I feel I should apologize for, or at least explain, my two-month absence from this site. I haven’t been malingering, not this time, anyway; more like I hit a bump in my life and had to take a break. I’m ready to come back now.
One of the things expats often say is that it’s a wonderful existence until something goes seriously wrong at home. Then it’s suddenly painfully hard to be posted thousands of miles away from people you care about.
My 88 year old mother, who had been living mostly independently since Dad died in 2006, developed a form of rapid-onset dementia over Thanksgiving weekend. My sister Heather contacted me to say that Mom would need to move into assisted care as soon as possible, and that the doctors expected her condition to deteriorate significantly in the coming months. Once Mom was settled into a nursing facility, something would have to be done with her empty house. And I would need to get to California as soon as I could if I wanted to see her while she could still recognize me.
Anyone contemplating teaching overseas, especially if they might be called on to care for loved ones back home, should examine the contract benefits package carefully. We are fortunate to work at a school that takes care of its people with generous family and bereavement leave. The director gave me permission to use my family leave to take off two weeks early for the three-week winter break. My initial plan was to stay in California for three weeks, visiting Mom at the nursing home and helping my sister get the house ready for sale or rental. Then I would fly back to Addis on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with my husband and daughter here. I figured I would need some down-time after sorting everything out in Nevada City, and we would still have almost two weeks after Christmas before school started again, so I booked a trip to Morocco for the three of us.
Events progressed differently than expected. I had a pretty good week with Mom when I first arrived in California. I’ll always remember the bright and crisp December day my sister and I wheeled her around the Sacramento Zoo. Mom loved the flamingos and the tiger, and she smiled and chattered energetically about a big reunion party she was planning with long-deceased friends and relatives – strangely prophetic, looking back on it now. A few days later Mom took a fall at the nursing home, and when she was released from the hospital it was back to her own home with a two week prognosis.
My four adult children had been planning to spend Christmas together at our house in Oregon, but when I cancelled my flight back to Addis they moved their holiday to Nevada City. Heather and one of her daughters were there, too. With Mom’s hospital bed in the living room, lights and candles and all our familiar holiday decorations on display, it was a lovely, peaceful day. Mom’s wish for a white Christmas was granted – she could see fresh snow resting on the trees in the front yard through the big picture window.
Heather and I were there when Mom passed away early in the morning on January 6. We held a little ceremony for friends and family in celebration of her life on January 10, and the next day my niece Adrienne drove me to SFO to begin the two-day journey home to Addis in time for the start of school on January 14. I’m adjusting slowly, still mourning – every time I see a new bird, I want to take a photo of it to share with Mom. I expect I’ll be doing that for a long time.
A last note : the end of my mother’s life was rough on us all, but I have only the highest praise for the wonderful staff and volunteers at Hospice of the Foothills in Nevada City. It was their caring support, and that of my children, and my sister and her daughters, that made it possible for Mom to spend her final weeks at home.