Dear Thelma: The end came so suddenly, I didn't get to say final goodbye


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Dear Thelma,

I am in my 50s, and mourning the loss of my mother.

We were close. After my father died, she brought me up single-handedly. She was a devoted mother.

In my 20s and 30s, I was busy with my further education and raising a family. And mum lived on her own, although not far from my place.

When she had her first stroke many years ago, I knew it was not safe for her to live alone any longer. So I persuaded her to come live with me and my family, which she did, for 10 years.

I made sure I was around whenever mum needed me to accompany her for routine medical check-ups, or to get her hair or nails done. I treasured the times spent with her.

As time went by, she complained of dizziness and often had falls. My house became a dangerous place for her because of the many steps.

She gradually developed Alzheimer's, too. She would sometimes forget about the pot she had left on the stove while cooking; a couple of times, she burnt the utensils.

She was often home alone when my family members and I were out of the house for work or college (during pre-pandemic times).

Meanwhile, I was getting extremely stressed out, having to take care of her and the children, especially their meals. I was usually the one responsible to get lunch and dinner ready. Some days, when I worked late in the office, she would call up and say she was hungry and when would the food be ready. I felt terribly guilty. We tried catering food for a while, but after several months, we all got tired of the food.

Finally, we all decided that the best option was for her to go to a retirement home, a safe environment where she would be properly cared for, and have all her meals taken care of.

When she had a stroke again recently, we took her to the emergency section, where she was observed for many hours. Before I left her side that evening, I reassured her that she was surrounded by doctors and nurses who could help her, and said that I would visit her the next day.

But when I went to the hospital the following day, I was barred from visiting her due to fears of Covid transmission! I was devastated that I couldn't see her, and so very worried that she might think I had abandoned her.

I only saw her five days later, when she was discharged. By then, she looked totally disoriented and blank. Still, I was hopeful that she could be rehabilitated and would recover. But a week later, she passed away in her sleep in the retirement home.

If I had known that she was slipping away, I would've spent more time with her after her discharge from hospital. If only I could've been by her side when she passed on. If only I had told her that I did go to the hospital but was prevented from seeing her – and how sorry I was about that. If only I could've hugged her and held her hand one last time. That is my one regret – that I didn't get to say goodbye to her. It's too late now...

Sorrowful Daughter


Dear Sorrowful Daughter,

I'm so sorry for your loss. Please accept my condolences. Now, about your letter, I think you should sit down with a cup of tea and have a think.

You are full of sadness and regret. The sadness is a natural consequence of losing a loved one. It is entirely appropriate because it is sad when a person we love comes to the end of their journey.

But the guilt is misplaced. Let me explain why, and suggest what may be behind it.

As kids, we are told that guilt comes from knowing we've done something bad. However, this is not entirely true.

We can feel guilty when we see news reports of famine victims, but we haven't caused the famine. We can feel guilty when we witness an accident, even though we have nothing to do with it. Guilt can also result from being in arguments.

This suggests that guilt can be a misplaced emotion. I suspect that when we feel frightened, uncertain or upset, there are internal filters that translate these emotions into feelings that we identify as guilt.

Keeping that in mind, let's review the facts.

You asked your mum to move in with you the second you thought she needed support. You didn't simply offer her a space; you gave her a home. You spent time with her, building happy memories.

Sadly, she was struck by Alzheimer's. It's a cruel disease that most people have heard of, but few have first-hand experience of what it does.

Alzheimer's attacks the brain, causing sufferers to lose their memory and their ability to react to their environment. It leads to a loss of memory, language and thought. As it progresses, victims may become upset, agitated and sometimes even violent.

It is not possible for one person to care for a victim with advanced Alzheimer's. They need to be cared for 24/7, from going to the bathroom, and soothing their fears, to preventing them from wandering off and being lost or getting hurt.

I'm reminding you of this because too many people feel guilty about enlisting a nursing home when their loved ones enter advanced Alzheimer's. This makes no sense, because it takes several shifts of trained caretakers to watch over victims and keep them safe and happy.

Most families do not have the resources to provide this much care. It's simply too expensive. This is why we have homes where the costs and work are pooled.

So if you have any doubts over this decision, please drop it. You did not abandon your mum. You looked after her while you could, and when her condition deteriorated, you sought professional help. You did the proper thing.

If there had not been a pandemic, you would have been at the hospital. Sadly, that simply wasn't possible.

Please consider that you did the ethical thing: you did not allow your personal needs to endanger hospital frontliners. It hurt you, but it was the proper decision. It was unselfish.

You sound like a warm, caring, thoughtful woman, and as you are your mum's daughter, I suspect that she was the same way.

Whatever your beliefs are, I suggest you unburden yourself by telling your mum right now about your emotions. Light a candle, write a letter, have a prayer said for her – whatever works for you is good.

Then grieve for her because you loved her. But do it without the guilt because all your acts revealed you were a very loving daughter.

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