Sunday, October 25, 2015

Boon's US Trip (June 2015)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Farewell Tracy and RIP

Below is my post on Tracy's FB page:

"Dear Tracy,
It was 10 years ago. 3 of us (Ying, you and I) went backpacking in Tibet for almost 3 weeks. It was your first backpacking trip, and you were very daring to join us and rough it out. The conditions in Tibet were very harsh.
The first 2 days in Lhasa when we were all suffering from Altitude Sickness - headaches / breathlessness etc... Initially, you wanted to go home, but you decided to continue the 3 weeks journey. We traveled illegally overland from Tibet to Yunnan with the Guangzhou Trios. At the end of 3 weeks, you were doing really well (ie. Running up the steep hill while we were trying to keep up with your pace , eating the big roasted lamb with your bare hands etc...). Both Ying and I were very impressed. You were such a strong survivor and adapter!!! smile emoticon
There were so many funny and silly moments during the trip as well.
One of them happened in the hostel in Lhasa. You wanted to use the common toilet, but the stench was so bad that you could even smell it with your stuffy nose. I gave you a brilliant suggestion - apply the Chinese medical oil near your nose so that you will only smell the medical oil and not the stench. In the end, you hit me (in a playful manner) when you came back from the common toilet. You said that my suggestion did not work, in fact, the Chinese medical oil cleared your stuffy nose so well that you could smell the stench more. Haha. We always had a good laugh over this incident.
You were always very accommodating and nice. Always smiling. smile emoticon
Early this year, my good friend was also diagnosed with acute leukemia. I asked you for help, and you accepted it without hesitation.
You replied:
"Great. I will speak with her"
"I hope I can help her."
"I will try to help as much as I can."
Despite being quite ill, you have been so selfless and helpful.
Thank you so much!!!
As you know, she always says that you are her idol - for being so strong. smile emoticon
Yesterday, at your wake, the eulogies delivered were very touching. It is a testament of what a kind and nice person you have been.
It also serves as a good reminder to the rest of us on how we should live our life.
Thanks for the friendship and wonderful memories.
Farewell my friend.
May you rest in peace.
Your Friend"

This blog has slowly becoming an obituary. This is the 8th wake I have attended this year.
 2 aunts wake, 2 HIV patientz, 1 friend's dad, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, My grandmother & Tracy's wake. 

Early this week, I did not sleep well, I was partly affected by Tracy's departure.

I was saddened to think she was suffering in the last few days, and she shed tears while she was in coma. Not sure if that was her way of saying goodbye or she was not ready to go. =(

We traveled together in Tibet 10 years ago, it was such a great trip with so many fond memories. I kept thinking if back then, she knows that she would depart this world in 10 years, how would she live her life? Similarly, if I only have another 5 or 10 years left, how would I live differently?

Knowing that your time is limited, would you have lived differently?

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Goodbye and have a good rebirth!

Posted this on my FB, decided to post it here for me to remember in the future:

"Attended a wake of a friend (Mr X)

I got to know him for the past 1 year while volunteering at CDC. Mr X had HIV/AIDS for more than 20 years. He was a very cool uncle who was very friendly and a good sense of humor. It's always a joy to interact with him. 

He used to work as odd job labour earning only $15-30/day. He didn't have any family (single with no siblings) and friends, fortunately, he had a very good friend of more than 40 years, who would visit Mr X everyday in the hospital. His good friend would also bring his children to visit Mr X. It's like kinship more than friendship. 

Nobody attends Mr X wake, except his good friend, his good friend's children and my fellow volunteers. 

Just now, I had a good conversation with Mr X's good friend (in his 80s) who told me that if people don't take care of each other, Life is quite meaningless. I'm very touched to hear that.

I have a few reflections:
1. Thankful for the volunteering experience. I get to meet people outside my social circle and learn so many things from them. 
2. Building a few good relationship is more meaningful than knowing many people at superficial level. 
3. Singapore govt is actually quite good. Mr X was hospitalized for more than 1 year and he didn't pay a single cents. Prior to that, he was receiving $450/mth handout. There is some sort of a safety net in Singapore for the low income. 

May Mr X rest in peace and have a good rebirth! 

Om Mani Padme Hum"


The last time I visited Mr X was 2 days ago during my regular friday evening.
When I saw him, he was already unconscious and was gasping for air.
It reminded me of the last few days of my grandma who passed away a few months ago.
Immediately, I knew that Mr X days were numbered.

I was supposed to meet my cousin (visiting from Australia) for a drink, but I decided to stay back awhile more to do Buddhist chanting for Mr X with my fellow volunteers.
That is the least we could do for him.
I am quite sure that he could hear us from the way he gasped for air while we talked to him.

I left the hospital at around 9pm, and Mr X passed away shortly at around 10.30pm.
I was saddened by the news, but at the same time, I was glad that he did not need to suffer anymore, and hopefully, he received the blessing from our collective chanting before he passed on.

This is one of the most meaningful things I have done recently.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Boon's Turkey Trip (Mar 2015)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Article: Life Slips Away

Love this author's reflection on his mother's death and the reminder of the fragility of life.

Below is my favourite part:

This is the meaning of impermanence. In the realm of history things appear and things fall away: everything changes and everything dies. There is no escape: there are no deals to be struck nor bargains to be made. You and I are not exceptions to the rule.
An ancient Buddhist teaching called ‘the five remembrances’ reminds us that we are all of the nature to grow old, to become sick and to die and that eventually we will have to leave everything we value behind. All that remains are the consequences of our actions.
And so what is it that we should do?
Owning more things won’t do the trick.
Making more money won’t cut it.
On our deathbed we won’t think: “Oh, I wish I had spent more time in the office”.
I am writing this not because I am saying anything new, it has all been said before, as always, but because I want to remember how I feel now, since I know how easily this too can slip away. I want to remember the fragility of life and that it is all we have and what we have of most importance is each other and we don’t have time for foolishness and petty gripes and grudges. I have tried to say sorry to those in my family who I have hurt and to forgive those who have hurt me so that I can put aside the past and better open my heart to the present. I want to remember that we all suffer but that the world is also beautiful and we are capable of forgiveness and kindness and love. I really don’t think there is anything more important than that.

Article: Life advice upon turning age 30, from the president of Y Combinator

I have read other similar posts before, but I quite like what he wrote:

Below are some of my favorites / reminders (on things I need to improve on):

2) Life is not a dress rehearsal—this is probably it. Make it count. Time is extremely limited and goes by fast. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled—few people get remembered hundreds of years after they die anyway. Don’t do stuff that doesn’t make you happy (this happens most often when other people want you to do something). Don’t spend time trying to maintain relationships with people you don’t like, and cut negative people out of your life. Negativity is really bad. Don’t let yourself make excuses for not doing the things you want to do.

6) Talk to people more. Read more long content and less tweets. Watch less TV. Spend less time on the Internet.

8) Don’t let yourself get pushed around. As Paul Graham once said to me, “People can become formidable, but it’s hard to predict who”. (There is a big difference between confident and arrogant. Aim for the former, obviously.)

11) Go out of your way to be around smart, interesting, ambitious people. Work for them and hire them (in fact, one of the most satisfying parts of work is forging deep relationships with really good people). Try to spend time with people who are either among the best in the world at what they do or extremely promising but totally unknown. It really is true that you become an average of the people you spend the most time with.

16) Ask for what you want.

23) Learn voraciously.

24) Do new things often. This seems to be really important. Not only does doing new things seem to slow down the perception of time, increase happiness, and keep life interesting, but it seems to prevent people from calcifying in the ways that they think. Aim to do something big, new, and risky every year in your personal and professional life.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Reflecting about Birth, Aging, Sickness & Death

The first 4 months of year 2015 went past quickly... 
This is Life... it will go past quickly as well...
I am sure that on my deathbed, 
I would say that life went past just like a flash...

I am still learning how to deal with Birth, Aging, Sickness & Death.
Actually, I am fearful of death... 
To be exact, I am afraid that on my deathbed, 
I would regret not living a full life.

I kept reminding myself that I will get old soon and my prime years will be over soon.
I really don't want to waste my life idling and moving aimlessly in the stream of life.

So far, this year, I have attended 6 wakes - 2 aunts wake, 1 HIV patient, 1 friend's dad, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and last week was my grandma's wake. 

I have 2 friends fighting for their lives - suffering from acute leukemia, and a friend's wife is suffering from thyroid cancer, and another distant friend just recovered from nose cancer. They are all in their 30s like me, in the prime of their lives. 

So far, I have been lucky, but I will never know if my luck will run out.

Some thoughts:

- You can overcome your fears slowly. 

When I was young, I was quite fearful of funeral, coffins and dead people. Recently, after attending so many wakes, I am getting more comfortable. I performed a funeral prayer service together with my group of volunteers for the HIV patient. Last monday, I was alone with the body of my grandmother in the hospital for almost one hour (while waiting to transfer her body from the ward to the mortuary). I was chanting for her and playing Buddhist Chanting music. Hopefully, she has a smooth passage to her afterlife, if there is one.

- Physical Possession is really over-rated

Grandma has been a very thrifty and hardworking person. We discovered many new clothes in her wardrobe that she never wore. She kept a lot of new things, but never used them. On the contrary, I told myself that if I do not use an item for 1-2 years, I should consider discarding/donating it away. Spending on experience will add more values to my life, it can broaden my horizon, change my perspectives, increase my understanding and knowledge of the world. So I will continue to de-clutter.

- Usefulness of Dharma (Buddha's Teaching)

I am not 100% Buddhist, as I am still not sure if there is afterlife, if there is reincarnation, if the law of Karma really works. I guess I could never be a 100% Buddhist, but Dharma is far better than ALL other religious teachings I have came across. The Dharma is very useful for me to understand the nature of life, which is Impermanence in nature. This philosophy has helped me to accept changes in life. And also attachment is one of the main sufferings of life, and the antidote to many sufferings is to learn to let go of many things including our ego. This also helped me to understand myself better.

May you be free from sufferings.
May you find happiness in life.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Article: My death sentence turned out to be a gift

A reminder that many things in life doesn't matter....

My death sentence turned out to be a gift 
By Eugene O’Kelly

At 53, Eugene O'Kelly thought he had everything going for him. As CEO of KPMG, one of the largest US accounting firms, he enjoyed great power and prestige. Then he was told he had brain cancer and was given three to six months to live. This is an extract from his moving memoir of his last days

One day not long ago, I sat atop the world. From this perch I had an overview that was relatively rare in business, a perspective that allowed me access to the inner workings of many of the world's finest, most successful companies and the extraordinary minds that ran them.

Overnight, I found myself sitting on a very different perch: a hard metal chair, looking across a desk at a doctor whose expression was way too full of empathy for my liking. His eyes told me I would die soon. It was late spring. I had seen my last autumn in New York.

The verdict I received in the last week of May 2005 - that it was unlikely I would make it to September - turned out to be a gift. Honestly. Because I was forced at the age of 53 to think seriously about my own death. Which meant I was forced to think more deeply about my life than I had ever done.

As CEO and chairman of KPMG - the US$4 billion (S$6.4 billion) 20,000-employee, century-plus-old partnership - one of America's Big Four accounting firms, I was not a man given to hypotheticals. But just for a moment, suppose there had been no death sentence. Wouldn't it be nice still to be planning, building and leading for years to come? Yes and no.

Yes, because I would like to have been around to see my daughter Gina graduate and marry and have children (in whatever order she ends up doing all that). To spend next Christmas Eve, the day before my older daughter Marianne's birthday, eating and talking and laughing the way we did every year. To travel and play golf with my wife of 27 years, Corinne, the girl of my dreams, and to share with her the retirement in Arizona we had planned for so long.

But I also say no. No, because, thanks to my situation, I had attained a new level of awareness, one I did not possess in the first 53 years of my life. It is impossible for me to imagine going back to that other way of thinking, when this new way has enriched me so. I lost something precious, but I also gained something precious.

In my past life, here was a Perfect Day: I would have a couple of face-to-face client meetings, my favourite thing of all. I would meet at least one member of my inner team. I would speak on the phone with partners. I would complete lots of the items listed in my electronic calendar. And I would move ahead in making our firm a great place to work, one that allowed our people to live more balanced lives.

For me personally, for any executive, but especially the top guy, that last plank in the platform was particularly difficult to achieve. Don't get me wrong: I loved my firm. I was passionate about accounting. (Don't laugh.) But the job of CEO, while of course incredibly privileged, was relentless. My diary was perpetually extended out over the next 18 months. I worked weekends and late into many nights. I missed virtually every school function for my younger daughter. My annual travel schedule averaged, conservatively, 240,000km.

For the first 10 years of my marriage, when I was climbing the ladder at KPMG, Corinne and I rarely went on vacation. Over the course of my last decade with the firm, I did manage to squeeze in workday lunches with my wife. Twice.

Before this starts to sound like complaining, I must be honest: As long as I could handle such a high-pressure position, I wanted it. As profound as my devotion to and love for my family were, I could not have settled for a job just because it guaranteed that I could make PTA meetings. People don't walk into the top spot. They are driven.

When Corinne and I showed up at the neurologist's office on Tuesday, May 24, we were both convinced that the drooping of muscle in my cheek and at the corner of my mouth was caused by something stress-related, probably Bell's palsy. I was asked some questions, then put through what seemed a pretty standard physical exam. The neurologist said she wanted me to come in for an MRI first thing the following morning.

A week later, the biopsy that was supposed to take two hours took three. Halfway through, the surgeon came out to tell Corinne that the first tissue sample he had removed from my brain was 'necrotic', dead. Not dying, but already dead.

Later, when the doctor could address Corinne and me together, he recommended radiation, which might provide a couple of extra months more than whatever I had left. There was no cure, he said. 'This is terminal.' My days as a man at the top of his game, vigorous and productive, were done, just like that.

A new life

THE whole of my life, I had expected people to operate at a high standard. If they did not, they might lose my confidence. I don't mean to say that I lacked compassion; it's just that in the business world, our index for evaluating people was competency. It had to be. My daily experience at the radiation clinic made me realise that was not the index I could use any more. Things don't go according to plan. In fact, they almost never did.

Sitting in that room, waiting for my turn to have the waffle-mask put over my face so they could zap my brain with laser beams, I watched people around me grow frustrated. I tried not to let it happen to me. It was at the clinic that I really began to understand acceptance. Having entered the final phase of my life, what choice did I have but to accept it? Apparently, I was not too old to learn something new. You cannot control everything.

One of my tasks before I died was to 'unwind', or close or, as I saw it, beautifully resolve my personal relationships. I wanted to do the very thing that wiser people advise us to do: to stop long enough to think about the people we love and why we love them.

A few days after the diagnosis had been confirmed, I sat down at the dining-room table and drew this diagram. The outermost circle was made up of classmates, acquaintances, neighbours, people who had enriched my life just by being in it. When I sat down to list all the people who merited inclusion, I was astounded to see it came to almost 1,000. An unbelievable number. I could not possibly 'close' all of these relationships. Those that I did address, maybe half, I closed almost exclusively through mail. A number of them I did by phone.

In each case, I tried to focus on something especially meaningful. I attempted to turn the occasion into what I had come to think of as a Perfect Moment. A Perfect Moment was a little gift of an hour or an afternoon. Its actual length was never the issue.

The key thing was that you had to be open to a Perfect Moment. The radiation machine breaks down; one hour is going to come and go, an hour you can hardly spare; but then you accept that machines break down. You don't get frustrated. You focus instead on something pleasing. The beautiful poem your daughter wrote. The colour of the sky out the window.

Given my natural thoroughness, I had to remind myself how easy it could be to spend lots of time with the outer circle, which would ultimately be at the expense of the inner circles. I thought about how, during my previous life, I might have unconsciously been too consumed by the outermost circle. At work, with constant demands on my time, I had got into the habit of meeting certain people, good people, but nonetheless fifth-circle people. Was it necessary to have breakfast with them four times a month? I could have done less of that. Perhaps I could have found time, in the last decade, to have had a weekday lunch with my wife more than...twice?

Where had I found the nerve to press so hard for our firm to rework its culture, encouraging our partners and employees to live more balanced lives, when my own was out of balance? I realised that being able to count a thousand people in that fifth circle was not something to be proud of. Please don't misunderstand: the people who populate it are worthwhile, and belong in the first circle of other people. They are just not the people who should have consumed the time and energy that they did for me.

I moved further inward and I marvelled at how many Perfect Moments I was having. As much as I had loved the hustle and bustle of my previous life, I could not help but think back on how rare such moments had been. Of course there had been Perfect Moments in my past. The day I married Corinne. The day I adopted Marianne. The day Gina was born. But almost all those moments one could have seen coming. They were not the mundane, fabric-of-life stuff.

Maybe other people appreciate the perfection in small moments; I was just too caught up in my fast-paced, high-pressure life to ever get at the sublimeness embedded in them. I experienced more Perfect Moments and Perfect Days in two weeks than I had in the past five years.

Saying goodbye

UNWINDING relationships with close lifetime friends was easiest, I had noticed, when my friends had a belief in God and/or a very solid marriage or partnership. Those who lacked both did not handle our closing well. Often there was a third reason: they themselves were suffering through some big personal issue, and I served as a troubling reminder of how much they yet had to deal with.

Our conversation brought them not pleasure but rather pain and anger. Of course I did not mean that to happen, but neither could I help it. Some friends wanted to prolong our final encounter. They continued to call me. "I'd like this to be it," I would say. "Trying to improve on a Perfect Moment never works." Not a popular answer. Too final. Kind of cold, actually.

Although I was not there yet, my mind wandered often to my unwinding with Gina. She had recently turned 14, and, like anyone that age, she had her days. I wanted her to understand my pride in and profound love for her. But I struggled to come up with the best way for a father to make his daughter see him for who he was, rather than for how long he had stayed.

This was the best day of my life. Corinne, Gina and I were at Lake Tahoe, where we had a vacation home. We took a boat out. For the first time, I sat in front, the only place Gina ever sits. The water looked like glass. There were hardly any other boats out, or it seemed that way. We crossed the lake. We seemed to be riding not in the water but on it, skating along the surface. It seemed as if I was part of the water. It went on for miles and miles. I loved the sensation of being so close to the water. Or really, it was not so much that I loved anything, but just that I had the sensation, felt it fully.

Corinne and I decided that afternoon that we would both have our ashes spread upon the waters of Emerald Bay, in a very particular spot that we loved. I was getting closer to zero miles an hour.

My mother and my brother flew to Tahoe. I took my mother's hand and told her I was in a good place. Later, my brother and I talked alone. He was angry that this should be happening to me. "Your anger won't do anyone any good," I said. I told him to take the energy he was spending being angry at the world, double it, and channel it into love for his children (or even more love, I should say, because William already loved his daughters and son dearly). He promised me he would. It was a Perfect Day. I felt complete. Spent but complete.

Eugene O'Kelly died on Sept 10, 2005. His wife Corinne wrote the final chapter of the book. Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life by Eugene O'Kelly (McGraw-Hill) is available at major bookshops.

Article: My house is shabby, but it is comfortable

I am always impressed by Dr Lee Wei Ling's way of thinking.
Coming from the most influential family in Singapore, yet, she is so grounded.

This is a good article written on Jan'09
My house is shabby, but it is comfortable

There is no end to wanting – after the Ferrari and the Birkin bag, what next?

By Lee Wei Ling

In 2007, in an end-of-year message to the staff of the National Neuroscience Institute, I wrote: ‘Whilst boom time in the public sector is never as booming as in the private sector, let us not forget that boom time is eventually followed by slump time.

Slump time in the public sector is always less painful compared to the private sector.’ Slump time has arrived with a bang.

While I worry about the poorer Singaporeans who will be hit hard, perhaps this recession has come at an opportune time for many of us. It will give us an incentive to reconsider our priorities in life.

Decades of the good life have made us soft.

The wealthy especially, but also the middle class in Singapore , have had it so good for so long, what they once considered luxuries, they now think of as necessities. A mobile phone, for instance, is now a statement about who you are, not just a piece of equipment for communication. Hence many people buy the latest model though their existing mobile phones are still in perfect working order.

A Mercedes-Benz is no longer adequate as a status symbol. For millionaires who wish to show the world they have taste, a Ferrari or a Porsche is deemed more appropriate.

The same attitude influences the choice of attire and accessories.

I still find it hard to believe that there are people carrying handbags that cost more than thrice the monthly income of a bus driver, and many more times that of the foreign worker labouring in the hot sun, risking his life to construct luxury condominiums he will never have a chance to live in.

The media encourages and amplifies this ostentatious consumption.

Perhaps it is good to encourage people to spend more because this will prevent the recession from getting worse.

I am not an economist, but wasn’t that the root cause of the current crisis – Americans spending more than they could afford to? I am not a particularly spiritual person. I don’t believe in the supernatural and I don’t think I have a soul that will survive my death. But as I view the crass materialism around me, I am reminded of what my mother once told me: ‘Suffering and deprivation is good for the soul.’

My family is not poor, but we have been brought up to be frugal.

My parents and I live in the same house that my paternal grandparents and their children moved into after World War II in 1945. It is a big house by today’s standards, but it is simple – in fact, almost to the point of being shabby.

Those who see it for the first time are astonished that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew‘s home is so humble. But it is a comfortable house, a home we have got used to. Though it does look shabby compared to the new mansions on our street, we are not bothered by the comparison.

Most of the world and much of Singapore will lament the economic downturn. We have been told to tighten our belts. There will undoubtedly be suffering, which we must try our best to ameliorate. But I personally think the hard times will hold a timely lesson for many Singaporeans, especially those born after 1970 who have never lived through difficult times. No matter how poor you are in Singapore , the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food. Nobody starves in Singapore .

Many of those who are currently living in mansions and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle will probably still be able to do so, even if they might have to downgrade from wines costing $20,000 a bottle to $10,000 a bottle. They would hardly notice the difference.

Being wealthy is not a sin. It cannot be in a capitalist market economy.

Enjoying the fruits of one’s own labour is one’s prerogative and I have no right to chastise those who choose to live luxuriously. But if one is blinded by materialism, there would be no end to wanting and hankering.

After the Ferrari, what next? An Aston Martin? After the Hermes Birkin handbag, what can one upgrade to? Neither an Aston Martin nor an Hermes Birkin can make us truly happy or contented. They are like dust, a fog obscuring the true meaning of life, and can be blown away in the twinkling of an eye.

When the end approaches and we look back on our lives, will we regret the latest mobile phone or luxury car that we did not acquire? Or would we prefer to die at peace with ourselves, knowing that we have lived lives filled with love, friendship and goodwill, that we have helped some of our fellow voyagers along the way and that we have tried our best to leave this world a slightly better place than how we found it?

We know which is the correct choice – and it is within our power to make that choice.

In this new year, burdened as it is with the problems of the year that has just ended, let us again try to choose wisely.

To a considerable degree, our happiness is within our own control, and we should not follow the herd blindly.

Article: 'I'm going to die on Monday at 6.15pm'

I read this article many years ago, and I applauded the Netherlands for legalizing Euthansia.
How many people have the good fortune of preparing for their own funerals?
'I'm going to die on Monday at 6.15pm'

When Marc Weide's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she chose euthanasia. Here, we publish his shockingly frank diary of her final days.

Monday February 11 2008

5.30pm: Dad is bent over the toilet bowl with a brush in his hand and a scowl on his face. I walk up to him. "Shall I give you a hand?" Dad begins to snigger, abandoning any attempt to make sense of the situation. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our backs to Mum, who paces around the landing with a newly fitted catheter in her hand.

The catheter has been put in by nurse Marianne to enable our GP, who will be with us in half an hour, to give Mum a lethal injection. But instead of having a moment of peace with us, as Marianne suggested, Mum demands that we clean the toilets. Both upstairs and downstairs.

My brother, Maarten, is sitting on the edge of the bath, staring out of the bathroom window.

"Imagine," he mutters. "Her last hour, spent like this."

This is the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia is permitted, as well as physician-assisted suicide. This is the day my mother has chosen to die, and the toilets need to be spotless.

Three months earlier

I'm on a writer's retreat in the UK, where I have been living for the past three years. I'm working on my novel when my mobile phone rings. The display shows it's Maarten, calling from the Netherlands. Mum's test results have come back.

"It's secondary cancer in her lungs." He pauses. "They reckon she's got two to six months left."

I phone Mum. She talks without interruption, barely taking breath, about quitting her job just two months before her retirement, about what might have happened if she had not had that innocent-looking polyp removed from her womb, about why the doctors had not investigated her lungs earlier.

The prognosis is she could live another year if she undergoes chemotherapy. But she won't. "I'm not going to go bald," she says. "I don't want people saying, 'How sad, that beautiful hair all gone.' Never."

When I phone again, she sounds as if she doesn't have time to talk.

"I'm arranging my cremation."

"Oh ... "

"Yes, the text for the card, the location, the flowers, the coffin ... I'm really busy."

Dad, Maarten and I do not seem to be part of the equation.

Late January 2008

Dad phones. After two and a half months, Mum is deteriorating rapidly. She suffers from headaches, sickness and loss of coordination. She takes a fall while Dad is having a shower. When she has a shower, half the bathroom floor gets flooded.

Two days later, brain metastasis is confirmed. Mum is hospitalised and given drugs to repress the inflammation, but they will only remain effective for a week or two.
Friday January 25

Maarten collects me from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam and we drive to meet Dad at the hospital. We all go upstairs together.

Mum is sitting by herself at a table near the window as we enter. She throws us a tearful smile. "My boys," she says, as Maarten and I give her a hug. "To think that this all started in that bloody womb of mine ... but I am glad I had it, to bear you two."

The hospital staff all do a great job and Mum seems content with her care. After two hours with us, though, she becomes more demanding. She asks Dad to put things into her bag, then take them out again. She snaps when he can't find her mobile phone.

When the palliative care coordinator, Carola, comes in to discuss the option of home care, I take Dad outside. "Dad, I'm wondering - here, Mum is in the capable hands of staff whose authority she accepts. At home, she'll just try to be the boss."

"Hmm. You may be right," says Dad. We walk back, just as Mum is asking Carola whether home care really does not include vacuuming.

When I repeat my concerns to Maarten, though, he is adamant: "She ought to come home. It feels more natural if she dies there and I want to be around her for a bit. I don't want to drive to this depressing hospital every day and leave her alone at night."

And so the question is settled. The four of us will go home together on Monday.

Saturday January 26

In Dad's study, I find a draft version of a mourning card saying "dag lief" ("bye dear"). My name is on the card, along with my brother's and Dad's. These are meant to be our words, but I have had no part in writing them and I struggle with the bottom line: "We prefer not to receive telephone calls, visitors or flowers."

Monday January 28

After arriving home with Mum, we struggle to share a harmonious moment. She asks again if we've thought about what we are going to say at her funeral. When I answer that I haven't, Mum insists that time is short. I should look at her "expression of wish" statement - her wish to die. It needs editing. I go upstairs to the study.

The statement begins: "I, Mieneke Weide-Boelkes, am terminally ill." It ends: "As soon as this medication loses its efficacy I request euthanasia." Dad joins me and reassures me the text has genuinely been written by Mum.

I start editing. Then Mum calls from downstairs. "Weren't you going to make dinner?!"

I go downstairs and start cooking with Maarten. Anything for a quiet life ... because that is how it's always been and now is not the time to change it.

When dinner is ready and I go to fetch Mum and Dad, I find them sitting in our bedroom with a man I have never seen before.

Mum introduces me to the doctor, Martin. He is holding the statement I have just edited, but all I can think is how he got in so quietly and why Mum and Dad have not bothered to let us know he is here.

Wednesday January 30

8.15am: Maarten has a run-in with Mum. He asks what on Earth she is doing with the Hoover at "stupid o'clock" in the morning. Mum does not appreciate being spoken to like that.

Things still simmer at breakfast. Mum finds fault with all the shopping we bought the previous day: the gouda cheese is too soft, the bread too sweet and why is there fruit juice in her fridge?
Monday February 4

We are just about to have lunch when Mum, who has been complaining about headaches this morning, gets up from the table. Tearfully, she shuffles to the kitchen sink. "I am so sick of it," she says, "so sick." She begins to make retching noises.

As Dad gets closer, Mum begins to thrash around. "It's starting again!" she cries. "Call a doctor, quickly!"

Maarten manages to calm her down a little. Dad picks up the phone to call the doctor. Mum wants to go back to the table, but I take her upstairs to bed.

A moment later we hear feet shuffling down the stairs. The door opens and Mum appears. "I'm sort of OK now," she says.

She has just sat down when the doctor arrives. As he sticks his head round the dining-room door and sees Mum sipping coffee, his face is all surprise.

So this is the moment Mum has specified: initial symptoms back; medication losing its effect.

The doctor says euthanasia can take place next week. Another doctor first needs to verify, though, that Mum cannot be cured, that her wish to die has been consistent, and that her suffering is unbearable.

Martin is convinced of the first two conditions but not of the third. If Mum is too energetic to stay in bed, then how is her suffering unbearable?

Mum puts her coffee down. "Well, I have to die anyway, don't I?" Then she asks us what we think.

I interrupt: "It should be your own decision. None of us is to say anything."

But Mum struggles to say she wants to die. Eventually I say, "I think what she finds unbearable is not so much her pain and sickness, but the fear of it getting worse and of losing control."

When Martin is finally satisfied that Mum wants to end it, he agrees to contact the second doctor. He leaves with an empathetic nod to us all.

Thursday February 7

I wake up in the middle of the night. Mum is standing in our bedroom. She opens a drawer and takes something out. She shuffles items across the desk until she is pleased with their arrangement. Then she leaves, quietly closing the door behind her.

It is at least the third nocturnal bout of tidying up I've seen this fortnight.

Mum's youngest sister and her husband are visiting today. Everybody sits at the dining-room table with drinks and nibbles. Mum is giving an animated demonstration on how to polish silverware with her special gloves.

Then the secondary opinion doctor phones to say he will be with us in 10 minutes. There is a brief panic. Mum wants to change into her nightwear and get into bed before the doctor arrives, but we persuade her otherwise.

The doctor speaks privately with Mum in the dining room. After he leaves, Mum looks decisive. She says it was "a very good talk", but does not give any further details.

Later, when the guests have gone, Dad tells me that the doctor asked him to leave the room. "Yes," Mum interrupts, "the doctor had to ascertain if I was not being forced into euthanasia."

Friday February 8

Doctor Martin is due to come in the afternoon to discuss further plans, but I do not see him. My brother has to fill me in over the phone because I am staying at a friend's after a fight with Mum.

Over the last week or so, she has been complaining about my shoes and the damage they do to her floor and has been badgering me to buy a new pair at her preferred shop this weekend.

"Mum," I say, "I was planning to stay with some friends this weekend."

"Oh, were you!" she snaps. "And who has got more priority then, your friends or your terminally ill mother?"

I decide to go sooner rather than later. But Mum pursues me as I get my things. "Why don't you stay with your friends next week, when I'm dead? You'll have all the time in the world then!"

"I was planning to spend time here, with Dad."

"Oh no you won't," she says. "When I'm dead, it's just going to be your dad and me here. I don't want you and Maarten around. And anyway, you don't do diddly squat ... "

I lose my self-control. I shout and swear at her and storm off in a rage.

Later, at my friend Petra's, I get a phone call from Maarten about the outcome of the doctor's visit. Mum's death has been scheduled for Monday February 11, at 6.15pm.

Sunday February 10

Mum's sisters and their husbands are there for a last family dinner, together with Dad, Maarten and me - wearing my expensive new pair of shoes. Mum, even more energetic than the week before, decorates the table lavishly.

My uncles shake their heads with incomprehension. As Mum shows off her china plates, my aunts have distracted looks on their faces.

Whispering to Dad and me in the hallway, they struggle to understand why Mum is choosing to die the next day when she is bouncing around like a 40-year-old instead of a terminally ill 65-year-old. But there is also shock at her fixation on material objects and the little interest she shows in how the people around her actually feel.

Monday February 11

Again, I wake up early when Mum comes into the bedroom. It is disturbing to see her take the stones and shells from the windowsill and place them on the desk. She had only moved them on to the windowsill the previous morning.

Mum leaves and comes back again three times. After the last visit, I can hear she is hoisting the vacuum cleaner up to the attic. It is just after 6am.

It is the start of an increasingly mad day, during which Mum hoovers the whole house and does six loads of washing (one of which consists of a single white shirt). She scrapes all the woodwork on the outside of the house clear of moss and cleans the windows.

After breakfast, I find Dad fuming after Mum has given him grief for not ironing fast enough. I ask him if it helps to see her as a mental patient instead of his wife. He grumbles.

I think of what was said the night before, about Mum's relative physical fitness and her obsession with material objects and cleanliness. I feel an increasing tension as the day progresses and I still don't know whether it is going to be Mum's last.

I overhear Mum's conversation with the flower shop. After the crematorium confirms the date of her funeral, she phones to order flowers for her coffin. It is an hour and a half before the nurse comes to put the catheter into Mum's hand.

6.15pm: The doctor arrives shortly after the scene with the toilets. Mum greets him, then disappears upstairs, saying, "Best let me potter for a bit." Nobody sees her for another 20 minutes.

"Does it happen at all that people pull out at the last minute?" I ask.

"Yes," Martin says. "Quite often I go home again and a new appointment is made. But in many cases the patient passes away between visits."

When Mum comes back, listing things she has put in bags and boxes, Martin gently interrupts her: "Can I just ask you something? Is there still a lot you feel you need to do?"

"Yes," she says, "I mean no. I'm just nervous."

"I can always come back later if you are not ready," says the doctor.

Mum sits down and listens to the doctor. Then she takes a deep breath and says, "OK. I am ready."

At 7pm, with my father, brother and me around her bed as well as Martin, who has given her the injection, Mum goes to sleep.

Saturday February 16

People at funerals often say that the deceased would have approved of the ceremony. In my mother's case, she had literally approved everything - the music, the flowers, the guest list and the restaurant we went to afterwards.

My main regret is that there were such clashes between us in the run-up to her death. Perhaps if we had challenged Mum more over the years, keeping her ever-increasing demands in check, we could have been at peace as a family, instead of at war over shoes and toilets, right to the bitter end.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Music: Lama Gyurme & Jean-Philippe Rykiel - Offering Chant

I bought this CD ("RAIN OF BLESSINGS: VAJRA CHANTS") when I was traveling in Dharamsala (where His Holiness The Dalai Lama resides) 2 year ago. 

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This particular piece touches my heart - I don't know what it means, but it brings calm and peace. I felt as though I am seeing my life from a distant and recognizing the impermanence of life, recognizing my transient insignificant existence, nothing is worth holding back.... willing to let go of everything and be at peace with the greater Universe. 

*Trivial: Jean-Phillippe Rykiel

Jean-Philippe Rykiel is a French composer, arranger & musician, primarily a keyboard player. He has been blind since his birth[1] in 1961, and is the son of fashion designer Sonia Rykiel.

Travel: London, Paris, Brussel, Amsterdam (Oct'14)