or committed relationship between the caregiving spouse and the dependent spouse with an illness or disability.  In comparison to the financial, medical, and other health needs of someone with an adult onset disability or chronic illness, details of that person’s marital relationship can seem trivial.  Yet it plays a major role in the quality of life of the persons involved.  I had the honor of closely observing my parents’ marriage, which survived the challenges that come with caregiving and disability, and how they maintained quality in their marriage.

Various and complex factors can impact a marriage, but a disabling condition of one person can change everything. Available statistics on the rate of divorce or marital breakdown for marriages that have one person with a brain injury-related disability, for example, range from 15% to 25% (and 78% if including a study with a small participant size).   A study of anecdotal information revealed a common theme involving a drop in income and an eventual “burn-out over having to take care of the disabled spouse and seeing their quality of life eroding.” This in turn leads to “the abled spouse initiat(ing) a divorce, even though ‘feeling guilty’ about doing so.”


…You can be frustrated at how the other person is handling the situation, but at the end of the day, which is it that you really want to quit, the person or the situation?


For a real life first person example, one can read a sobering forum post initiated by a spousal caregiver seeking support about the sense of loss of the marriage he once knew with his wife before her stroke, while adjusting to the demanding role of a caregiver.

In our situation, my mother had a stroke in 2002 that left her requiring full-time caregiving. She was unable to sit up, walk or go to the bathroom on her own, and, in the beginning, unable to interact or speak with us with full consciousness.  She temporarily had a tracheostomy for a ventilator, because she was in in a deep coma for almost three weeks.  The brian injury from the stroke led to my mother needing a feeding tube in her stomach as the only way she could be fed for the rest of her life.  Although not fully conscious initially, it became clear in time that her speech, although with a raspier voice, as well as her memory and her personality remained intact, with some moments of less emotional self-restraint.  

Providing care for my mother was demanding and the drastic changes for her required tremendous strength to live through without depression, especially through six cities in four countries. However, the extra, almost 12, years with my mother is so very precious to us all.  She watched her only grandson grow up into a teenager. We bonded more as mother and daughter. This was special because I spent some years of my childhood away from my parents due to economic realities of foreign service careers based in countries economically poorer than Western countries.  My mother got to age with her dear husband and partner through a lifetime of international transitions and postings.  Some of these posting were very challenging, but not as challenging as how they spent their last 12 years together, seven of which my father was her primary caregiver, which especially impacted my parents’ quality of life and marriage.

According to a study by Perry Singleton, “couples with lower quality marriages are more likely to divorce than couples with higher quality marriages.”  I was blessed to be able to witness my parents’ marriage, seasoned with many victories the surmounted typical marital problems as well the challenges that come with frequent upheavals and transitory nature of a globally nomadic life, survive their final stage of caregiving and disability.

Below are three of the many observations I have made about my parents’ relationship in the final stages of their marriage:

1)   My parents did not hold back in being and expressing themselves.


Roar loudly when you are going through something significant!  Even self-acknowledgement of how you are affected can go a long way.


My mother, with her strong personality that most people who know her note about her, didn’t hold back when it came to expressing her needs around my dad.  My father on the other hand, who is more reserved and quiet, wasn’t often expressive about his needs.  However, he was himself, so when he was silent and when he did speak up, my mother knew what each meant.  Their old patterns of communication as a married couple carried over to their life roles as a caregiver and disabled spouse.

By not holding back what they felt or needed, my parents rode each wave of tension for as far as they could handle as individuals and as a couple, but they got on the waves and didn’t swim away from them.  Yes, not many people would sign up to get on the waves, but they did.  As they did, my parents roared loud expressions of how they were being affected, in the form of speaking as well as silence, to stay on those waves.

My parents made a decision decades ago, believing a person’s word at the wedding altar meant something beyond the first several years of marriage. They stuck to that decision until the end, and as they approached their last stages of their life together they did so LOUDLY.   Roar loudly when you are going through something significant!  Even self-acknowledgement of how you are affected can go a long way.

2) My parents lied about quitting each other.


 …Plan to turn every statement you have made or may ever make about quitting a good relationship or marriage into a big fat lie and make sure the other person knows you will always be lying about that.


Did my parents at least at one point each express they wanted to quit either by death or physically leaving?  Yes. Afterall, they didn’t hold back from expressing themselves.  But at times expressing oneself is just that.  Not everything you express outloud is necessarily a threat that has to be carried out.  Sometimes expressions are to share frustrations rather than actual plans of action.

What can be confused in the expression of frustrations is what each person is frustrated at.  Is each person frustrated at the situation or truly the other person?  Yes, of course you can be frustrated at how the other person is handling the situation, but at the end of the day, which is it that you really want to quit: the person or the situation?

Each time my parents surpassed a conflict, after each wave of tension died down and they roared loudly from where each were at, there was always a new dawn that rekindled their love for one another and there were actually many many more days of laughter and affection than the tension filled days.  My parents commitment to one another was more than just a legal decision to permanently stick to something you signed for on a binding contract.

Each wave my parents’ surpassed was an elevation to a new level of love for one another.  Theirs was the type that seemed to see in each other at least the core value of life of the one they had been the most intimate and vulnerable with, in all the ways two human beings can ever be, with only free will propelling this love forward.

At times, this could be the only reason left when fond memories aren’t enough to make you feel the emotions to keep going, especially after looks fade and the life you once shared is a thing of the past.  Perhaps not everyone, whether single or married, may experience this love.  However, one way to possibly to do so is to plan to turn every statement you have made or may ever make about quitting a good relationship or marriage into a big fat lie and make sure the other person knows you will always be lying about that.

3) My parents’ love knew no boundaries of space and time.


Facing the toughest challenges in a marital or commited relationship may be the key to opening your world up to wormholes, or unimagineable depths of love unlimited by space and time.


The most romantic moments I have ever seen between two people in my life were enacted each time I watched my father patiently feed and clean up after my mother, who would reach over to express gratitude through a wordless but overwhelmingly affectionate soft caress of his arm while they looked into each others’ eyes.

These were the moments that demonstrated to me why couples ride waves of tension together, loud as the ride may be, then ride another one, and another one until there are no more.  They way my parents looked into each others’ eyes during moments like this was the same way they used to look at each other in younger years when both were able bodied and able to travel, eat and move about freely.  Their love for each other was timeless.

There is one date I remember my parents used to reminisce about before my mother’s stroke.  What was cute was the way they would each separately talk about a certain date they had for one of their anniversaries in Seoul, S. Korea.  They each, separately, would fondly talk about the same details of that evening: the ceiling painted with clouds, the beautiful and blonde haired harpist playing in the corner and the overall pleasant ambience of the restuarant, all working together as the backdrop of the wonderful time they had with each other that evening – an evening they would both jokingly describe as, “like being in heaven.”  Almost 30 years later, my parents still reminisced about this evening with the same fondness for this moment they shared in time.  

Today, my father recounts the same evening with the same fondness and sentimental value, smiling and laughing at the same details that have only partially illustrated what seems to be a whole universe of an eternal evening full of very special moments for both.

It is as if there is a wormhole my parents frequently travelled through because the quality of excitement in my parents eyes, voice and smile they would reminisce with about that one fancy and special anniversary date was always fresh. It was as if that date always just happened the evening before, even after almost 30 years later in a completely different country, right from the comforts of a bedroom set up for an elderly person with a disability.  

My father says, “you don’t know how deeply you can love someone until you serve them.”  Perhaps it is this level of love that helps to makes special moments like this anniversary date eternal.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that a married couple tested through the challenges of caregiving and disability, can keep special moments like this fresh and alive.  Facing the toughest challenges in a marital or commited relationship may be the key to opening up your world up to wormholes, or unimagineable depths of love unlimited by space and time.

In the realm of love, there is space for life that never ends if you don’t let it die with drastic changes in a your beloved’s physical condition or last breath.  In the realm of love, space and time do not serve as limitations but as mere background details for eternal moments.  In the realm of love, being real includes forever.

 

About the Author

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Sickness and In Health

MarriageVows2

Marriage vows from my parents’ wedding album.

In Sickness and in Health: The First Year of Grief, in My Father’s Words

My father has five pieces of advice from his first year of grieving since my mother passed away, but first let me describe their marriage.  If you have ever found someone you could be your complete self around without having to hide a part of who you are… someone you could be the angriest self you’ve ever been but find them still around long enough that you share your next laughs together… someone who knows you so well that when they look into your eyes, they are already listening to you…  someone who has learned what words can break you and breaks each time they regret ever saying them in the past, you’ve been blessed with something not everyone has.  I’ve witnessed this type of love in my parents’ marriage.

Throughout my parents’ marriage, they loved each other through the various emotions human beings can ever feel and through the different stages intimate relationships usually go through.  I witnessed the strength of their love through different seasons like a tree that sways with changes, but still remains standing tall and alive after the storm passes.   I cannot imagine how my father feels without his long time life partner now for almost a year, the longest they have ever been apart since they got married.  Therefore, I decided to let him share his own words about the past year:

MYRA:  Papa, it is almost a year now, coming up in about two weeks that Mama left us. Do you feel different in your journey of grieving Mama at this time compared to how you felt last year? 

PAPA:  Even until now, about a year after, I still feel part of me is empty.  In fact, my grief for her departure is as deep as the hour she left.  Perhaps to console myself, I sometimes stand next to her bed and blurt out that I miss her, and I love her.

MYRA:  I do something similar when I miss her, but I can’t imagine how you must feel.  Not long after Mama passed away, I remember speaking to a neighbor who described her feelings after her husband died as having a hole in her heart.  She also lost her mother around the time she lost her husband.  She said that losing a spouse is a different, more intense kind of pain.  

Does this describe how you’ve felt?  Can you describe how that pain has been and the process you feel you have gone through in the past year? 


…There is something very personal that touches the innermost sensitivities of our soul when we lose someone with whom we’ve shared our most intimate feelings and thoughts throughout the years.


PAPA:  Losing anyone you love is painful as it is, whether it is your parents or a brother or sister.  But there is something very personal that touches the innermost sensitivities of our soul when we lose someone with whom we’ve shared our most intimate feelings and thoughts throughout the years.  Eva had been by my side as a young mother of our only daughter – you, Myra – through the challenges as well as  joyful times from the martial law years in the Philippines, to the postings in China, Malaysia, Germany, Romania, South Korea, Bahrain, and Mexico.  We were together when we experienced the saving grace of the Almighty in the revolution period in Romania, when we shared the Gospel to the Filipino workers in Korea and Bahrain, and when we experienced God’s miracles in the Kingdom of Bahrain.  

To an elderly man or woman who suddenly lost a partner, any moment of the past is very special and can trigger nostalgia as well as pain at the sudden realization that someone we used to share stories and laugh with daily is no longer around.  So we sit back in silence.   


A spouse does not find the depth of their love until they serve their partner.


Even months after she joined the Lord, I still could hear her voice calling “Papa!”  In her last seven years, she was bed-ridden as a stroke survivor, and I was her primary caregiver twenty-four/seven.  In Eva’s last fourteen months, you, Myra, sacrificed much of your time providing extra care for her.  For several months after Eva’s memorial service, whenever I went anywhere, I still felt I should rush back home “because Eva is waiting for me,” I always said to myself.  

Although those last years demanded many sacrifices – short hours of sleep, irregular meals, etc. – to me, they were worth much more than otherwise.  I will never exchange all the moments we spent together even as she was in a wheelchair and later bed-ridden.  A spouse does not find the depth of their love until they serve their partner.  The more a spouse sacrifices for their husband or wife, the deeper becomes the love.  No wonder Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and said to them, “If I don’t do this to you, you have no part of me.”      

MYRA:  What has been the most helpful for you since Mama passed away?  What activities, conversations, words, etc. have helped?


Continuing closeness with family….”extended family”….the “outside world”…


PAPA:  Having my daughter and grandson to share those moments of sadness with, as well as the presence of Eva’s siblings who visited, and the prayers and kind words from friends, neighbors, relatives and the church gave me much comfort.   Beyond the period of mourning, the continuing closeness with family – you and my grandson – significantly eases the pain.  The ever-ready kindness and attachment assured by my brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunties as well as friends from our younger days are irreplaceable.  The consistent understanding, patience, and help from friends and neighbors give me assurance that as I readjust to a new life, I will not be alone in the journey.  In practical terms, they are part of my “extended family” in San Antonio.  Fellowship with members of the churches we attend had also helped in my transition to the “outside world.”  

Working on the book that the Lord had impressed in my heart to finish re-directs my soul from grief to a meaningful existence, now that my partner in life is gone.  Joining a writers’ group recently has given me encouragement and technical assistance especially in the areas of editing, interior/book cover design, and marketing in a self-publish but affordable approach.  In a sense, the writers’ group is my first social activity since my wife died.      

But most important of all is the Lord Jesus Christ who gives me strength in every step of my journey from the depth of sorrow.  

MYRA:  Are there any encounters or situations you have had that was not very helpful in the grieving process or you think would not be helpful to anyone who recently lost their spouse?  


…Every neighborhood association should have some type of protocol for bereavement so that there are less burdens for the family.


PAPA:  When something tragic happens in our life, there are things that we neglect to do.  For several months, from winter until Eva departed in March, I had not cut the lawn and the grass had grown tall.  Someone complained and talked to the other neighbors that I “should take care of my property.”  Although he was right, I wish he was understanding enough to give me time until I could regain from the shock of loss.   

MYRA: Yes I think that was about a week after she passed away and the aunts and uncle had just left.  We were all still in shock because everything happened so fast.  I had to explain to his wife what happened.  I think every neighborhood association should have some type of protocol for bereavement so that there are less burdens for the family. In fact, that’s what the neighbor who is a widow mentioned to me, that the neighborhood association we have used to have bereavement acknowledgements in the past.

Papa, thank you for spending time to share what is on  your heart about the first year since Mama’s death.  In closing, do you have any advice to offer people out there in the aging journey, people who may have just lost their spouse, or people who are concerned about widows/widowers they know? 

PAPA:  Yes. I have five things to share:

1) Eva was prepared when her time came.  She had accepted the Lord years before, and she had set her mind to accept the inevitable.  She already talked to the chaplain, shook her head when the nurse’s aid said “I’ll see you next week,” and in her last three days she was singing a good-bye song and was shouting “Papa, I love you.”  Her husband, only daughter, and only grandson were with her, at her home, in the final hour. Those who are about to leave us are believed to know when it is their time.  They are at peace with their destiny if their faith assures them well in advance of their place in the Kingdom of Heaven, that they are loved especially by their family, and that the loved ones they will leave behind will be in good situation.  

When a surviving spouse knows that the departed partner was prepared and is assured that the partner is in a better place, ie. in God’s paradise, the widow/widower can find it easier to process the shock. 

2) I have never felt closer to Eva as when I was taking care of her, day and night.  It was special quality time. The “sacrifices and inconveniences” are actually opportunities to show how much you love your partner and how much you appreciate their presence in your life.  

So be glad when you can do something for your spouse, whether he/she is well or ill.  

3) Whether you are young or old, you should take advantage of the time you have with each other to say – expressly verbalize – “I love you.”  You never know how long you will have such luxury of being alive.  Make the habit of saying the words from the moment you wake up. Even if your partner is abroad or at work, call up as if it is the last chance you have.  And serve them with the dedication as you did with your partner when he/she was still active and healthy; you will feel more deeply in love with them.    

To all the people you love, especially your spouse, children, grandchildren, and siblings, say to them how you feel while you can do it.  

4)  I remember a friend who delayed his trip when his mother was seriously ill.  By the time he visited, his mother had already died.  He regretted it so deeply that until now, he still keeps the watch he bought as “pasalubong” for his mother.  

The most painful of all is regret… thinking, “I should have done it” when it is too late, when the other person can no longer see or hear you.  

So don’t procrastinate.

5)  After the departure of your partner, strike a balance between your grief and your sanity. Have a project that will keep you interested and mentally alert as well as physically active.  For me, finishing the book has kept me going spiritually.  If I can find employment regardless of the position and salary, as long as it helps pay the bills and keeps me active, so much the better.

You must make an effort to stay active and involved in the things you care about.

 

The Gift on My Mom’s First Birthday Since Death

 

Photo credit: "Single" by Linsday

Photo credit: “Single” by Lindsay, used with Creative Commons License

On January 27, 2015, my family lived through the first birthday of my mother after her death.  On that one day, I cried and I laughed.  I bummed around and I got dressed up.  I slowed down enough to get nostalgic and I rushed in between hectic events.  On that day, I learned that I could experience “all of the above” while still grieving.  I also received an unexpected gift.

We celebrated my mother’s birthday in honor of her.  When she was alive and especially when she was able bodied, she used to celebrate the birthdays of loved ones who were far away and who had passed away.  For her, being absent was not an obstacle to celebrating special occasions.  Of course, celebrating special occasions with certain loved ones missing is not the best.  Perhaps my mother learned this as a wife of a career diplomat moving globally as an alternative to the feeling of missing out on everything as an expat.  We celebrated my mom’s birthday in her absence because she did that for so many of us through the years and because we miss her.


I my mind, I needed to stay at home and absorb my mom’s absence on a day that was probably going to be one of the days of the year I would grieve most intensely.


 This year, my mother’s birthday was the same day as a close friend’s wedding.  At first I was hesitant about going.  I was not sure I would be in the right frame of mind or be emotionally energetic enough to attend a wedding.  I thought to myself, “Of all the days in the year, it had to be on her birthday??… How am I supposed to make that decision?”  In my mind, I needed to stay at home and absorb my mom’s absence on a day that was probably going to be one of the days of the year I would grieve most intensely.

However, I surprised myself.  About two weeks before the wedding, I decided to offer my close friend and his fiance a formal wedding portrait package as my wedding gift.  Whatever plans they had for a formal wedding shoot had not yet been solidified so the wedding shoot became useful for the couple.  The desire came naturally and I began to look forward to doing this for my friends on their special day.

Doing the wedding photo shoot was a giant step for me.  The last formal photo shoot I did was at the end of February, 2014, about two weeks before my mom passed away.  That photo shoot took me out of the house for some hours on the last day it turned out she was speaking with full consciousness.  It’s still too painful to count exactly how many hours I was away from her side… it’s a useless and pointless kind of painful.  


I carried around guilt for over ten months because of the timing of when I left the house to do that last photo shoot.


When I came back home that evening, something seemed different about my mom, but I thought she was just tired.  By the next day, her speech and mind slowly began to show signs of deterioration.  I carried around guilt for over ten months because of the timing of when I left the house to do that last photo shoot. I had a hard time looking at the photos from that photography session for a long time.

At this exact time I am writing this sentence, I am realizing now that the wedding photo shoot was a gift from my mom to release me from the guilt I carried around for over ten months.  The timing of the wedding and the fact that my friends did not yet have any offers for a formal wedding photography session came into play for me to learn that I should not stop doing what I love doing.

The question I previously thought to myself is now my answer:  “Of all the days in the year, it had to be on her birthday.”

Because of the wedding, what started off as a day of nostalgia and a sense of homesickness for my mom, ended up being a very full day.  January 27th this year started off with me looking at photos and videos of her birthday from last year shortly after midnight.  When I woke up in the morning, I called one of my mom’s sisters to talk about my mom and the mini celebration my aunt was preparing for the day also.  

I cut fresh roses from our garden and arranged them in various vases on the area we reserved for my mom’s urn.  We set the framed photo of my mom, my dad’s favorite photo of her, the birthday balloon and small birthday cake I got later, in the same area.  I said my birthday wishes to my mom before I rushed out the door for the photo shoot.


My visually creative side was alive again and everything seemed natural to me.  My friends look beautiful in the photos and I am grateful I was there to capture the moment of the day they got married.


The photo shoot was wonderful.  My visually creative side was alive again and everything seemed natural to me.  My friends look beautiful in the photos and I am grateful I was there to capture the moment of the day they got married.  We proceeded to the reception venue and I set up an area for photo sessions for the guests before rushing back home.  My dad, my son and I would be home and awake at the same time only in that window before the wedding reception. 

When I got home, we celebrated my mom’s birthday and took photos together of the occasion before I quickly dressed up for the wedding reception.  I rushed back to the reception wearing an outfit that resembled my mom’s style, including a top she gave me a long time ago.  I used one of her purses that matched my outfit.  I met up with my date at the reception, someone I laugh a lot with, and we just enjoyed the evening. I took photos, I ate, I drank and I was merry.  Within the few hours of the reception, we all created memories that will now always be part of the day my friends got married.


I know my mom would have loved to smell the roses, have some cake, hold the birthday balloon in her hand in her childlike zest for life, and hear all the stories about the rest of the hectic day…(it) makes me cry, but I also smile because she gave me a gift on her birthday.


 At the end of the day, I came home to a quiet house.  But it was also the quiet you get after a full day lived well.  I know my mom would have loved to smell the roses, have some cake, hold the birthday balloon in her hand in her childlike zest for life, and hear all the stories about the rest of the hectic day.  To imagine how it would be to still have her here with us on her birthday makes me cry, but I also smile because she gave me a gift on her birthday.  

On my mom’s first birthday since her death, my mom gave me this message:  “Live days worth telling stories about.”

"Mama's Gift on Her First Birthday Since Death"

On January 27, 2015, I learned I must continue to be present in this life, unpause what I love doing and continue to live out my days knowing it’s ok to miss my mom deeply, but also making sure I don’t miss out on life.

 

Thank you, Mama, for your gift to me on your first birthday since you left us.

We love you, Evangeline Vitug Dumapias, January 27, 1945 – March 15, 2014.

 

When Christmas Is Not Merry

Background Image, “Christmas Bokeh” by Freddie Brown, used with Creative Commons license

 

This holiday season is not necessarily a time full of joy and giving for everyone.  Some may be grieving and need to have the time, space and support to do so.

 


None of us have put up a single Christmas decoration or played a single Christmas tune in the house and this is perfectly okay.


 

Some are grieving a loved one they have lost or, due to their stage in life, multiple losses of peers contemporary to their age as well as family members.   Some may be experiencing a bittersweet last Christmas with someone who may not have long to live.  Some may be trying their best to move through the holidays with a condition that incapacitates all efforts to celebrate the way they used to.  Some are not able to give of their time, presence or resources because of financial struggle.  For the global nomad or expat community, financial difficulty can mean being far away and isolated from dearly loved family members or friends.

For my readers who are experiencing any of the above or similar situations, please know that you are not alone.  This is my family’s first Christmas without my mother.  None of us have put up a single Christmas decoration or played a single Christmas tune in the house and this is perfectly okay.  This is just how it happened.  I did not plan it, but it was my mom who looked forward to putting the Christmas decorations up and playing the Christmas songs.

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), there were times when Christmas did not look like a greeting card or the happy endings in Christmas movies.  There were years I lived separately from my parents and sometimes only one parent could visit for Christmas until I was old enough to travel by myself for an international holiday visit.

 


 I had seen news images of the revolution and damages in the city, not knowing my parents lived in a crossfire, before I knew exactly where they were and before I could even say “Merry Christmas” to them over the telephone…


 

The first year I was not together with both my parents for Christmas was my first year as a college student.  I was in California and my parents, who were assigned to Bucharest at the time, were travelling between Eastern European countries to get out of harms way during the Romanian Revolution of 1989.  They experienced difficulties from a car breaking down after hitting a large deer, to not knowing if they were about to be ambushed, to driving without visibility.

They later returned to their residence with the front outside wall of the house riddled with bullet holes and bullet shells scattered across the driveway.   I had seen news images of the revolution and damages in the city, not knowing my parents lived in a crossfire, before I knew exactly where they were and before I could even say “Merry Christmas” to them over the telephone (remember, there were no mobile phones, GPS, commercial use of the internet or data plans at the time).

Christmas has not always been picture perfect, but nothing prepared me for what I am experiencing as well as what the rest of the family is experiencing. Days are tolerable.  I have many funny memories of my mom’s cute and funny statements and ways, but there is a void that will never be replaced.  It is a void that I, on a daily basis, intentionally do not let myself drown in because it would engulf me.  

So it is okay if I do not display the Christmas decorations that remind me of where my mom wanted them placed last year.

 


Even the simple act of acknowledging someone’s loss and recognizing the value of the loss helps greatly.


 

My father has been staying afloat with his faith as his primary vessel, even through the moments he keeps to himself, but, I can tell, are less tolerable.  A neighbor who lost her husband several years ago once described the loss of a spouse, different from the loss of a parent, as feeling like a literal “hole in (her) heart.”   For my dad, this holiday season involves memories like exchanging simple Christmas gifts and greetings in a car stranded in a blizzard somewhere in Eastern Europe, when the most valuable gift is each other’s life.  

So it is okay if my dad does not switch the radio to tune into Christmas songs the way he used to every year while my mom was no longer able-bodied.

My son also keeps his emotions to himself, but I know he also feels the void and misses his confidante.  I am witnessing how he, as a teen, does what he can to be as supportive as possible of his grandfather and mother through this season.  His growth into adult years involves the lasting impression if my mother, whom he came to know not only throughout his childhood, but now through the stories we tell about her.  

So it is remarkable that my teen son even thought of using his hard earned money from his part time job to buy Christmas gifts for us.

For my readers who know families who may be experiencing a loss of some sort at this time, I hope you can offer some support.  Even the the simple act of acknowledging someone’s loss and recognizing the value of the loss helps greatly.

 


 The pace and expression of grief is different for everyone, especially during the holidays.


 

There is no benefit to expecting or pressuring anyone to demonstrate emotional or spiritual strength by acting joyful at this time.  There is a difference between letting someone know they are not alone and offering support in the form of company or sharing a meal, and expecting changes as a result of your support.  The pace and expression of grief is different for everyone, especially during the holidays.

A member of a family that was at least at one point globally mobile can be experiencing more than one of the grief situations I mentioned above.  Thus, it is important that we, a community of globe or cross-cultural trotters who most likely have said more goodbyes than we wanted to, honor those who are grieving and the way they wish to grieve this holiday season.

This season may not be picture perfect or resemble happy endings in Christmas movies, but it can be a time to reflect back and honor the perfect and happy memories of loved ones.

I leave you with this holiday greeting I posted in social media on December 24, 2013:

Moments are never repeated again. No matter how routine or tedious some things in life can feel, our days are never on auto-repeat. 

Whether we feel invested in or detached from each moment, we will never be able to go back to it.

Taking a mental snapshot of this time when I can embrace both my parents, my son and our dogs.

Sometimes it takes a painful looking back at the past to realize things were never the same again.

May we all have more of the gift of consciousness of what we’d miss, looking back, in each “now” moment…my hope and prayer for all of you out there this holiday/ Christmas season.

 

Thank you all for reading and following my blog posts.

Until our next hello in 2015,

Myra Dumapias

Background Image, "Christmas Bokeh" by Freddie Brown, used with Creative Commons license

Background Image, “Christmas Bokeh” by Freddie Brown, used with Creative Commons license

Confronting Goodbyes

“Goodbye” by Gybsteria, used with Creative Commons license

[Once in a while, there are some topics that have particular meaning to caregivers or the aging population, but also hold significant meaning to global nomads or Third Culture Kids of different ages.  How we say goodbye is one of these topics.  This article, “Confronting Goodbyes,” was originally published in Culturs, a “global, multi-cultural lifestyle magazine for Global Nomads, Third Culture Kids and racially-, ethnically-, and culturally-blended people.”]

If I had a shirt I could have worn throughout my childhood and teen years of moving around the world, it would spell out these words from my all-time favorite quote: “I hate good-byes.”

Good-byes for me meant leaving countless close friends I could be completely be myself around. I had to constantly leave behind or be left behind by the friends I had sleep-overs with, tape recorded little adventures with, and shared secrets with.  A history of “last times” with friends I grew up with, in one to two-year time spans, perforated the timeline of my days with them.

Good-byes also meant living away from my parents through some childhood years that will never be repeated.  When the tuition of the limited options for English education was beyond my parents’ budget, I at times needed to live with my grandparents and cousins in another country. Political unrest in the country of our expat assignment also sometimes led to the need for me to live away from my parents.


 Frequent goodbyes can make one want to feel numb.  However, I am not. Something always pulled me back to feeling the pain of good-byes each time they happen and I could not figure out why I had not developed a coping mechanism to feel less of the pain as I got older.


 

I also had to let go of favorite places, classes, teachers and school staff, foods, and TV shows.   Good-byes cut short the time I had with loved ones as well as whole environments. This can take a toll on emotions when it’s repeated so frequently and when it occurs before a child or adolescent has had a chance to know what stability feels like.

Frequent goodbyes can make one want to feel numb.  However, I am not. Something always pulled me back to feeling the pain of good-byes each time they happened and I could not figure out why I had not developed a coping mechanism to feel less of the pain as I got older.  I took psychology courses in college and learned more about human development in my graduate education for social work.

None of the theories or case study exercises ever seemed to satisfactorily address my sense of grief at goodbyes, the enormity of its effect in my life or the way newer goodbyes, even those I that were unintentionally re-enacted by children around me, were connected to the goodbyes of my youth.

I only figured it out when I experienced the deepest goodbye I have ever experienced in my life thus far: the goodbye journey I had with my mother when she passed away.  It was not until she passed away earlier this year that I reflected on how she said goodbye to me throughout the years.


 …she would watch her loved one not only board a plane, but watch the plane fly away until it was smaller than a dot in the sky.  My mother would watch the car of her loved one drive away until it turned a corner or the tail lights were so far they were less than sparkles at night.


 

My mother would confront each goodbye with me and other loved ones through the very last minute moment of it.  Before the historical event that changed airport security practices worldwide, she would watch her loved one not only board a plane, but watch the plane fly away until it was smaller than a dot in the sky.  My mother would watch the car of her loved one drive away until it turned a corner or the tail lights were so far they were less than sparkles at night.  She would watch my school bus drive away until she could no longer see it after shifting her position or peering around obstacles in her line of sight.

My mother knew how to say goodbye because she did not fear the pain of it.  She confronted the pain of goodbyes in a way that most think unnecessary or too overwhelming to tolerate.  It seems almost unthinkable how a wife of a foreign service career diplomat who moved so frequently can still be willing to feel the pain of goodbyes.  After making a home for her family and connecting to friends as intimately as she would with her own siblings or children, she would time and again leave behind everything she whole heartedly put herself into.

I wondered, “How did she do that?  How can my mom bear the pain over and over again?  How can it not tear her down to wanting to just give a little less the next time around and even less after that?”

When I think about my parents’ last foreign assignment, in Bahrain, I am even more bewildered.  It was at this last post that my mothers’ capacity to connect to people seemed to shine the brightest.  Her own brother mentioned how shocked he was at the countless number of my mother’s genuine friends during his visit to Bahrain.  In the single setting of a hospital waiting room, my uncle witnessed a diverse pool of visiting friends who were deeply affected when my mother had a major disabling stroke at the age of 57.  The repeated visits of numerous friends arriving in shifts for weeks demonstrated to him a deeper level of friendship than courtesy visits for a diplomat’s wife.

Reflecting back, this meant that instead of giving less of herself after each goodbye, she was able to become even more genuine after each move.


…the reason why my mother was able to connect so well to people was her lack of fear of the pain of goodbyes.  The reason why she faced the pain of goodbyes was so that she could look forward to the next hello again and again…. It was as if she knew she would not run out of what sourced her to keep giving.


 

I grew up noticing how my mother would start a conversation with a stranger and show genuine interest in the stranger’s children and spouse, sibling or aging parents they left behind.  She connected with people of different backgrounds: from the visiting Korean concert pianist who accompanied a world touring Filipino violinist, to the Filipino factory worker, to the photographer for the royal family, to the husband and wife musician team at the hotel, to fellow ambassador wives who also missed their children who were away .  In turn, they connected with her as their mother, dear sister, or aunt.  In person, I have met at least five individuals who called my mother, “mom.”  I am an only child.

It occurred to me that the reason why my mother was able to connect so well to people was her lack of fear of the pain of goodbyes.  The reason why she faced the pain of goodbyes was so that she could look forward to the next hello again and again.  Feeling the pain ensured she was still present and that she had herself to offer again for the next hello with her loved ones as well the next hello with strangers. It was as if she knew she would not run out of what sourced her to keep giving.

My mother grew up in the era when overseas travel involved loved ones parting at a ship dock.  The person on the ship would throw and stay connected with the person at the dock with a string one person would hold on one end and the other person would hold on the other until the string snaps. I believe my mother faced the heart-wrenching emptiness of watching someone leave and withstood the position of being the one left behind because emotionally, she knew she would be ok after feeling the pain.  Finding a way to live with the pain of goodbyes allowed her to spend every last moment possible in the presence of those she loved.  Even to be near enough to the plane that took off was special to her. The cost of the pain in doing things like this was worth it for her.  Perhaps this fueled her until she could make it to the next reunion with loved ones.


 It is healthy to feel pain.  We need to embrace the heart-wrenching pain of goodbyes so that we can embrace the joys of the hellos and the connections that can form from them.


 

We as a Third Culture Kid or global nomad tribe must know that we can be ok after feeling the pain of goodbyes so that we can look forward to the next hellos.  It is healthy to feel pain.  We need to embrace the heart-wrenching pain of goodbyes so that we can embrace the joys of the hellos and the connections that can form from them.

I realized the answer I was looking for just were not in textbooks.  I hated goodbyes and hate the remnants of painful goodbyes from my youth still, but I continue to face them anyway because it is part of the journey of valuing relationships.  Without feeling pain at the last moments with people we value, how do we know we are allowing ourselves to experience the full extent of vulnerability that allows for growth in relationships?  Pain is a miserable emotion, but without it, we miss out on the broad spectrum of life and relational experiences.  Without pain, how do we know we are truly alive?

The entirety of my all-time favorite quote states,

“Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together forever?  Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. And then we have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes… You know what I need? I need more hellos.” (Charles M. Schulz, “Snoopy, Come Home!” 1972, song “It Changes”).

The next time you find yourself dreading goodbyes, consider how your last goodbyes can prepare you to embrace your next hellos.

 

Dedicated to my mom, Evangeline V. Dumapias, who passed away on March 15, 2014 and all wives or husbands who give so much of themselves in their support of a spouse with a globally mobile career.

About the Author

The Spaces Left Behind

Photo and text by Myra Dumapias, © Myra Dumapias, thelastboardingcall.com

When the reality of aging seems to start surrounding people close to you, you cannot help to start thinking about where you are in life and your own mortality.  We just lost another family member, after her long fight against cancer, last night.  She is the third among my father’s siblings who passed away in  succession within less than three years:  my uncle Virgil on January 16, 2012, my aunt Rebecca on February 23, 2013 and my aunt Fe on October 20, 2014.  My mom Eva, my father’s wife, died earlier this year on March 15.  They each weren’t that old, yet they are part of the generation just ahead of me and it’s heart wrenching to see a generation of siblings start to shrink in number.  

Somehow, it does not matter how old you are.  The moment you start to see your own aunt and uncles, and your own parent, aging and passing away, you suddenly feel that some mysteries that used to lay ahead in the future have already unfolded.  I remember thinking, when I would see photos several years apart, that we all have great genes.  Aging didn’t seem to impact us that much, even just 10 or 15 years ago.  Now, it seems that I’ve been in denial or asleep, like a science fiction character waking up in the 25th century after a cryogenic state.  When I used to watch Buck Rogers as a child, I imagined what the future would be like, but I never imagined what the loss of people would feel like.

I tried to do errands today and everything seemed different.  My aunt Fe’s death is the sixth death in a recent series starting with my cousin Zeke on March 4, 2011, the deaths of my mom, two aunts and my uncle mentioned above, and Dennis, a dear close friend and godfather to my son, on October 31, 2013.  

Death is not just for the elderly.  It can happen to people whom you would never think you would have to say goodbye to so early and you know what?  The loss feels the same, no matter how old a person dies.  The loss of an elderly person should hold the same weight as the loss of someone so young.  Shock factor is not the same as value of life.  Of course, there is more shock for someone younger losing their life, but the loss is the same because the value of the life of an elderly person is not less.


“…You know what?  The loss feels the same, no matter how old a person dies.  The loss of an elderly person should hold the same weight as the loss of someone so young.  Shock factor is not the same as value of life.”


 

You see, with all the deaths in my family and circle of friends, I’ve encountered some statements that did not really help in my grieving:  “But she was sick for a while, right?”,  “She/he was already a grandmother/grandfather?”,  “Were you really that close?”,  or just simply, ”            “, when people do not even acknowledge your loss or say anything what-so-ever and move on with businesses as usual.  

It might be easier for some to find words when a young or generally healthy person suddenly dies.  It is true, when someone passes away at a young age, it is unfair because they did not have as much time on earth.  However, again, the value of life is still the same.  The loss may just be felt more among people of the same generation.  Whether or not we think we can relate to older generations, we at least need to be sure our empathy levels are the same for all losses. If it is not, it is a reflection of a problem in our hearts and as a society.


“Whether or not we think we can relate to older generations, we at least need to be sure our empathy levels are the same for all losses. If it is not, it is a reflection of a problem in our hearts and as a society.”


 

I’m grateful for my aunts and uncles, through whom I catch glimpses of my parents’ childhoods.   I’m grateful for their hearts, their generosity, their strength and their faith.  I’m grateful for all my cousins and my nieces and nephews whom I admire so greatly because I find warmth during times of loss.  I’m grateful for all their love because they have shown that distance in geography and across that line between life and death does not mean distance in the heart.

When an older generation starts to slowly become part of the past, to remain as stories on pages or oral traditions, our daily lives should feel less full, less enriched and a little more shallow.  It’s up to younger generations to fill, season and deepen our lives again.  However, the younger generations must see the vacant seats, hear the echoes of missing voices, and feel the emptiness of spaces left behind.

Thank you to all who help me see that today’s younger generations are more than able to fill the spaces left behind by those who have passed on.

Photo and text by Myra Dumapias, © Myra Dumapias, thelastboardingcall.com

 

This is dedicated to the Dumapias and the Vitug clans. 

About the Author

The H Word

HWordImage_2_4211PostEdit

I wanted nothing to do with it what-so-ever.  It was the dirtiest word anyone could ever toss in my direction.  If my mind was ever close to the door where this word was waiting on the other side, I turned around and walked away.  It was a cold arrogant intrusive slap in my face.

When a social worker told me about the option for hospice care for my mother, I immediately thought of the competition businesses for the elderly must find themselves in.  As I listened to the representative for home care services and, on a separate appointment, the representative for hospice care, I thought about what PR skills they must have to “win the bid.”  It wasn’t so much that they were pushing their product, but it was the lack of empathy I saw in their eyes.  As a social worker, I was familiar with the clinical approach they must take and it felt downright dirty to be on the other end of it.

To the social workers and case workers, it was about intake forms, contracts and signatures.  To me, this was a brush with strangers who knew nothing about my mom and how she survived  doctors’ predictions about her death more than once before.  To me, they knew nothing about their client and I did not care to learn more about their product.

I was so angry that I felt numb towards the young hipster doctor who asked me with a perplexed face why we wanted to keep my mother alive the day she was brought into emergency room services.  He assessed the complete value of her life based on her current quality of life within a matter of three, maybe five minutes in front of the persons who had been caring for her every day for several years.  Just the day before, she was telling me about a recipe she concocted that she wanted me to try.

To the emergency room doctor, my mother was a patient in bad shape compared to able bodied patients who were healthier.  He practically left her for almost dead and expressed it.  We were dealing with a young arrogant doctor in unusually short and tight black pants donned in a lab coat of stolen permission to be insensitive in a moment that only lasted several minutes for him.  To me, this was my mother whom I’ve known since the day I was born.

There was also an encounter with a hospital staff worker interrupting my mother while she was sharing some final words with my son.  When I spoke to him on the side, he informed me she was ordered for a move to a different wing of the hospital and assured me the wing they were moving her to was not for dying patients.  We asked for some warning and respect for the moment.  His supervisor insisted she told the family ahead of time but then told me she would speak to the staff after realizing what my main point was.


 Newborns in hospitals have clean and monitored dedicated wards demarcated with huge windows that serve as the greeting place for human beings that meet for the first time.  However, patients who may be facing the end their life and final goodbyes can slip through holes of management that cares little about the patient’s personhood.


 

HWordImage_1_4160PostEditNewborns in hospitals have clean and monitored dedicated wards demarcated with huge windows that serve as the greeting place for human beings that meet for the first time.  However, patients who may be facing the end their life and final goodbyes can slip through holes of management that cares little about the patient’s personhood.  The rest of the world is on pause when you witness the first hours or days of a tiny human being simply breathing, sleeping or moving in the blanket.  No one wants to face the reality of what may be the last last breath, night or movement of someone one has childhood memories with.  When management does not create a system of care for the end of life stage as adequate as that for the beginning of life, there is something drastically and ethically wrong about the picture.

As a way to make it known to the doctors that the family was not giving up the way they seemed to, I took on an advocate role for my mother.  Instinctively and in my spirit and soul, I just knew there was no way God was going to allow things to go down this way.  One day, it would happen, but no way was it going down like this, so suddenly and out of the blue.  No.  Way.

I made it known that it was cultural differences and unfamiliarity with strangers vs. a neurological or mental incapacity that caused my mother to not give the type of answers assessing staff were looking for.  I made it known her life was valuable enough to try anything that wouldn’t put her in greater risk, despite the initial assessment about her life.  I made it known we were capable of helping the nurses with her care becauses they aren’t paid enough and are too overworked to always be by her side.  I made it known the person who gave me life would not go through the end of her life in an environment without dignity.


When certain hospital staff members left the room, my mother would comment, “What? Do they think I’m crazy?! Do they think I don’t understand what they’re saying?”


There was so much spunk left in my mom.  When certain hospital staff members left the room, my mother would comment, “What? Do they think I’m crazy?!  Do they think I don’t understand what they’re saying?”  The first morning after she was admitted, she pointed to an airplane flying in the sky outside her window.  My father, my son and I took a look.  Sure enough, it was there, but only she noticed it from her hospital bed.  It was her usual way of trying to make the time go by.  Throughout the entire time she was hospitalized, she just wanted to go home.

Amidst negative news, there were hospital staff members that helped lighten the situation.   During that intrusive move from one hospital wing to another, a nurse shared her story about how her sister had passed away the year before and how she knew what we were going through.  When my mother was brought out of the emergency room, a Filipino nurse was the first to greet us and it helped my parents feel more at home to hear Tagalog her first night at the hospital.  A respiratory nurse who regularly came in would brush the hair to the side of my mother’s face while they looked into each others’ eyes during breathing treatments.  Towards the very end, the releasing doctor shared his own story about the end of life care for his own father.  During these moments, they all recognized my mother’s personhood.  These encounters helped us see the human side of the hospital staff members also.


During these moments, they all recognized my mother’s personhood.  These encounters helped us see the human side of the hospital staff members also.


When it was time for my mother to be released, it seemed the wisest option was for my mother to be released into home hospice care.  I felt lost and I did not know how to even think about funeral arrangements, but out of concern for my mother’s comfort if she was really about to pass away, home hospice was the best option.  Her physical condition was such that the day of the actual release, my mother’s blood pressure dipped so low that it seemed she might pass before she could even go home.  Hospital staff workers remedied it, perhaps with the goal of prolonging her life just long enough that if it were to happen soon, it would happen within the comforts of her own home.

My mother did not know it at that time, but there was a terrible storm of events happening.  I had to be strong enough to choose the right time to tell my father that her eldest sister had just passed away.  The day my mother was admitted to the hospital, my dear aunt had a stroke and was rushed to the hospital herself.  The day my mother was released from the hospital, my aunt passed away from the stroke, while she was in a coma.  Our larger extended family was going through a terrible time, and my father had to temporarily leave my mother’s bedside in this condition to attend his sister’s funeral.  We experienced multiple losses only a year after one of my father’s younger brothers passed away with cancer.

What served as a blessing was that my mother’s siblings had schedule their visit to see her and it happened to be around the time my father needed to leave for my aunt’s funeral.  It helped my mother cope with my father being gone, who had only explained that he needed to visit his sister.  We told my mother the news of my aunt’s passing when she was physically more stable.  Just being home made a big difference to my mother while my father was away.


 The hospice nurse my mother was assigned to worked and adjusted with us so well that she became an important part of our lives.  It become so clear that home hospice care was one of the best decisions we made for my mother’s life.


 The weekly visits from different hospice staff members throughout the week greatly helped my mother as well as my father.  The hospice nurse my mother was assigned to worked with and adjusted to us so well that she became an important part of our lives.  My father looked forward to their visits.  It become so clear that home hospice care was one of the best decisions we made for my mother’s life.  My mother actually healed from the two main conditions that placed her into hospice care.  There was a third condition that we continued to monitor and there were a few other health issues that popped up, but the nurse helped us through them all in ways we simply were not trained for.  What I also cherish is how my mother developed relationships with the hospice staff members who came regularly. They got to know her as someone who made them all laugh so hard and someone who genuinely cared about them and their loved ones.

My mother’s time in home hospice was most likely the best way she could have left us.  Ultimately, my mother ended up being on hospice care for a little over one year and one month.   For a while I even thought she would disqualify for hospice care.  She was able to witness another full year of birthdays, watch her grandson meet more milestones as a young teenager, and spend more quality time with all of us.  The cause of her death was not ruled to be related the health conditions that originally placed her into hospice care.    It seemed that it was just time for her to go.

My mother knew it was her time and she demonstrated she had peace about it before the rest of us in the family did.  My mother was able to say her goodbyes and final requests in the comforts of her own home.  She expressed concern to the hospice chaplain about my father as the one who was most adamant against her passing, but was ready herself.   When it came close to her time, she lost her ability to speak.  Yet, my mother still managed to communicate her goodbyes and final thank-yous to the hospice staff workers.  One hospice worker bid her regular farewell, “Dios te bendiga.  See you next week.”  My mother shook her head, but seemed to want to say thank you among a few other things.  I found myself translating to hospice workers during their final visits what she wanted to say, as if I had a different set of ears to hear what she would otherwise be speaking out loud.   She gave a thank-you-and-goodbye pat on the hand of the hospice nurse as her condition progressed and the nurse knew what it meant.  My mother had help with pain management, oxygen and other tools that made the final days bearable for her.

As a family, we let my mother know she was never alone the days leading up to the last moment.  We did not want to say goodbye, but we eventually came to accept it was better for her to pass away in peace than be concerned about our lack of peace and our unpreparedness. My father began to come around to speaking to her about letting go if it was truly God’s will it was her time.  I also assured her that I would take care of the family and make sure her husband whom she knew as a child and whom she was married to for 47 years would be alright.  As a daugher I also shared my farewells.  Within a couple hours after my  son spent time with her and bid his final farewells, she passed away.  My father, my son and I surrounded my mother, holding her hands, praying for her and telling her we love her during her last breaths and final movements.   It was as if she was waiting for all of us to have peace.

Things would have been different without home hospice care.  I learned so much about something that used to be such an object of aversion for me.  What I thought was synonymous with giving up was actually just a different context to keep trying everything that would not put her in greater risk or otherwise end in a bleaker situation.

The H word stands for hospice, but also for hope and for home.  

 About the Author