Archive for the ‘father daughter relationships’ Category

Casting out demons

May 14, 2014
May 12, 2014
During my yoga practice this morning, my mind kept flitting back to the film I saw last night, Philomena. It hit close to home on so many levels. The deep sense of shame and guilt when, at age eighteen, I had to break the terrible news to my Pentecostal Christian father that I was pregnant. At least I didn’t get sent to a convent to work in the laundry and have my child snatched away. But I felt the blow of my father’s rage, and, like untold women before me, tried to escape his wrath by getting married.
Some years ago he apologized to me, his firstborn, for his extreme strictness and failures as a father. I’ve long since forgiven him. Yet the feelings we experience growing up seem to be embedded in our psyche, in our cells.
As I write this, I remember the first time I ever felt deeply ashamed. It was in Holland, and I was probably around age five or six because the memory is very clear. I had been playing with one of my neighborhood friends, and we had either gotten into her mother’s makeup or maybe she had one of those play makeup kits; in any case, I had smeared red lipstick on my lips. And, as luck would have it, I was told that I had to come home. The pastor of our church was visiting, and my dad wanted to show off his beautiful daughters. Back then wearing makeup was against church rules—a serious sin. I still remember my dad furiously scrubbing my mouth with a hot washcloth until my lips burned, trying to get that red lipstick off before the minister saw me. No wonder that, when I’m opening the front of the body in backbends, sometimes it feels like I’m casting out demons!

“If there was something wrong with my mind, don’t you think I’d be the first to know it?”

April 19, 2014

I woke up at 2 a.m. thinking about a friend who, like millions of other elders, was forcibly removed from her home and placed in a long-term-care facility.

In the weeks before she was whisked away, I tried to warn her that she was getting forgetful, even delusional, and that if she didn’t move herself out of her two-story apartment with the worrisome stairs in favor of a safer living situation, someone else would likely step in and do it for her.

She looked at me like I was crazy and, with all the authority of her 94 years, flat-out told me, “If there were something wrong with my mind, don’t you think I’d be the first to know it?”

She had no recollection of falling and landing in the hospital for five days. When I went to pick her up, she thought she was checking out of a hotel.

She saw my spending the night at her house as an invasion of her privacy.

The night that it hit her that she had lost control of her bladder and had to wear “diaper pants,” she screamed and asked me to shoot her.

But, by the light of day, the agonizing nighttime scenes were forgotten. She was immaculately groomed, drove herself everywhere, and could carry on the most interesting and astute conversations. Anyone casually stopping by would be impressed by her pleasant apartment, her yoga practice, her ongoing art projects, and her ability to take care of her own daily needs.

Like so many other fiercely independent creative elders whom I’ve assisted over the years, she found the possibility that someone could actually force her out of her home to be unthinkable.

Yet it happened.

Yesterday it was my turn to help my mom with her ADLs (Activities of Daily Living). Were it not for my dad’s presence in the home, and the care of all three of her daughters and her four granddaughters, my 93-year- old mother would require 24-hour care, either at home or in an institution.

A few days ago, in spite of our concerted efforts to keep walkers strategically placed in the front and back of the house, my mom again slipped and fell. My dad, unable to help her get back up, walked over to summon one of the neighbors, who picked up my light weight, skeletal mother and carried her to bed.

My mom’s eyesight and hearing is perfect. She still plays the piano beautifully, with vigor and enthusiasm, and speaks six languages. She catches all my jokes and is quick to poke fun at life. But her memory is slipping day by day. Yesterday she wondered who my parents were.

My dad is losing his eyesight. He can no longer read or write. In his own way, he’s doing a life review, dictating letters and making phone calls to relatives and old acquaintances while he still can. Yesterday he asked me to track down the phone number of a friend he worked with fifty years ago, someone he has not spoken to in many years.

I found the number and dialed it. As luck would have it, the man he was seeking answered the phone.

After identifying himself, my dad didn’t mince words but cut right to the chase. “I’m about to die, and I want to set the record straight.” He then launched into a story concerning an incident that happened at work that evidently had been smoldering on his conscience for all those years.

Much to my dad’s astonishment, the former colleague on the other end of the line claimed to have no recollection of what he was talking about. Undaunted, my dad described several more times what, in his mind, had taken place so long ago, and told his friend why, now that he’s about to die, he was making it his final mission to correct this mistake.

From my perspective as I overheard the conversation, it was nothing that a man in his final days needed to worry about. No criminal activity had taken place. But in my dad’s mind it was “important to set the record straight.”

From what I gathered, his friend still maintained that he didn’t remember the incident, which confounded my dad to no end.

“But you were there. Surely you remember!”

After more bantering back and forth, whatever this colleague said on the other end of the line seemed to be easing my dad’s mind. Toward the end of the conversation, he was laughing and enjoying the camaraderie of reconnecting with a friend from the past. But right after they hung up he turned to me and said, “Suzan, can you imagine such a thing! He was there, he gave the orders, but he doesn’t remember anything about it!”

“There’s one thing I want you to know, Suzan,” he went on, as if for the first time. “I believe in the day of judgement. One day you will stand alone in front of your maker. When I stand before my maker, I want to have a clean slate . . . Every day I commune with my heavenly father . . . ”

I’m happy for my dad that he has found peace.

On page 17 of the book “Veteran’s Stories of Ventura County,” there are two photographs of my Dutch Indonesian father as a teenager newly inducted in the Royal Dutch Navy. These photos were taken before he was a prisoner of war and saw the atomic bomb annihilate Nagasaki. In these two photos, his face looks just like mine when I was his age. He’s happy-go-lucky, smiling with youthful optimism, unaware of the horrors to come.

I respect how the God of his faith has helped him to bear the shock of war and burden of life. In my youth we argued . . . now I understand.

As for me, the longer I live, the more I see that the human mind is capable of inventing the most astonishing beliefs. And we all tend to assume, just like my elderly friend: “If there was something wrong with my mind, don’t you think I’d be the first to know it?” — in Ojai, CA.


“Who would you be without your story?”

April 7, 2014

April 6, 2014

Spiritual teachers of our era often ask the question, “Who would you be without your story?” I’m not sure what they have in mind when they pose this question, often to someone in the midst of a painful event like a death, divorce, or betrayal who is seeking a way to relieve their suffering. All I know is that life seems to be one never-ending story–each episode leading into the next. And, from a cosmic perspective, we human beings must seem like a broken record–the needle stuck in the same groove, playing the same part of the song over and over again.

The trick seems to be to get to a level where you no longer identify with these stories–easier to do with the passage of time than in the heat of the moment. The stories of our life are embedded in our consciousness. And by “consciousness” I mean the whole gamut–body/mind–everything we’ve absorbed in this lifetime, from the womb (including ancestral memories and possibly past lives) to the present moment.

The picture below was taken in Soule Park, with the Topa Topas in the background. I’m 19 years old, a single hippie mom who’s never been to a beauty salon for a haircut, wearing a shapeless, green homemade sundress (basically a sack dress with straps) and no makeup, holding my young son, Bo, born April 8, 1968. My head is filled with stories and myths of how life is supposed to be; already I’ve gone through many shocks and disillusionments and cried many tears, but the stories (beliefs) have so firmly shaped my reality that I will spend the next 45 years (my life so far) trying to break free.

(A related story: Forty Five Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai)

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Do Not Resuscitate!

April 1, 2014

March 30, 2014, Ojai, California

Well, I did my daughterly duty, my dharma, my karma yoga or whatever cosmic spin you want to put on it. A week has flown by since I last saw my old parents. When I arrived, early this evening, my mother was sitting as usual in the living room, in her favorite easy chair by the window, with the view of the orange orchards and majestic mountains. I could tell that my middle sister had been here earlier; my mom’s hair was in a neat ponytail, she had on a nice flowery purple dress and matching jacket, and she wore a strand of pearls around her neck. When I tapped on the window to announce my arrival, she looked at me in happy surprise. I’m always grateful that she still knows who I am.
It took my mom five minutes to unlatch the screen door, but I told her to take her time. The first time she couldn’t manage to lift the latch, I got impatient and went around to the back door, which is double- or triple-locked and almost impossible for me to open. But now I realize that opening the screen door is a life skill I don’t want her to lose, so I wait patiently.My dad was already in bed, only getting up once in a while to empty his bladder. He has now lived with the diagnosis of prostate cancer for about five years. And, just like when I was a child, with my dad asleep in the bedroom so that I don’t have to tiptoe around his La-Z-Boy recliner in the living room, where he often falls asleep, I breathe a sigh of relief. My mom and I can laugh loudly and cut loose.
My parents’ private, at-home nursing home is plastered with notes written by my middle sister, the bossy, responsible one who worked in institutions. These notes are printed in giant letters with a black Sharpie pen, and can be viewed above every sink, on the cupboard doors, on the fridge, on every wall, above the washing machine, on the dressers, night stands, and, of course, all around the telephone:
Eye drops
Put phone in charger. (With a drawing of the phone in its charger)

Change Mom’s piano books. (Otherwise she plays the same songs over and over.)


Take care of Mom’s dental and bodily hygiene responsibly.


Clean teeth. Soak dentures.


Check meds–trade out empties.


Give Mom greens and protein and carrot juice after her walk.


Keep a walker in the front room and in back of the house.


Wash Mom’s shoes. Soak Mom’s feet.


Reminder: Read the article on Dementia: How to Encourage Healthy Eating.

Even with all our encouragement, my parents eat so little. Which I think is nature’s way of dropping the body. When she hands me her dentures, I can perfectly see the bony skeleton of my mom’s hand.

The most important sign of all hangs in the hallway, near their bedroom: DO NOT RESUSCITATE. The physician-signed DNR form hangs in a protective plastic sleeve in a spot where it will not be missed by emergency responders.

My dad likes to remind me, “Suzan, we are on our way out. Your mother and I live in our own peaceful cocoon. Like in a satellite floating above the Earth. Your mother and I enjoy each day, but we are not of this world . . .”

While my dad sleeps and my mom listens to her favorite classical music station, I rummage around in the kitchen in search of some vegan food. My parents’ fridge is always stocked with the Dutch staples of my childhood: three or more kinds of whole-grain bread, various cheeses, raw butter, and two gallons of organic milk. For a second the death grip of old habits tempts me to throw in the towel and make a greasy grilled cheese sandwich, but then I spot a package of organic tempeh–my dad’s Indonesian staple–and soon I’m sitting by my mom eating a hot tempeh sandwich.

It’s all so unreal. We arrive on Planet Earth, not knowing from whence we come . . . We depart Planet Earth, some of us certain of where we’re going, others not so sure. We appear . . . we disappear . . . I don’t know anything, but I feel the Great Mystery, and the bliss of not knowing. And I feel the cold that has descended on my little cabin at the top of North Signal as I type this.

Namaste. The divine in me recognizes the spark of divinity in you.



Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir, Yoga Teacher Magazine

January 28, 2014

 Book Review by Ivan Nahem,  founder/editor, Yoga Teacher Magazine


Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir is a well-told, well-paced and timeless tale. It’s really not all that much about yoga per se, although one might say it’s about the wisdom that comes from both yoga and suffering. Suza is a renowned yoga teacher with several wonderful instruction books to her credit, but this is more about her personal life, a disappointed-in-love story. As in most memoirs, the author is a good part of the story, and here she’s quite a character in and of herself. And the portraits of the supporting cast are vivid (especially the villain), and we even get fine ambience in the description of the Ojai environment, including the yoga scene there.

What threw me a few times while immersing myself in this story is that I kept hurting for the author, cringing for her unfortunate decisions, sharing her distress over the jerk with whom she was falling in love, and with whom she kept thinking, despite mounting evidence, she could make it work. Maybe it’s because I live with the handicap of being a guy and so I know guys – as in the principle that you can’t bullshit a bullshitter (not that I’m anything of the sort, of course!) ― he just seemed transparent, such a scammer, the kind of guy you run for the hills from. He proves to be a pathological liar, the kind of person who lies to themselves at such a deep level that lying is a way of life. AND he’s terrified of sex and does everything he can to avoid any such real situations; love is just power play. As a reader I sensed early on where the pattern was headed, so I knew that this paramour was a lost cause and that sometimes made the narrator’s choices appear inexplicable. In any case there were times when her hurt was so raw — and then she would see him AGAIN! — and I was quite tempted to hurl the book against the wall, but the book is actually in my Kindle, so that would have been counterproductive.

470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oAnd if I reflect in all honesty, I’ve been deceived myself a few times, so my discomfort with her naiveté is ultimately unwarranted. It’s apparent that Suza’s story strikes a chord, especially among other women (shocking surprise!). Recently I had a dialog with another yoga teacher about her lying ex-husband (or “wasband” as she put it) and how deceived she felt in that relationship . . . Well obviously this is not a unique theme, but Suza makes the story work with all the very verisimilitude detail. If you’re in the mood for a cautionary tale like this, definitely give it a read. Suza’s a deft writer and her voice is very welcome.

Ivan Nahem is the founder/editor of Yoga Teacher Magazine.

Recovering my joie de vivre

September 18, 2013

1255472_10151940464299703_1848862452_nLast night when I went to check on my parents, my old dad was sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the seat of his Lazy Boy chair, like a yogi. I don’t think his dark Indonesian frame can get any thinner. My mom was sitting in her usual spot near the front door, reading a new large print edition of Reader’s Digest. The house was completely silent, like a temple.

Lately, when I arrive at around dinner time, my dad greets me with, “Why don’t you come earlier?” He seems not to realize that I’m coming at the same time as always but the days are getting shorter and it’s dark sooner. About the only time he looks at the clock is when he has a doctor appointment.

I had to take a few days off from talking to my dad. On the last visit we got into the taboo subject of the family property located close to town—a property where I could have a huge fenced yard for my dogs, if my dad would allow it. About once a year I remind him that it was my years of elder care for the former property owner that was instrumental in his buying that property—and that he has helped both of my younger sisters build several houses. Every time he proclaims, “I treat all three of my daughters equally,” I keep hoping that he will do the charitable Christian thing and pave the way for me to have a little hut close to town with a big fenced yard. Instead, he now suggests that I solve my housing problems by renting a room in the Santa Paula mansion he and my youngest sister built before the market crashed. This harebrained idea so angered me that I had to take a break to recover my joie de vivre.

Like many people, my dad dismisses the drain on my finances from the never-ending responsibility of feeding, walking, grooming, and cleaning up after five animals with three words: “That’s your choice.” The implication being that there are other viable choices. Surely I can find another home for at least one of the dogs. Or return my oldest cat, Ginger, to the Humane Society. I score no points for keeping my animals floating along with me on my precarious raft. Deep inside, my dad thinks I’m too attached, sentimental, soft-hearted, and stubborn. He speculates that I’m lonely and neurotic, that I love animals more than humans, and that maybe I’m too far gone to make the more practical, logical choice.

I love my dad, but if I want to outlive him I have to get these things off my chest. And of course, the whole time I’m thinking about all this I’m surrounded by books, articles, and spiritual teachers insisting that we create our own reality and that our thoughts can change everything.

“The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t. However, if we experience abundance with what we have today, even if we don’t actually have money right now, we will have abundance and we can be sure that further riches are on their way to us. So when our life isn’t working for us, the most effective solution isn’t to change our career, spouse, exercise routine, or community, but to work on the purity of our dreaming.”

I want to tell the popular teacher who wrote this, Alberto Villoldo, PhD, that this line of magical thinking only works under favorable conditions. I’m sure many a prisoner of war, many a child slave laborer dreams of a new life . . . but their dreams are extinguished by circumstances, not for lack of mental powers.

How can any thinking person look at the state of the whole world, the millions of people living in extreme poverty, and believe this: “The universe always mirrors back to us the conditions of our dreaming. So if we’re fearful that money won’t come to us, it won’t.” Does that mean that all the people starving to death were fearful that their next meal wasn’t coming?

I question the implication that the homeless woman I saw early Sunday morning in Ventura, riding her bicycle down Main Street with two large black garbage bags dangling from the handlebars and two leashed dogs running alongside the bike, somehow brought her life situation solely on herself.  Yes, we have to take responsibility and do our best, but we don’t know the chain of events that brought her to this point in time. Maybe her son was murdered and she lost heart. Maybe she had a relative who took what was rightfully hers. I think we all have to face the fact that, no matter how pure our dreams, life can still come crashing down on us.

“We all know, deep down, that most of what we have is good fortune. No matter how hard we work, we did not earn our functioning brains or the families into which we were born. We live in cities others created for us, organized by a government and protected by a military shaped by our predecessors. Yet we still point to our accomplishments and proudly proclaim, ‘I did this!’ The well-off salve their consciences by assuring themselves that it is hard work and merit that brought them success, which also leads them to conclude that it is lack of merit that keeps others from succeeding.” —Rabbi David Wolpe

“Everything else was a piece of cake”

September 10, 2013

Whenever my dad takes to his bed for several days, hardly eating, mostly sleeping, I think the end is near. “Naked we come, and naked we go, Suzanne,” he always likes to remind me during these deathbed talks, where I sit on the edge of his bed, one hand resting on the top of his skull, the other hand gently massaging his bony spine. “You have healing hands, Suzanne. The Lord gave you magnetic hands . . .”

While my mom sits in the living room, reading over and over again in the large print Reader’s Digest the same article about the assassination of JFK (last night she asked me, “Was this man shot in Ojai?”), my dad launches into another life review, often repeating things I’ve heard before, but almost always adding another precious detail, giving me new insight on how his life, and thus my life, was formed.

My father always reminds me that he survived the worst of the worst life has to offer. “After what I saw, Suzanne . . . can you imagine, a civilized country like America dropping two atomic bombs, which are like firecrackers compared to what we have now? After what I saw, Suzanne, I compare the rest of my life to those horrible days and everything else was a piece of cake.”

My dad believes in God and the devil, that there will be a day of judgment, that we will have a great reunion with all our loved ones in heaven, and that God will intervene at the last minute, before the devil blows the Earth to smithereens.

As he reviews the course of his life, he says, “It really is like looking at a movie, Suzanne, a long movie that flashes by in the twinkling of an eye.”

He agrees with me that the Earth is a loony bin and that it doesn’t make sense.

For me, it’s revealing to hear my dad describe the ways he’s failed me. His exact words: “I’ve failed you, Suzanne. I was not there when you needed me. I was working. I was preoccupied.” He confesses again to the times he intervened behind my back, like the time my son’s biological father came to visit us and he took him aside and ordered him to leave town. Last night he told me, “He was dressed so neatly, Suzanne; maybe he had good intentions coming to see you. Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said . . .”

Part of me is a detached writer, a witness anthropologist, when my dad reveals how he sees the past. Part of me is the rejected, fed-up, wounded oldest daughter who wishes that for once he would be fair and straighten things out, and do right by me while he still has a chance. But, alas, he won’t even let my dogs into the house, although that act alone would make my life so much easier.


“You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne”

July 3, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013
Today, as the atmosphere grew hotter, I totally forgot that everything is temporary. That nothing is permanent. I became irrational. In fact, I freaked out. Instead of hosing myself down with cold water and plopping on a yoga bolster, I fought to function. It’s the end of the month. Time for accounting, making statements. If I were rational I would do that job at 2 a.m., when the heat breaks, like in Indonesia. Even tonight my writing hovel is like an oven. But the temperature is dropping, whereas before I feared it would never stop rising.

So in the late afternoon, feeling desperate to escape the inferno, the dogs and I jumped in the tank my middle sister got me two weeks ago to better care for my old parents. We wasted gas and drove to Ventura. There the air was cold, and it felt like a foreign country. I did enjoy it. I could actually leave the dogs in the car for a few minutes and shop! So I went to Vons, got water for the dogs, cat food and cleaning supplies,  champagne and bubbly water, and stood in line with humanity. Stood behind a young couple buying a frozen banana creme pie, just like I once did. Read the headlines of People magazine. (Who cares about these people? We have our own troubles, our own escapades. Who decided to make these plain folk celebrities? And isn’t it fun when they fall?)

There was no parking at the beach, but I’m starting to get the hang of driving again. Honey was so excited to smell the ocean she hung out the window as far as she could without falling out. I promised her we’d be back during the week. So then we cruised home, turning on Creek Road. A lucky break—not a single car behind me, so we went slowly and enjoyed the green view. Stopped at Camp Comfort. I’d forgotten: No Dogs Allowed. One time we disobeyed the sign and got caught, so now we obey and leave.

Our little excursion out of hot Ojai is over. Time to check on my parents. My mom is wearing her bright pink-purple-red sundress from the 1950s and reading a book about Albert Einstein.

“Do you know Albert Einstein?” she asks when I walk in the door.

“Yes, I’ve heard of him,” I reply.

“His hair was messy –like mine.” Sure enough, she then tells me how messy my own hair is. “You must part it in the middle. You are still beautiful but you must do something about your hair.”

My old Indonesian dad sleeps in his easy chair. They’ve lived their whole life without air conditioning—just one slow overhead fan. I ask him if he’d like some cold water. After awhile he says, “You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne. Don’t you worry . . . You’ll get your reward in heaven . . . not here on Earth.”

“That’s for sure,” I mumble to myself.HONEY HUG

Life is always changing —and yet some things never change!


If it were not for Honey

June 18, 2013

If it were not for Honey insisting we go for a walk every evening, I might get sucked into a vortex of earthly concerns. I might not be out here now at sunset, leaning against a warm boulder, and watching the gold light descend on the landscape. But here I am, writing in my new journal on top of a boulder desk.

There’s no room here for Honey, so she sits alone on a nearby rock, scanning the riverbed below like the wild animal she is. I keep one eye on little Chico, wandering nearby, sniffing the brush. I must remember to put some kind of deterrent around his neck, so I don’t have this constant background worry that a coyote will eat him. When he strays too far, I put him on a leash.

Day after day, the current of life sucks me in. These are the days of elder care for my parents, squeezed in between animal care, teaching yoga, and all the daily life chores one does to keep one’s ship afloat.

At the end of the day Honey lets me know that she’s had enough of waiting. There’s no escaping her begging and pleading. It’s no use resisting her psychic pull. I can hear her telepathically, saying, “Come on, Suza. The sun is setting. Let’s go!”

Honey’s life force is a thousand times stronger than mine. She’s the ultimate unrelenting personal trainer. She carries the exuberance of youth, and she demands her dose of freedom. Yet every day I resist. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have her. I just want to write, do yoga, clean house, or socialize, uninterrupted. But with rare exceptions, she always wears my resistance down. Thanks to Honey, I abandon everything . . . And that’s why it says in my journal: “There’s nothing you have to do that is so earth shaking that you should miss the last rays of sunlight . . .”

After we wander the riverbed, I bring Honey and Chico back to the house and leave, guilt-free, to check on my parents.

IMG_2635My mom is alone in the front yard without her walker. She’s making her way by hanging on to the front porch railing and then bracing herself against an outdoor chair. I can see that she’s wondering why part of the yard is dug up and why there’s a new stack of bricks near by.

“Where’s your walker?” I ask.

“It walked away,” she says, laughing. And then she orders me to move the rake and other tools because, “someone might trip and fall.”

I escort her up the steps and into the house. As usual, my dad is dozing in his easy chair. He’s not hungry, but he wants to make sure my mom has her dinner. My mom insists she has no appetite either, but I know that if I get her to sit down with me she’ll eat if I’m eating.

I warm up the dinner my youngest sister made earlier in the day. Potatoes, carrots, peas, sauteed onions, all mixed together with a pat of organic butter, the Dutch way. Sure enough, Mom eats a hearty bowl full.

During every visit, and usually while we eat, my mom asks me the same thing as if for the first time. “How much do you weigh?”

“Too much,” I always reply. And each time we find this terribly funny!

Tonight, looking across the room at my dad, she asks, “Who is that man over there?”

“I don’t know,” I joke, “Who do you think it is?”

“Oh, that’s my husband,” she replies, catching this momentary lapse in memory.

While we eat, my mom and I dig deep into our memory banks. I can remember every detail of childhood happiness—mostly centered around food. She likes it when I describe how well I remember the delicious things she fed me in Holland. I would be in my soft flannel nightgown or pajamas, and she would bring my middle sister and me, each a bowl containing a “Holland Rusk,” a unique round, crunchy toast-like biscuit. The Holland Rusk would be submerged in hot milk, to which would be added a pat of butter, melting in the hot milk, and a sprinkling of brown sugar. The hot milk would soften the crisp biscuit so that you could slowly savor the warm buttery sweetness and then slurp it all down.

This was our special Dutch childhood treat, usually served after supper, before we went to bed.

My mom and I find it hilarious to speak only in Dutch, exaggerating all the unique Dutch pronunciations. Tonight I asked her to tell me again the story of when I was born. At first she looked at me, very amused. “Oh, that was so long ago, I can’t remember. How old are you now?” But then somehow it all comes back and she remembers being in labor, making her way down a flight of stairs, catching a taxi, spreading her raincoat on the seat of the taxi so it wouldn’t get it wet, and arriving at the hospital, where she was told to wait to push, to hold me back till they could get her into the delivery room . . . It’s uncanny how she remembers almost everything from long ago.

But she can’t remember things from moment to moment. Yesterday I noticed her partial was missing again. We looked everywhere, and she couldn’t remember what we were looking for, let alone where she’d left her top teeth. I swear we went through every purse, pocket, dresser drawer, medicine cabinet, windowsill, under the bed, in the fridge, trash, cereal boxes. . . Later in the day, after I gave up, my youngest sister told me that she prayed and then found them safe inside a small purse.

After dinner it’s time for a foot bath. This takes place in the kitchen, where it’s easy to fill the plastic tub with warm water. I take off my mom’s shoes, and for the thousandth time tell her she must go barefoot–she must air out her feet and expose them to the sunlight. My barefoot Indonesian dad agrees and echoes my sentiments. While Mom soaks her feet, I wash her shoes.

While I dry her feet, she reminds me for the thousandth time not to waste water. “Pour the water in a bucket, and save it to flush the toilet.” Whenever she goes on about not wasting water, I remember how, as a teenager, if I was in the shower too long she would simply turn the hot water heater dial to “Off” so that a blast of cold water would flush me out of the bathroom. . .

And now I’m back in my writing hut, happy to be in my own sweet home.

“I hope they cover me up when I go!”

April 15, 2013

IMG_0963 When I moseyed over to my parents’ house tonight, I found my dad in turmoil. “Mam lost her partials,” he said. “She had all her teeth in at breakfast. We’ve looked for them all day, in all the obvious places: her pockets, underneath everything. . . I brought the trash barrels back from the end of the driveway. In the morning I’m going through both cans.”

I got on my hands and knees and looked all around my mom’s easy chair. I remembered how other elders I used to care for would lose their teeth, glasses, and hearing aids, and how they would turn up in the bottom of an old bathrobe pocket, their purse, or wrapped in a Kleenex and tucked somewhere hidden from view.

My mom thought all the fuss was very funny. She joked that she could eat just fine with half her teeth missing, and that she couldn’t understand why my dad was so agitated. While I was looking behind photographs and other odd places, I suddenly heard her shout from her bedroom, “I found them!” I went to the bedroom, where she was holding a first aid kit. And, sure enough, there were the partials, wrapped in a napkin and tucked away amidst the bandaids. She promptly put them in her mouth and went back to the living room to show my dad.

Well, you never saw my dad so happy. All evening long he praised me, saying over and over, “Something you said triggered her memory.” He was so relieved not to have to go through the trash first thing in the morning.

We had one of the best evenings ever, talking about everything under the sun, including plans for their 65th wedding anniversary in August. My dad has been living with prostate cancer for five years now; he feels the side effects of the various drugs he’s taking, such as the rash on his upper body. We talked about some of the younger men we both know who’ve died from the same disease, including his neighbor. So he’s extra grateful to enjoy his walks, his naps in the sun. . . and he speculates that perhaps taking care of “Mam” is what keeps him going.

During most of the visit, I’m also doing my yoga practice. First seated poses, so I could give my mom my full attention. But then I couldn’t resist lying backwards over one of their cushy chairs. At first my mom threatened to kick me out if I didn’t get back up. So I said, “You better call 911! I can’t get back up!” “It serves you right,” she responded with a laugh. The padded chair felt fantastic and allowed me to stretch and relax and listen to my mom’s Sunday night guitar concert till the very end of the program. She really likes it when I hang out and listen to music with her. After awhile she resigned herself to my strange positions.

When I finally got out of the chair backbend, I did a couple of chair twists. Then I warned her that I was going to do something dangerous, which she found very humorous. I walked up the side of the door frame and kicked up into a handstand. “Make her stop!” She begged my dad, half joking and half serious.

While this was going on, my dad was talking about heaven and how he’s looking forward to seeing his mother. He reminded me that he never got to see her after the Americans freed him from the Japanese prison camp. “We bypassed Indonesia. From Japan we went to Australia and then to Holland. My mother died in 1957—the same year that we came to Ojai and were living on Thacher Road.”

“Yes, Suzan,” he reminded me,”life goes by so fast. Even if I live to be a hundred, it’s just the twinkling of an eye. . . and maybe it’s a good thing you are not burdened by material things . . . Naked we come, and naked we go.”

To which my mom added, with a laugh, “I hope they cover me up when I go!”


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