I’ll never forget that Whatsapp text message:
“Kyla, please text me. It’s an emergency. I am here with your mother.”
It’s not the kind of text message you ever want to receive. I was in the kitchen with my dad, cooking dinner in California. I showed it to him and called immediately.
My mom had locked herself in her apartment in Singapore for the umpteenth time, didn’t know where her handbag was and had misplaced her passport. This was all code for early onset dementia.
My sister and I immediately booked tickets to fly to Singapore, brought my mom home to California to live with my dad (someone she had not lived with for more then two decades). Needless to say, we were all apprehensive about what was to unfold.
It was early 2017 and I ended up taking the year off to work on myself WITH myself—leaving my cushy professor job. I basically bottomed out. I was knee deep wading in depression. Dealing with two D words: Depression and Dementia.
There were mornings I did not know what to do WITH myself. I tried drawing my emotions, I cried a lot, and then some. I found solace in baking and cooking. It reminded me of my Popo (maternal grandma in Cantonese) who came to live with us in Hong Kong after my mom started working.
I worked on my book (a sequel to my TED Talk).
I created a pop-up café in my living room serving food sans salt and desserts sans processed sugar.
I became a certified life coach.
I hired a life coach.
I attended my first women’s retreat in Bali.
And I hid from the world wrapped in a blanket of shame. I was after all a Global Happiness Coach. I had created my very own Happiness Workshop in 2014, and had brought it to several dozen countries around the globe and across a few continents. I had to be happy.
“Kyla, you are enough. You don’t have to be your mother’s mother. One day, you will start your own family, and you can be the mother of your own children. But you can’t be your mother’s mother.”
I had asked my paternal grandma’s homeopathic doctor Aviva for some advice about whether or not I should move back to California and take care of my mom. It was also the first time I had heard the words “you are enough” in my almost four decades on this planet.
Flying back to Korea, after that chance meeting, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B. Sandberg had gone through her own D word when her husband had abruptly passed away some years ago. Something from her book stuck with me though: she mentioned that writing was therapeutic and that people were less judgmental and more receptive to reading your thoughts than you think.
In a cold jetlag sweat at 5AM, back in Korea, I created my first blog post. I wrote about my mom. It was right around Mother’s Day too. I thought it would be timely. Hitting that button to upload it on to Facebook was completely nerve-wracking, but was it ever so cathartic, just as Sandberg had said.
Then I waited.
Friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while private messaged me and told me they had cried, other friends said they had reunited with family members they hadn’t spoken to in a while, and the best part of it all? I helped my friend Nancy deal with the death of her own mother who had passed 7 years ago. Nancy later thanked me profusely saying, “You know, I had to read your blog post three times to fully understand what it meant. Thank you for dedicating it to me and my mom. Your blog post has really helped me deal with losing my mom.”
A South African friend asked me this shortly after my mom was diagnosed with early onset dementia, “Why do you think dementia chose your mom?” At the time, the diagnosis was too raw, and I couldn’t really answer him. Now I understand why. My mom was always one to hold grudges, now she can’t remember them. My mom always carried a heavy handbag out with her, now she leaves the house with nothing—physically and emotionally unburdening herself. My mom never lived in the moment, but now she does. And she has been teaching me and my family to do so as well.
So, you will be happy to hear that my mom’s dementia also helped me find MY voice and redefine happiness. Happiness is not the absence of negative emotions, but the acceptance of them. Using this new understanding of Happiness, I have since launched my own coaching business. Oh and I blog 2-3 times a week now. In the process I have not only found my voice, but given voice to countless others who are struggling with similar things in life.
Thank you, mom. I love you.
Dedicated to my mom who has one of the strongest voices I know.