Stop

I am sorry, mama. I can’t watch you, from afar, go on like this. Let’s put an end to all the suffering and torturing. I was hoping for a miracle, but there’s no such thing.

I have come to accept the reality that I will lose my dear mother on earth, but I will always have you in my heart and spirit. We will continue our conversations just like we were having through FaceTime these past few weeks. Although you were sedated, I knew you could hear me. I saw you nod your head when I talked.

I knew death was part of life and I had been prepared for the day that you would have to leave me. I was not ready to see you go this way. I couldn’t let COVID-19 take you away from me so abruptly. The doctors told me to let you go, but I was still holding on every bit of last hope. It has come to the point that nothing on this earth could help bring you back.

I had shed so many tears alone in your room thinking about you. I knew crying wouldn’t change anything, but I couldn’t help it. Writing to you and about you helped me cope with the reality at hand. I know I can always reach out to you through my thoughts and my words.

I will miss you dearly, but I know you will always be beside me like you had always been throughout my life. Please let yourself rest, mama. You had been through so much all your life. It’s time to set yourself free. I will meet you someday. Please save a place for me. I love you!

If I Were Infected Instead

When my mom asked me to come to take care of her, I was terrified. I was about to live in the same house with three positive COVID-19 victims. The chance of me getting infected was high. When I tried to help my mom getting up out of her bed, she coughed on me and she couldn’t even put her mask on. I spent half an hour to an hour in her room each time to help her moved around.

Thanks to the masks, the face shields, the gloves, and the trash bags, I tested negative of COVID-19 over a week ago. As long as I take all the precautions, I shouldn’t have to be afraid of COVID. I didn’t know it until I lived through it. In retrospect, I could have intervene earlier. I could have done something for her. By the time I learned about my sister’s condition, it was already too late. I knew my mom already caught it and I hesitated to come until she told me to.

Although I have dodged the bullet, I wish I could be infected instead of her. If we could trade places right now, I would do it in a heartbeat. Watching her suffer is much more painful than suffering myself. Am I doing the right thing? Why don’t I pull the plug? What the fuck am I waiting for? A fucking miracle? Yes, a fucking miracle, indeed!

Torturing

The doctor delivered more bad news. Her condition is getting worse. He urged us to think it over. If we pull the plug now, she will go within a couple of hours. If we keep going, she might be suffering.

My oldest sister pulled herself out of the decision-making responsibility. She doesn’t want to see her suffer, but she doesn’t want to pull the plug either. Unfortunately, we don’t have a third option.

Each minute my conscience tortures me, especially after talking to the doctor. The easier decision is to pull the plug and let her go. That’s the end of it. The harder decision is how far can we go? The doctors don’t seem to be optimistic about it. I respect their medical expertise, but I am still holding out hope if she can still hold on.

I don’t know if I am making the right decision for her. I am now living with this guilt inside me. What if we didn’t go this far? Would the outcome be the same either way? It looks like that’s where we’re heading.

Force to Live or Help to Die

Maria L. La Ganga writes for the Los Angeles Times:

Marilou, Michelle and Michael had not seen their husband and father in person for 36 days. They hadn’t held Bob’s hand or stroked his forehead. There’d been phone calls and texts and video meetings. But once he was placed on the ventilator, even his voice was silenced. In the cruel calculus of COVID-19, there was only one way they could be with him in the hospital.

If the ventilator was turned off. If he was about to die.

We’re now in similar situation and dilemma.

Vĩnh biệt Lam Phương

Năm 2020 lại cướp đi một nhạc sĩ tài hoa của làng âm nhạc Việt Nam. Nhạc sĩ Lam Phương đã ra đi vào ngày 22, tháng 12. Xin chia buồn cùng gia đình ông. Cám ơn ông đã để lại hơn 200 ca khúc đã đi vào từng con tim Việt Nam. Mong linh hồn của ông được an nghỉ trong sự bình an.

Merry Christmas

The doctor called everyday to tell me my mother’s condition was getting worse. Each time he let me know if she were his mother, he would cut her loose. I appreciated his suggestion, but she is not his mother. Until he is in the situation himself, it is easier said than done.

In our video call last night, I told my mom about her condition according to the doctor’s report. I asked her if she still has the strength to fight on. If not, she should just let herself go. I asked her to nod her head if she could hear me. I saw her head moved, but I was not sure if that was her response since she was sedated. At this point, we just have to keep going. Still water, still drawing (còn nước, còn tát).

After our conversation, we watched Paris by Night 18 on YouTube together. The Christmas program brought back so many fond memories. Don Hồ, Kenny Thái, Dalena, and Thái Tài were the young stars back then. Even Chí Tài, as a band leader, already showed his comic side in his performance. Rest in peace, anh Tài. When Ái Vân performed Đức Huy’s “Và con tim đã vui trở lại,” I couldn’t hold my tears. How I wished my mother’s heart could be full of joy again.

I wish you a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones. If you can be with your mother, don’t take it for granted. If you can’t be with her physically, which is not a bad thing this year, give her a call and tell her you love her.

An Act of Kindness Will Always Be Remembered

I spoke to my cousin yesterday and she told me a wonderful story about my mother. I couldn’t hold my tears.

When my cousin was about seven years old, she did something bad. She was afraid that her father would spank her. Her mother was always busy with the family’s business; therefore, she couldn’t come to her. She ran away from home. My mother took her in and took care of her. My mother never made any judgment about her. She stayed with my mother for three days until her dad cooled down and forgot all about it.

Half a century later, my cousin still remembers vividly how well my mother fed her and treated her. My mother never told me this story. She probably doesn’t remember it, but my cousin never forgets it. Although they have completely different personalities, I have seen a special bond between them. My mother would trust anything my cousin told her.

As we’re planning and preparing for the worst, my cousin shared this story because she wanted my mother to have the burial plot her mother had bought for her. If my mother can’t make it through this time, she would like my mom laid to rest next to her mother. The sisters can be together again in heaven. That was an offer I could not refuse. I am grateful for my cousin’s generosity and story.

I told my mother the story through FaceTime tonight. I am sure she heard me. I did not, however, tell her about my cousin’s offer. I am sure she would be touched as well.

57 Books Read in 2020

Given the lockdown this year, I thought I read much more, but I read 15 books less than last year. I am about 200 pages into Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and I won’t be able to finish it by the end of this year.

This year I read more books in Vietnamese than any previous years. I also read much more fiction than any previous years. I have come to appreciate the good writing in novels. I used to have a hard time wrapping my head around the plots and the characters when I read works of fiction, but I am starting to understand them better. I’ll definitely read more novels in coming years.

I don’t have a goal for next year, but I will definitely continue to read. I might get into more medical materials.

Being Prepared

As we’re hoping for the best for our mother, we’re also preparing for the worst. After my father-in-law passed in 2012, I brought up the conversation with her. In case something happens to her, would she like to be buried or cremated? She never gave me a straight answer. She told me she would think about it. I reassured her that I was not wishing her death, I just wanted to be prepared so we can make plans for her.

I gave her examples to help her make her decision. For instance, my mother-in-law had already bought a lot right next to her husband. Except for the date she will pass, her plaque already had all of her information on it. Whenever we visited our father-in-law, we would hand out burning incense to the kids to post on their grandfather’s grave and they would always post some on grandma’s side as well. We just smiled about it. I also told her about my wife’s aunt’s and uncle’s wishes. They wanted to be cremated and their ashes to be spread on the mountain instead of in the ocean.

I revisited the topic with my mother over the years. One time, she told me she doesn’t want to be burned. At a different time, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes to be spread on the mountain. Still she didn’t give me a definite answer. She was still thinking about it. Even after she was admitted to the hospital less than two weeks ago, I asked her again and she gave me the same answer: still thinking about it.

It was clear that we have to make the decision for her. I talked to my sisters and they wanted me to make the decision. Because she mentioned she doesn’t want to be burned, I eliminated cremation. I told my sisters that once our mom passed, I would like to bury her body in Virginia. They were fine with it.

When we received the 3 am call from the doctor to go see her for the last time, I asked her once again if she had made a decision and yet she still told me she was still thinking about it. I told her that if she couldn’t make the decision, I would do it for her. I told her about my plan to bring her to Virginia and she said OK. I also made sure she knew that was just my plan, but she can tell me her wish any time. If I don’t hear from her, I will proceed with this plan.

As I was making phone calls to funeral homes, I asked my cousins if they have any recommendations. My aunt and uncle had passed years ago; therefore, they had been through the process. As we talked, they asked me about her resting place and I told them my plan about taking my mom to Virginia.

Half an hour later, my cousins called me back and made me an offer. When their dad passed away years ago, my aunt bought nine additional lots for the family. Her wish was for anyone in the family who would like to bury there. My cousins are now honoring her wish. I discussed the option with my sisters and they preferred it over taking her to Virginia. I won’t get to see her often, but my sisters can visit her often. I could not refuse the option because my mother will be right next to her older sister and brother-in-law. In Virgina, she would be lonely. I am so grateful for my aunt’s generosity. When she was still healthy and alive, she was sharp, decisive, and ahead of her time. I had so much admiration and respect for her business mind as well as her compassion. Thank you dì Hai. Please look out for my mom when she gets there.

I am glad we got that part down. We paid the funeral home a visit and went over everything from picking out a casket and a vault to making the arrangements to getting down the quotes. It’s a big ticket item; therefore, the staff has been very supportive, patience, and accommodating.

As far as religious rituals, I let my sister take charge of that part. Because my mother believes in Buddhism, we would have a brief service for her. She has been in contact with the monk and the temple.

Of course, we would rather not have to go through any of these, but we needed to be ready. Our hope is that she will continue to hold her own.

A Glimpse of Hope

Yesterday, Rachael, a nurse practitioner from palliative care, contacted me about my mother’s case. To put me at ease, she asked me personal questions about my mother. Where was she born? What does she like to do? Where did she work? Does she like to live in the U.S. or Vietnam?

I know for sure my mother wouldn’t want to live anywhere in the world but here. She believes the U.S. has the best healthcare system in the world. And yet, when she is at the most critical time of her life, the system fails her. I shared with Rachael about the experience we had in the past week and my concern that the medical team had given up on. She assured me that was not the intention and she set up a conference call to talk to my sisters and I about my mom’s condition.

In our conference, I emphasized the importance of understanding what my mother wanted instead of what she thought she wanted. For instance, she refused to take Remdesivir because the doctor told her through the interpreter that Remdesivir could be bad for her liver and kidney. She did not understand that if COVID took over her lung, her liver and kidney would be no good. She refused the ventilator because she didn’t realize that she would die with not enough oxygen. After I explained to her the outcome of her decisions, she told me exactly what she wanted.

Rachael finally understood where I was coming from. She heard me loud and clear. I was not making the decision for my mom. I was helping her to understand her choices so she can make the decision for herself.

At this point, the medical team understands that we want to go forward with the treatment. If her body continues to fight, let her fight for her life. If her body gives up, she will go. The medical team has done what they could for her.