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It was on a cold winter's evening in 1974 that my mother welcomed me back into her home. I had just divorced and my infant son was still nursing. I started working to support us, and my mother took on all the tasks of housekeeping as well as raising my son. When my son was six, he was diagnosed with a congenital condition of unknown origin that severely depressed his thyroid production. We were told that this condition could potentially stunt his growth and cause other problems. Indeed, he was starting to show some signs of delayed development compared to other children of his age. It was at this time that my sister introduced me to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. I began chanting regularly and engaging energetically in organizational activities.
After some time I was able to find a renowned specialist in my son's condition. With treatment, he was able to completely overcome his illness and is now a healthy young man with no lingering aftereffects.
At first my mother opposed my faith, but with time, she also began to practice, which she came to enjoy very much. She was delighted to support me in my activities. It was truly reassuring to see the joy with which she sent me off to fulfill my responsibilities as local women's district leader. Without her support, it would have been impossible to hold down a demanding job and care for a sick child.
When he was in sixth grade, my son determined that he wanted to study at Soka University, and over the subsequent years studied hard for the examination. I will never forget the wonderful smile with which my mother welcomed the news that he had passed.
But this joy was short-lived. One evening, my mother failed to come home. The police, my neighbors and I searched everywhere for her. Finally, after three days of searching, we found her squatting in a small isolated hut, exhausted and disheveled. This was the start of our struggle with Alzheimer's disease. At the time, there was little support for families in this situation. I had to rush home 10 km from my workplace during my lunch break, feed her, make sure she took her medicine, and take her to the toilet, and then hurry back to work. Even while working, I was constantly thinking about her, worried that she might wander off. At night, I would be awakened by her time and again, and could never relax or let down my guard. related article My Life is My Greatest Treasure by Fern Brown Fern Brown describes how her Buddhist practice has helped her to come to terms with an unhappy childhood and become a stronger person and a campaigner for pedestrian rights.
Severely short of sleep, exhausted in body and soul, on more than a few occasions I found myself lashing out at her verbally. The sad and frightened look in her eyes at such times is etched in my memory.
Eventually, I was able to find a facility that would take care of my mother during the day. Seeing the stress I was under, they later agreed to take care of her full-time, except when I had days off.
In 1994, my mother passed away peacefully at age 82. As I cradled her in my arms, she quietly thanked me. All I could do was apologize for not having been kinder.
For a number of years, I struggled with feelings of regret and guilt. My Buddhist practice became a way for me to confront these feelings. Eventually, I determined that I wanted to do something to ease the burden of families in situations similar to mine. I studied for and passed the test to be qualified as a certified caregiver and then found a position in a hospital, where I worked for more than four years. Then, in 2004, I established a visiting home care operation. It currently employs six people and looks after 30 patients. I feel clearly that this is my mission in life, the work I was always meant to do. I am deeply grateful to my mother for leading me to this work, and am determined, through it, to repay my debt of gratitude to her.
[Courtesy, January 2009 SGI Quarterly]
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The Deepest Loss
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