Awakening to the Love I Had Been Given
Etsuko was feeling frustrated from having to be the sole relative responsible for taking care of her elderly mother full time. But a “life-reflection” opens her eyes to how much her family had taken care of her when she was young. It only takes a change of perspective to realize how much we’ve actually been given and discover the boundless energy to give back.
Living a Carefree Life
My mother was 95 and I was 58 when I retired from my job in human resources. Despite her age, she was still fully capable of taking care of herself. I presumed that I had a couple of years before having to really look after her. I visited her every evening since she lived in the apartment complex right next to mine but aside from that, I lived as I pleased, traveling, pursuing hobbies, seeing friends, and enjoying my retirement to the fullest.
Life for me was carefree, until one day I found her collapsed on the floor suffering from a spinal compression fracture. Resting was the only way to treat it, said the doctor. When my father fell ill, my mother and I had cared for him at home until he passed away so I decided it would be best for her too to remain home also.
No Time for Myself
It took over two months for the pain to subside but even then she remained confined to her bed. She was a slight woman to begin with, and with her stomach and uterus surgically removed from a previous illness, she weighed a mere 30 kilos (66 pounds) or so. Nevertheless, tasks such as washing her and changing diapers were physically hard work. She didn’t complain or grumble and I could tell she was trying not to burden me more than she had to. I wanted to do all I could to make life easier for her too but nursing was demanding work.
Moving into her place and nursing her full-time was a 180 degree turnaround to the care-free life I had been living until the day of her injury. Once I wrote out all my tasks for a single day and I discovered that I was working ceaselessly without even five minutes to spare. Soon, I was wondering why I was the only one bearing all the weight as I had a sister living not too far away from our apartment. She had lost her husband a few years ago and her children were all grown so it wasn’t like she didn’t have the time. Yet she only came to visit once a month.
One day, my friend invited me to an overnight trip. A vacation! I hadn’t had a break since my mother got injured. The respite would be good for both me and my mother, I thought. But when I called my sister to ask for her help, “A trip? When are you coming back?” she asked.
“I should be back by around three o’clock the next day.”
“That late?” Her tone was accusing.
When was the last time she helped out? I fumed. I was losing sleep from anxiety when my mother wasn’t doing well. Worry, fatigue, lack of sleep, and the strain of carrying the burden alone was getting to be too much. I found myself wondering how long this would last…
I was going through my email inbox one day when the words, “Complete reflection of your life for a new start,” caught my attention. It was a notice for a program for Senior Plan 21, a program for Happy Science senior citizen members where participants undergo a “life reflection” – a reflection of their relationships with family, friends and coworkers by each decade – as they study Master Ryuho Okawa’s teachings of the mind. I was intrigued, and since our helper could watch my mother while I took the classes, I decided to go.
Remembering My Childhood
The first class began with a startling revelation.
“Before we’re born, all of us choose our parents and the environment that best suits our soul training. But, as we grow, we forget how much love we’re been given from the people around us. Then, we become self-centered and become unhappy.”
We choose our parents? I remembered that I had shouted, “I didn’t ask you to have me!” to my mother when I was in junior high. She had looked so sad when I said that…
“Look back on the years from when you were zero to six, and try to remember what your parents have done for you.” I closed my eyes as I was instructed to and the memories of my childhood came flooding back.
I was born during WWII, a difficult time of air raids, evacuations, and food rations but I could only remember my childhood being happy. Scene after scene, I remembered my family taking care of me so that I wouldn’t be afraid. My mother adored me especially as I was the youngest. I had been loved so much, yet I never returned that love to my parents…
When we went over the time from seven to twelve, an image of my futon* immediately came to mind. I couldn’t recall ever putting away my own futon until high school. And then I realized that my sister, who slept in the same room, had put it away for me. I remembered the countless other times she had helped me and I realized that I had become so accustomed to it that I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t helping me now. “She’s given me enough,” I thought. “Caring for mom is my task.”
Once I was able to see that, all frustration toward my sister disappeared.
*Futon: a style of Japanese bedding which, traditionally, is laid out at night and put away each morning.
My Mother’s Feelings
After reflecting over each decade, we focused on relationships with individuals in our lives. Once more I reflected on my relationship with my mother.
For a long time, I felt constrained by my mother and wished for the day that I would be free from her. Even after I moved out of the house, she called me almost nightly to complain about my father, about how he said this or that. When I wasn’t home, she’d come into the house and put food in the refrigerator. And then she’d call pestering me about having a big piece of meat in my refrigerator and how it wasn’t healthy. I was always wishing that she’d leave me alone.
When I looked at my past from the perspective of the Truth though, I saw a completely different picture. My mother, who was always grumbling about my father, had been worried that he would become too immersed in his work and fall ill. She wanted him to rest more. And calling me every night and bringing me food was not from the want to bind me but simply out of pure concern for her freewheeling daughter. She just wanted me to be healthy and happy. Why had I not seen that? How could I have been so selfish and ungrateful as to never have thought of what my mother must have felt all these years? I was so ashamed and sorry for the way I had been I cried and cried until my blouse was soaked through with tears.
The Joy of Simply Being Able To Give Back
The reflection sessions not only allowed me to discover renewed gratitude to the people around me and make amends with them, but it also brought prayer into my life. It helped me recover from mental and physical fatigue more quickly and praying in front of the home altar filled me with warmth and light. Moreover, looking after my mother was no longer a burden but a source of great joy for me.
While she slept, I studied books and watched programs on nursing. To lessen her emotional strain of always having to be taken care of, I asked her to help with chores like shelling peas and other simple jobs. When I thanked her for her help she only said, “The pleasure is all mine,” and smiled. To break the monotony, I moved her off the bed and into the living room for tea. There was no end to the things that needed to be done, but when her favorite show was on, I stopped what I was doing and watched it with her.
People tend to get cranky as they grow older, but my mother only deepened her gratitude with age. When the service people came to help bathe, she held her hands together in prayer in expression of gratitude, and did not part her hands from start to finish. In amazement they said, “There’s no one like Mrs. Maruyama.” She became very popular with the helpers. When she had to undergo a difficult treatment, we sang her favorite songs. She sang through those painful treatments and then never forgot to thank the nurse when it was over.
Mother and Daughter
A full moon was glowing beautiful in the sky one autumn night. I wanted to show it to her and was struggling to get the bed next to the window.
“The sight of you trying to show me the moon is more beautiful to me than any full moon,” she said.
Not a single day passed in which she didn’t love me since I was born into this world and even nearing death, she was still trying to love me. I was powerless to stop the tears from flowing as I replied, “You’re the best mother a daughter could have. Thank you for being my mother.” I cried as I rubbed my mothers hand until the first rays of dawn filtered through the window.
Goodbye, For a Short While
On a June day in 2006, after four and a half years of caring for my mother full time.
“The room is filled with flowers from the ceiling to the floor. And I see so many women…” she said, and then my mother quietly passed away. She was 101.
I knew that she had only passed into the other world and that I would see her again eventually, but I missed her terribly. A little before, I had sewn her a small pillow from a favorite cloth of hers. She had held it to her chest and giggled, “Oh, I’m so happy. I’m going to show this to my mother when I go back to heaven.”
I had wondered then, “Do people still pine for their mothers even when they’re this old?” but now I understand painfully well how she must have felt. When I was young I just wanted to get away from her. Now I know I want to become someone who can love and support another just as my mother had loved me.
Discovering True Happiness
I used to be afraid of death. But, after finding faith in Happy Science, nothing worries me anymore.
“Pain works as a whetstone on which we can refine ourselves, and sorrow gives the wish to understand our situation and can awaken our love for others. We have to acknowledge the existence of a system for refining our souls that has been carefully planned by God.” (The Starting Point of Happiness)
I can say now that I was given that opportunity to nurse my mother to learn that true happiness lies in giving love to others. If I hadn’t been given that task, then I would have continued to live a self-centered life and died without ever knowing how it feels to give to other people. This experience wasn’t a sudden misfortune but a gesture of Buddha/God’s immeasurably deep compassion.
Mom, I miss you but I’ll live my remaining life without regret until I see you again in heaven. I look forward to that day with all my heart.