Monday, May 30, 2005

A Lingering Death

I've been thinking about the purpose of dying.
Why am I so morbid?

I was talking to my wife this past week. We were talking about her mother's condition trying to decide if we should file a complaint with the HKHA about the bed-sores, the surly staff, the negligence and other problems we have encountered with this situation. This is a problematic question because not only would the complaint take a fairly large amount of time to file and pursue but because the Hong Kong government is good about letting you file a complaint, or have a protest march but then doing nothing to alleviate the grievance. Thus, is it worth filing a complaint about something when there is basically no chance that the system will change? It took nearly 25% of the population marching in the street two years ago to get the government to reconsider an ill-advised measure dealing with the freedom of speech. To put this into perspective imagine what would happen if sixty-million people marched to the steps of the Whitehouse. This would be considered a near revolution. Yet that is the only level of action that will cause the HK government to change. What good is one letter from a school librarian's wife?

As worthy as that topic might be of a post on this blog it is not my purpose today. My purpose is instead to think about the purpose of a lingering death. I don't know how many times I have heard people hope out loud that they do not experience a lingering death. Indeed, it seems almost a truism to say that people should die "with dignity" and without "suffering". I have, through experiencing the lingering death of my mother-in-law, come to the conclusion that her slow drawn out death serves two very real purposes. I am almost, not quite; ready to say that those who wish for a quick, painless death are both misguided and selfish.

The first purpose served by taking a long time to die was revealed to me by something my wife said. On Saturday when, with tears in her eyes she told me, "You know, I just wish she would die." I can understand the sentiment. Both my wife and her mother have had a difficult row to hoe with this final illness. My mother-in-law is obviously exhausted physically and emotionally. The bedsores, the strokes and the cancer have all taken their toll on her. My wife and her sister must spend hours each day at the hospital and it is a strain to see their mother slowly starve to death because she cannot eat. Providing the additional care that the hospital cannot or will not provide in addition to their other jobs is a very difficult position to be in.

But, I realized when my wife made the statement above that the grieving process is already well underway for her. That is a good thing. Indeed, she has already accepted that her mother will soon die. Thus, the lingering illness has helped both my wife and her sister accept the fact that their mother is about to die and allowed them see that there are things worse than death. Indeed, I am not sure that my mother-in-law is not now in a state somewhere between life and death. The release they will experience at the death of their mother will allow them to move on faster. I saw this when my paternal grandfather died after a long illness. I am seeing it again here.

I do not know of anything sadder than the people who refuse to let a loved one die. Most of us have met or heard of those people who still have their dead child's bedroom ready up stairs; or the widow who sets a place at the table for her husband dead these twenty years. My father has a 1941 Ford that he purchased from the daughter of a man killed in WWII. It was a new car when he enlisted in the Marines on December 8, 1941. The man's widow kept the car in the garage as a memorial to him until she died. She washed the car, waxed it and did what she could to keep it in good condition for the husband who would never return. When my father purchased the car it still smelled like a new car. The invoice sticker was still on the right rear window. The widow never drove it. She never remarried. She never got over her husband's death. How tragic.

Because their mother has been in the hospital for nearly three months Kim and her sister have already begun cleaning out their mother's apartment. This appears to me to be a precursor to letting their mother go and it is a good thing.

Thus, the first purpose in my mother-in-law's lingering death is actually three purposes. One it gives the family a chance to grieve and recover before having to deal with the actual death. Two, it helps them to accept the impending death and prepare for it emotionally. Three, it will help them to let go of her memory.

My wife and her sister will be able to get on with their lives after their mother dies. There will be no pinning "I wish she'd lived another three years" or "If only she could have lived to see her granddaughters get married" when my mother-in-law dies. The grieving has already been done. There will be no promises made that are still unfulfilled. That is a good thing. It is a hard thing to say.

The second purpose to a lingering death is more abstract. When I look at the amount of work that Kim and Ling have put into caring for their mother I am amazed at their love for her.

It is easy to clean a baby's bottom when they need a diaper change because babies are cute and they smile at you. They are also small and light enough to roll over with one hand. You receive pleasure from the act of cleaning a baby.

After at least six and probably eight or nine strokes it is an open question as to how much of my mother-in-law is still there. The best that my mother-in-law gives you is a vacant stare with a drooling mouth. How hard is it to love someone who cannot respond? This is the point where love and duty meet. It is a point that is often as sharpe and as capable of cutting as any sword. It defines the meaning of love into actual acts of caring. As far as I know this is only point in time where the depth of love between parents and children is tested to this depth or this clearly. How difficult it is to care this completely! How many of us would fob the job off onto a hospital staff and simply complain? How many of us would simply fail?

This point often reveals much more about us than we are comfortable letting others see. But the essence is this. To watch a loved one die a slow lingering death and to aid that person, to love that person through that process makes those of us who live better people.

I don't know if I am quite ready to wish a painful, lingering death upon myself. But I do see that such travails can serve purpose that is both beautiful and even holy.

Until next time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who is not obsessed with death

Friday, May 13, 2005

Less Life and more Death in a Hong Kong Hospital

I retract my apology to the HKHA.

The treatment of my mother in law has regressed to worse than I have seen. Because of the strokes she can no longer chew. Tuesday night when we arrived at the hospital the staff had already fed her dinner. "Fed:" is a poor term in this case. She cannot chew or swallow. They simply shoveled food into her mouth and left. When we arrived she had so much in her mouth that she looked like a squirrel carrying nuts into a hidding place for winter. My wife had to physically clean her mother's mouth out by digging out all they had packed in. The old woman could have easily choked to death and while she is suffering from cancer and strokes and death could very easily seen as a release to die because you choked on hospital food is a rather horrible death.

Once again Terri Shivio's husband would love this place.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Ride of a Lifetime

Have you ever wondered why we like the things we like? Is it merely association with those things or is there some type of genetic predisposition for certain hobbies? I confess, that in my more logical moments I am tempted to think that things like hobbies are in the same class as whiskey, an acquired taste.

However, I only think that when I am not riding my bicycle. When I am on one of my bikes. I know deep down in my heart of hearts that I was born a bicyclist. I could not have acquired the taste for cycling because nobody in my family but me is a cyclist. Therefore, being a bicyclist must be in the genetic code. I must have some latent genetic attribute because since my first bike (A bright red one from Sears that I got for Christmas in 1966) my favorite thing to do has always been to ride a bike.

Bicycling is a strange hobby. I know of no other sport or hobby that elicits such devotion. Not only are cyclist devoted to the sport but also to the actual equipment of the sport. It seems to me that tennis players play the racket that gives them the best shots. Runners are loyal to a shoe maker only so long as those shoes fit. Golfers are always looking for a better club regardless of brand. I have a friend whose husband is an ex-world class badminton player. He couldn't care less about what company made his equipment so long as it was good stuff. Cyclist, by comparison are often very loyal to brands and companies

I've never seen a runner, tennis player or golfer with the name of a club manufacturer tattooed on their body. They may enjoy the sport but they are not loyal to the equipment they use in the way that cyclist are. How many tennis players have custom built rackets? Maybe Leighton Hewitt or Andrea Agassi but not your normal Joe Ballwhacker. In cycling it is not uncommon to see even middle aged riders with the word "Campagnolo" tattooed somewhere prominent. There are literally thousands of custom, built to order bicycle frames made every year. Are there any companies that make custom basketballs? Here are two that make custom bicycle Frames: Here & Here

Do runners, tennis players or golfers have a web site comparable to the Campy only web site? I don't think so.

I have traveled all over the world. Wherever I go I look for bicycle shops. But you know what, I'm not the only one. When I worked in a bicycle shop in the 1980's it used to happen several times a year. Some tourist or business traveler would just stop by to look around. Do tennis players look for tennis shops in London, Phukett or Beijing just to go in and say "hi" to the shop employees? Not as far as I know. Yet bicyclist love to do this. The highlight of my vacations is always finding a bike shop to purchase a tube or cable that I might not even need and could certainly get near my home. I do this because when I am around bicyclist, wherever they are, whoever they are, I am around people who, even if I don't like them are like souls. People who understand what it means to be a cyclist. In a strange way, they are family.

Cycling also changes your perception of the world around you in such a fundamental way that it is difficult, if not impossible to explain it to non-cyclist. You experience the world differently on a bicycle than you do in an automobile or even on foot. Part of this is having to dodge traffic and see your family, neighbors and friends as potential murderers in their cars as they intentionally or inadvertently try to run you down. However, these changes go beyond this simple aspect of self-preservation.

There is a sensation of speed of grace of elegance that is inherent in riding a bicycle that simply is not found in almost any other activity with the possible exception of sailing. When you are a cyclist you see the world through a different gestalt. You see the world not so much as a place but as art and art through which you move as a living sculpture. I think it is a good way to see the world.

There are simply not words to explain the pleasure of cresting the last hill on an afternoon ride and coasting the last 1/2 mile home. If you have never smelt the fragrance after a summer shower while riding along a county road then I pity you. The sense of accomplishment you get when you finish your first 100 mile ride is incomparable. The simple joy at moving faster than you can run under your own power is a pleasure that is surely the most intense on earth.

If you haven't ridden a bicycle lately or even since childhood then I would encourage you to get a bike and rediscover the joy of cycling. You won't be disappointed. You might also find that you were born to be a cyclist.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The bicyclist blogger

Monday, May 02, 2005


My blog has been listed on the Librarian blog list. Yes, I am a librarian though my post have little to do with libraries as a general rule. However, they were looking for librarian blogs in Asia and I certainly am that.

Actually, I'm not sure what this blog is about. I seem to write about a lot of things and most of them are topical rather than thematic. If someone at Shambles or anyone else for that matter, finds this blog then I ask that you look at the intial post in the archives titled "Why Me"

Fai Mao
The Librarian Blogger

Apologies Required

Why am I always so surpised when people pay attention?

It seems that the HKHA reads my blog. At least it looks that way. Since shortly after posting "Life and Death in a Hong Kong Hospital" the treatment of my mother-in-law has improved. I still wouldn't call the treatment good but it is better if still surly. I thank those responisble for the improvement.

They have since found that a large part of her problem is actually caused by a series of strokes that we did not know that she had had. I do not think that she is long for this world.