My neighbor’s letter
NOTES FROM THE EDITOR - Singkit (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The journey of life takes us through different stages. First we are children without a care in the world except perhaps for how much ice cream we can eat, then students grappling with algebra and what course to take in college; young adults starting out on careers and facing serious life choices; then, for some, parents faced with raising kids in a challenging world.

Our parents trod the same path, and we get to the stage when roles are reversed – when children take on the mantle of caring for parents. In many cultures – at least Asian cultures – this role is an honorable one, a privilege even, to be given the opportunity to care for those who cared for you most of your life. Of course, taking care of parents has its challenges, as aging bodies and minds present problems, some more serious than others. Visits to the doctor and trips to the hospital become part of life’s routine, and often, arguments arise when they become really makulit.   

No doubt the task of caring for elderly parents can be overwhelming at times, and in these times it helps to step back and remind yourself why you’re doing this, to put aside the nagging details and little irritants and reconnect with the love and respect that bind parent and child.

My neighbor Mitzi Tronqued sent me a piece she wrote in one of those moments as she cares for her soon-to-be 87-year-old mother. I share excerpts of it here, particularly the take-away she poignantly reminds us about at the end of her story.

* * *

I was given the opportunity to look after my mother, Ma. Luisa Leano-Tuason, after she suffered a major stroke in November 2016 which affected her brain’s left side. Severely affected were her memory, speech and mood. Although able to have normal meals, Mom is averse to medications or even vitamins by mouth. In order to administer her blood thinner and various medical and vitamin supplements, a stomach peg was the sole option.

None of us four siblings live in our patriarchal/maternal home because a guiding rule of our parents was once you marry, you settle and build a home of your own. All four of us have successfully built careers and homes of our own. One sibling has settled in Canada for 11 years now. Our Dad passed away in October 2004 and Mom, the strong woman she was and still is, lives there alone.

With two round-the-clock professional medically trained caregivers with screened domestic help and my Mom’s home securely overseen by village security, one would assess that Mom’s sunset years are adequately looked after. Our home was her major domain, literally a “queen” of her inner space. She would everyday express “ownership” of this domain with clear-cut language indicating “Akin ‘to (This is mine)!”

Until lately.

Last May and June saw Mom successively confined for different illnesses. Earlier this month she had a serious case of bleeding ulcers that required a transfusion of three liters of blood. Her team of doctors effectively mapped a course of treatment to manage the downtrend. Mom hung on.

Upon discharge Mom happily and excitedly went home to her private kingdom. What was different this time from the many previous confinements was a demeanor begging for a return to old times. In lieu of her usual routine of having meals in her bedroom while watching her favorite teleseryes, she had our dining table set for five places – for her and her four children.

The image sent by our caregiver, of Mom silently dining alone amidst four empty places at the table, said more than a million words. It was painful.

Fully exhausted by the weeklong confinement, the three siblings had to address and return to our respective responsibilities, making sure Mom’s household was ready to receive her back. All wheels were oiled to perfection – except that we overlooked Mom’s own private thoughts and yearnings.

I have recently joined the grand stage of being a “senior-lenial” and am still in the process of coping. Having a very elderly parent requiring close care over the last 33 months has been tough but whilst I thought we had aptly covered all possible areas of “Mom Care” including the emotional component, a parent comes to a stage where the longing for former times when she used to manage growing kids comes to the fore. Mom is into this stage. And this may partially be a stressor acting on her auto-immune, ulcerous and neurologic state.

The other night I said to my lawyer-son, “How hard to grow old.” How challenging to live in these times when one is torn from all sides by routine responsibilities, family, country concerns and others too taxing and numerous to mention.

So just let me say – Let each day be a Mother’s or Father’s Day. Enjoy their companionship, in whatever stage they are in, while you can. If you feel you have given your arm and leg and as well your heart, give more!  Be extra sensitive to your parent’s needs. Their eyes often mirror the attachments they hold dearest.

As my doctor-friend said, enjoy the times. No opportunity should be wasted. As I write this, we siblings are planning to hold a “date” with Mom. Our Super Mom turns 87 on Aug. 25.?

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