STANDING STILL IN SWITZERLAND
"You don't want to move forward, right? That's why your knees hurt," a neuroscientist from Croatia had told me during a body scan. My ego in my head immediately went, "No, I mean, I take all kinds of risks for my business. I am totally moving forward." Later that night, reflecting on the day's training with the founder of theta healing® and other theta healing® trainers from all over the world, Ohhhh wait, in my personal life of having a baby...I haven't moved forward at all. I discovered theta healing® as a way to deal WITH you, dementia.
"I blew up at him. We are going to have a meeting in the lobby of your hotel." It was a Whatsapp text message from my sister. We had all flown to Singapore to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and Graham (the him my sister was referring to). My sister had unleashed months worth of pent up frustration/anger on Graham. I couldn't blame her. I just watched as Edgar (my hubby) calmly spoke to Graham trying to mediate the whole situation. I didn't cry, instead I just comforted my sobbing sister. Ok, I did peel some skin on the side of my thumb (my go to stress coping mechanism), but overall thanks to all the theta healing® work I had done, I was in a better emotional state to support my sister.
"I hate you. I don't want you to hang out with us. I just wanna spend time with my mom," my sister had said to Graham through tears. I could see she had trouble welcoming Graham into our family. He was taking good care of my mom in Singapore, it was clear to see. However, just as we had trouble welcoming you dementia into our family, well, I think it will take time for my sister to welcome Graham into our family.
WHY DID MY MOM CHOOSE YOU?
Several years ago, over salmon at my house in Korea, my South African friend Chris asked me, "Why did your mum choose dementia?" I don't think I really understood his question back then. I don't think I was ready to answer it, and maybe it was because you were too close and I was still trying to accept you into my mom's life and my family's life. Now looking back on that question, having seen my mom, here's my answer:
Father And Mother I Love You. I learned this acronym from my university students at Yonsei University when I was teaching there in Korea. Now I understand that word to mean and incorporate so much more. Watching American TV shows about it is one thing, but living it is a whole different matter. I always wanted my parents to get along as a child. It wasn't until I was a high school student that I realized my parents don't get along, and it's not my fault. They still love each other. Is that an oxymoron? Maybe. But that oxymoron created me. The first thing my mom asked me about when she saw me was, "How is dad?" Seeing how my dad took care of my mom for two years in the US, I could tell he still really loved her too. Seeing how Graham treats my mom too, I have a deeper more compassionate understanding of the word FAMILY.
Awareness. Acceptance. Action.
When my mom was diagnosed with you, dementia, I was aware of you. I joined online support groups and found out how you have ravaged some families, and brought other families together. I am grateful that you have done the latter for me and my FAMILY. I spent two years in depression because I was trying to Accept you. Not easy at all. Now that I have finally accepted you, I understand what my life's mission is: you helped me realize that a people pleaser like me could become a healer.
"My mum is totally better at social media than me and my sister," Chris semi-joked. "She chose Parkinson's because she took care of everyone her whole life. Now it is time for us to take care of her, so when she posts on social media, she remembers to use #ME." Whoa. "Will you tell your mom that she is super inspiring?" I asked. "Oh absolutely. That will totally make her day!" Chris responded.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW THE MOST ABOUT?
When your 6 year-old niece asks you a question that you never really get asked, you have to stop and think: What do I know the most about? Immediately HAPPINESS came to mind. Alexandra asked me what are 5 things about Happiness that I wanted to share, and she then drew pictures in her journal and asked me to write those 5 things down:
So dementia, thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I have been meaning to write it for some time now. Maybe it is also part of my own healing/growth process to write it to you. My hope is for my future baby to read this letter so that he or she can learn that when seemingly scary things come up, when we use the Triple A method, and work WITH them, they aren't so scary. And sometimes, when we welcome them in, we welcome other parts of our selves that we never knew we had or we never knew we were capable of having.
Wishing you Happiness,
"Mom's been kidnapped!" My sister was sobbing on the other end of the phone. It was the end of February. I ended up getting on a flight that evening bound for SFO. As soon as I arrived, I was looking up lawyers from the seat of my Hertz Rental car. I even picked my sister up from the Oakland airport (she had flown in from the east coast) and we caught up over a Cantonese meal.
CRAZY (RICH) ASIANS REAL LIFE MOVIE
Explaining what had happened to the Danville police (just down the road from my dad's house) the next day seemed like well, the sequel to the Crazy Rich Asians movie, sans "Rich" part. A lawyer had handed my mom's caregiver a letter saying that my mom was filing a temporary restraining order against my dad for elder abuse (totally not true). The lawyer showed up at my dad's house with said letter and my dad handed over my mom's passport and handbag. A week later, my cousin found out from the security guard in my mom's apartment in Singapore that she had indeed been seen with a man. This was further corroborated by a Private Investigator we hired to follow my mom. The man was my mom's good friend and former roommate, Graham.
HOT ON THE TRAIL
Last weekend, my 41st birthday weekend, my husband and I thought we would be able to find them in Singapore. We stayed at a hotel down the road from my mom's church in Katong, went to all of her old haunts, spoke to the same security guard, went to the temple where my Popo (maternal grandma)'s tablet is, but couldn't find them. We tried calling Graham on Kakaotalk and texting, but all to no avail. Finally, at a Toast Box (a cafe that serves kaya toast and coffee/tea Singaporean style), one of my mom's all-time favorites, I finally broke down.
LETTING MOM GO
Somewhere between Singapore and Malaysia (my hubby and I went on to Penang after Singapore), I realized something I had realized before: I had to let my mom go. If she wanted to be in Singapore, I was no one to tell her that she couldn't live in Singapore. It was my ego that wanted to control her and the situation--not my true self. Speaking to friends in Europe about my mom's situation, they all nonchalantly said, "Yeah, I mean who's to say she's not happier there in Singapore? She probably is way happier. Plus, her old memories are of Singapore (referring to her dementia)." I had to let her go, because I was doing to her what I resented her doing to me--not letting me go as an adult. Whoa.
COMING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE
Talking to my friend Lisa (who is a fellow life coach), she said this, "Well, everything is coming from a place of love, you know? That man Graham really loves your mom and is taking care of her. You and your family are trying to find your mom because you really love her. She is one loved lady!" Her last sentence was a joke, but it rang true. My mom was really loved and we did really love her. All of us.
I spent most of my life feeling like I wasn't good enough. Talking to my mom's caregiver at Starbucks in Danville, a place they frequented almost daily, I cried. Not because that was where my mom had been "taken" by the lawyer at the end of February, but because the caregiver had told me that my mom spoke so highly of me. And then I said, "I was never good enough in her eyes." Holding my book in her hands (almost as if it were a mirror), the caregiver smiled a deep and loving smile. In that moment, I knew I had to forgive my mom and me, for everything, and that no matter what, I was good enough. It no longer served me or my mom to carry the feelings of not being good enough around anymore.
IN MY HEART
So where is my mom, you ask? She is in my heart where she has always been. This Mother's Day, two years ago, I started my first blog post about my mom and admitted to the world my struggles WITH depression and her dementia. Today, I write to the world from a place of love and forgiveness and wish my mom the best Mother's Day, because that is what she deserves this Mother's Day and every day of her life. I love you, mom. Thanks for helping me find myself while I was looking for you. I know I'll see you soon <3.
My sister and I have since reconnected WITH my mom via phone and have found out that she is safe and doing well in Singapore.
I love telling the story of my friend June's 9 year-old son, Brevyn. The story of how he stuck up for his friend Claire who got shoved by another boy, and how Brevyn came to Claire's aid saying, "We don't hit girls." When I asked June how she thought he learned that behavior, she said, "It started early...like in pre-school. He knew and all of my kids know that even if someone hits you, you don't hit back. And you always stand up for someone who is littler than you--boy or girl."
GRIT > GRADES
At Starbucks, after a warm bowl of yukgaejang (spicy beef soup), I sat and asked my friends (two incredible moms) how to create "successful" humans. June immediately said, "Well, it's about grit, isn't it? Research shows this and proves this." I instantly recalled Angela Duckworth's book Grit in my mind. "Kids model your behavior. Beyond grades, you wanna raise kids who will persevere through the tough times, through those extreme times of adversity." I thought of how her father-in-law, their grandfather had just recently passed away. I admired how they were all holding up in their own grit.
For all the challenges being connected online present, one of the things I am grateful for is Class Dojo. It's a website that allows me a sneak peek into what my 5 year-old niece is up to in her kindergarten class. Some pictures that have caught my attention recently are a behavior-based evaluation system. Each student is given a secret number, and each number is placed next to a chart which tells them how well they are behaving. In September, Alexandra won a "Shining Star" award for "exhibiting integrity by doing the right thing when no one is watching."
Imagine if our workplaces actually evaluated employees the same way? I think perhaps we would have less corporate bullying and crazy CEOs slapping their employees and making them kill chickens with a bow and arrow? Ummm...recent true story that has come to light in Korea. Read about it here.
ENVIRONMENT > "SUCCESS"
Chenoa chimed in, "It depends on your definition of success. You know, that's going to be different for everyone. I just want my kids to look back on their lives and be able to say that they lived a full life--and be able to appreciate their lives. It's not about money or the superficial things either." I thought about how she lived her creed, as she was about to embark on a mission trip to Japan the following week. "All we can do is provide a loving and supportive environment in which they can be as successful as they want to be."
A good friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that one of her elementary school aged daughters had woken her up in the middle of the night with a nightmare. "Mom, I had a nightmare of the lockdown drills, but they were actually real, and there was a bad man who was coming to get us." My friend asked for love and support not knowing quite what to tell her daughter. Would grit be enough in this case?
On my weekly call with Dom, a fellow coach, she talked about a woman she serendipitously ran into. She was a total badass. She had written a book but didn't want to promote it locally. As I listened to the story of this woman, I thought of all of the women I had coached, and so many other women I had met who were all badasses, as well as myself. Yet there was a holding back when it came to their own success, my own success. "Kyla, you know what I think? I think you fear success," Dom boldly gave me feedback. I couldn't disagree with her. Is that something I learned as an adult? Because I certainly don't remember fearing success as a child.
POLLUTION of the MIND
As we said our "goodbyes" outside Starbucks, June put her mask on. It was an apocalyptic day: Air quality readings were at 167 (RED)--similar levels to the ones in China. Chenoa commented, "I just don't feel like I have energy with this pollution." I began thinking about how on a micro level, these women were going back to being "productive members of society" in their own words. They were really moulding future generations of leaders. On a macro level, something had gone seriously wrong with the current leaders that had allowed and created this pollution. It was nowhere near a successful or sustainable model for anyone. Perhaps our minds were polluted as adults to believe that success looked like money at the expense of everything else and everyone's health (mental/physical).
I learned about Mindvalley, a global school that delivers transformational education that is powered by the community. The guy who started it Vishen Lakhiani talks about how Mindvalley began as just him offering classes on meditation. He had quit his corporate job at Microsoft and everyone told him that he had gone mad. He and his business partner were trying to scale the business by going to all of these classes on strategy, marketing-- all of the classes they thought they needed in order to succeed. Then one day, they happened upon a class on mindset. They thought they wouldn't need it in order to succeed, but went anyway. And that is when things started happening. Now he has more than 200 employees from more than 45 countries and his company is a multi-million dollar company. Oh and they are creating more successful humans in the world through transformational education. Not too shabby.
My dad and I used to have father-daughter dates every weekend at this Italian restaurant called Grappa's in Hong Kong. As a kid I relished spending time with my dad because he was the most knowledgable person I knew and know (he still is). I would ask him questions, and almost every question I had, he would have an answer. He is the most well-read person I know. His bookshelves are brimming with books, and not just regular-sized books, but thick books that you don't ever wish fell on your head, because if they did, it would hurt like hell. My dad is one of the most humble people I know. He never brags nor is he ostentatious. In fact, on our recent trip back home in May, Edgar and I rented a fancy rental car. My dad took one look at the car and remarked while closing the garage door, "I'm embarrassed to have that car in my garage."
In college, during one of my Japanese classes, we went around the room and talked about how much we got to see our fathers growing up. Most of my Asian classmates had nothing to contribute other than the fact that their fathers worked a lot. When it came to my turn, I beamed proudly and said in Japanese, "My dad came home every night and helped me with my homework. On the weekends we would have father-daughter dates." My classmates glared at me.
After grad school, I moved back home at first, and then I eventually moved into my own apartment about 15 minutes away from my dad's house. We continued our father-daughter dates on a weekly basis. For one of my dad's birthdays, I remember I wanted to try to do something nice for my dad to repay his kindness, so I bought him a nice watch. He made me return it saying it was too expensive.
My dad was 3 when he was placed in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII. I didn't find this out until I was in high school. He told me that growing up, they had one fridge that lasted for forever. His parents, my paternal grandparents would buy one appliance, take really good care of it, and it would last for forever. I can see this carry over in my dad. His Honda Accord doesn't look a day over 5 years old, even though he bought it in 1992.
My dad rarely asked us to do anything for him. He is very self-reliant. Ok, there was this one time where he got locked out of the house clad in not much else but his underwear (since it was summer), and he called me to let him back in. I was having dinner with my college roommate about an hour away. I remember being irritated, but now I feel more sheepish admitting that than my dad probably did getting locked out in his underwear (!).
Earlier this year, when my mom wasn't able to live by herself in Singapore anymore, my sister and I basically told my dad that my mom was coming back to live with him. He didn't have a choice nor a say in the matter. I remember looking at my dad, wanting to say something, anything, but instead I just meekly thanked him and walked away to pack for my trip to go get my mom.
In a recent chat with my friend MK, she said, "You know, your dad must really love your mom." I had never really thought about any of this in those terms before. As I thought more and more about what she had said, I finally understood. My dad truly unconditionally loves not just my mom, but me and our entire family, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
I remember when I was at boarding school, I loved receiving letters from my dad. He had the neatest hand-writing, he would write at length about his life but also about how proud he was of me (and he still does-- just over email), and he would always fold the letter in thirds. My first year away, he wrote me almost every week, knowing the transition was tough for me. For me though, reading his letters was yet another way for me to "spend time" with my dad, another father-daughter date if you will. This Father's Day, I thought I would return the favor. How do you give a gift to the most incredible dad alive who won't accept the most incredible gift? Well, you write a blog post about him.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you, unconditionally, too. Oh, and I will always be there whenever you get locked out of the house (in your underwear!).
*This blog post is dedicated to Janet, Katherine, and Kim. Although your fathers are no longer with us, their love and spirit remain in your hearts.*
I grew up reading comic books. The visual learner in me shied away from real books and clung to the pictures and onomatopoeias found in my comic books like "BAM!" "POW!" "KABOOM!" You can imagine my delight when many of my childhood favs were turned into onscreen movies: Batman, Spiderman, Ironman, and finally Wonder Woman.
Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to bring The Happiness Workshop to Chadwick International School here in Korea. I got to work with 10th graders. I know what you're thinking: Teenagers! Run! And I was actually thinking the same, but then I thought that I should channel my own inner super hero and do what makes me a little bit afraid.
The weather was perfect for one of my communication activities where we have to run around in teams. As I jumped up and down in my own excitement, I saw students running around, cheering each other on, and attempting to communicate with each other.
"See, this is how it should be. This is what learning is all about," my collaborator at Chadwick told me later over lunch. As I chomped on my boiled pork ("Bossam" in Korean), I couldn't help but agree with her. We went on to talk about how in Korea there is so much pressure on students to perform that they are basically raised to only get grades. It doesn't matter if they get a C+ in character development, as long as they get As in the classroom, they'll get into a prestigious university, and eventually work for a prestigious company. The end.
"I could stand here and tell you about all of my successes. How I went to Harvard, how I was a professor at Yonsei, how I am a former TED speaker, but today I will talk about my depression instead." And that is how I began this Happiness Workshop for these 10th graders. The looks on their faces--priceless. Perhaps I had shocked them? Perhaps it was what they needed to hear? BAM! POW! KABOOM!
Then I showed them a card I had written and put in my time capsule when I was a senior in high school (just two years older than they are now). "Being True to Myself." It was a value card I had been asked to write in my Freshman Seminar class. And now, this is how I define my own Happiness. Ok, so I was a little shocked to find out that these kids weren't even born yet when I was a senior in high school. Whoa.
So here's the thing: when I was younger I thought super heroes were so awesome because they could leap over tall buildings, they could climb up tall buildings in seconds, they could capture bad guys and evil villains. However, as an adult, what I have learned (the hard way mostly), and what I will continue to teach in my workshops, is that perhaps the bravest thing of all is to be true to yourself. Imagine a world full of these new kinds of super heroes who were not trying to be something they weren't. Instead of conquering bad guys, they were conquering their own inner demons. Honestly, I think the world would be a kinder, more compassionate place. Don't you?
Oh, check out this #HappyChadwick video created by our own super heroes in training: https://vimeo.com/220265466
*This blog post is dedicated to all of the parents out there who are raising this new breed of super heroes on a day-to-day basis!*
I was recently in Nordstrom's vainly attempting to find some flowy summery dresses. Every other sign read simply "mom" in lowercase letters. As Mother's Day fast approaches, I thought I would
celebrate my own mom and my own vulnerability in my very first blog post. For the past few years my mom's short-term memory has been in decline. At first, we made excuses: it's old age, she's not sleeping enough, she's maybe depressed/stressed.
Then it got worse, before it got better.
I'd get text messages from old friends in Singapore saying she had not shown up for appointments. The worst came this past February in the form of a text message saying, "Call me immediately. I am with your mom." It was from a person named Tracy I had never heard of nor met before. It turned out my mom had been hiding her keys, handbag, passport (something she had always done), but this time, she couldn't remember where she had hidden all of her valuables. This resulted in her locking herself in her apartment in Singapore where she lived alone, not able to go out for food, calling a locksmith every day to come change the locks. She called Tracy (who was her real estate agent) at 5am to come help her.
This couldn't be happening, I thought. My mom ran a successful real estate business in Hong Kong. Back in the day, she was one of the first people I knew to have a cell phone (one of those walkie talkie kinds!). She would rattle off phone numbers of locksmiths, plumbers, repair guys all from heart.
My mom's doctor in Singapore had told my husband that she had early onset dementia. I remember my heart pounding loudly above my chest when he later told me. My mom's only friend Vivian, as of late, would join her at the food court, dine with her and keep her company. She too echoed the same sentiments. Vivian's own mother also had dementia.
I cried then and have since cried a lot. I cried because I didn't want to lose my mom to dementia. I cried because I didn't want to get dementia. I cried because of the strain it was putting on my family--we have since moved my mom back to California where she is living with my dad. I cried because I felt sorry for myself, because I felt so powerless, and just because.
I realize the irony in all of this: I am the Happy Champion. I give Happiness Workshops all over the world. I have always tried to have a positive outlook on life and in every nook and cranny possible. But this D word creeped up on me unannounced, like a car does in your blind spot.
I stayed away from Facebook not being able to curate the perfect image of my happy self. I stayed away from friends not being able to face them or myself. I stayed away from social gatherings not knowing if I would burst into tears and embarrass myself. I felt guilty when I did have an ounce of fun knowing that my mom wasn't having any. I took solace in the arms of my husband and just cried. I was deep in my own D word: Depression.
Earlier this month, I went home to see my mom for my 39th birthday. I was nervous about what would happen, would she remember me, would my dad be really stressed out from being the main caregiver, would my sister and mom fight, would my niece take attention away from my mom?
And then I realized something. We only ever have moments with our loved ones. Each moment is a precious morsel of time. We may not remember each and every moment, even if we don't have dementia, but when we realize just how precious those moments are, we linger longer, noticing that smile, that hug, that warm hand, that laugh. I found myself wanting to preserve and create as many of those moments for my mom as I could.
For my dad's 75th birthday in March, I wanted to do something unique and special for not just my dad, but my entire family, so I decided to get him a personal chef. Enter Chef Niko: a wonderfully warm Greek-American Girlboss from Oakland. I wasn't able to meet her in person, as I was in Korea, but during our phone call to plan the menu, I immediately connected with her. I opened up about my mom's dementia, shared other idiosyncrasies about other members of my family, and entrusted her to "take care" of them through her nurturing cooking. And boy did she do that.
"Would you like us to get that lady for your birthday?" my mom asked.
I was stunned. The dinner had happened in March, my mom barely remembered when my own birthday was in May, yet she had remembered that dinner. It was a brilliant idea. Thanks mom. My dad and sister ended up getting Chef Niko to come for my own birthday dinner, I got to meet my soul sister in person, and she was a true gem, embracing all of the idiosyncrasies of my family members that I had been initially embarrassed to share with her. Not only is she an incredibly gifted chef, but she is also incredibly thoughtful. She gives back to her community and goes above and beyond what is expected of her in the kitchen. She showed up with a glass vase full of beautiful fresh flowers from her garden for me. Wow.
Chef Niko gave me another unexpected birthday present, just when I needed it. She heard that I was going to travel down to LA to visit my in-laws. "You have to meet my friend Eugene. He is upcycling jeans and T-shirts, and is all about kindness like you."
With that, I reached out to Eugene, and met up with him over Thai lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near Torrance (not far from my uncle's house). Eugene was that rare human-being you meet who had transformed grief into gratitude and then some. He had trekked from Mexico to Canada to raise $80,000 for a complete stranger, so this complete stranger could walk again. Talk about the ultimate random act of kindness. A month ago, he launched a clothing company called KIN LOV GRA that upcycles jeans and T-shirts, but in a unique way: all of the fabric is turned inside out to expose the inside, the most vulnerable part of ourselves. As if that isn't cool enough. Each item you buy, will support a family on Skid Row.
He truly lives by his creed posting the most gut-wrenchingly vulnerable posts about his struggles with his new business and his own personal life on Facebook. TOTAL INSPIRATION.
So here I am in all my vulnerability and tears. (Yes, I am crying as I write this too.) I am not perfectly curated for social media, and maybe I never have been. My mom's memory may never improve, but what has improved is my ability to take care of my mom in the emotional moments I do have with her--the way she has taken care of me for the last 3 decades of my own life. And if this Mother's Day, you are completely in the moment WITH your own mom (no cell phones, no texting, no social media), you will see that same smile, laugh, happiness, and joy in your own mom. And maybe, just maybe, it will look something like this:
Happy Mother's Day, mom. I love you.
*This first blog post is dedicated to moms around the globe, but especially to my friend Nancy's mom who is no longer with us. Nancy: Thank you for encouraging me + believing in me like I'm sure your mom encouraged and believed in you. <3
Happiness coach, Theta Healer®, author, WITH Warrior in Chief <3