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, 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