KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Ursula: My mom has lived a life that’s full; she did it her way

Dec 23, 2023, 12:40 AM

Image: Ursula Reutin's mother smiles for the camera. Image: Ursula Reutin's mother was one of the most popular singers in the Philippines in the late 1950s. Image: From left, Ursula Reutin, Ursula's mother and Ursula's sister Hanni sit together during a happier occasion. Image: This wedding photo in 1993 is one of the last of Ursula Reutin's core family together. Image: Ursula Reutin's family poses for a photo at Christmas time in the Philippines in 1969. Image: Ursula Reutin's mother, right, poses for a photo with her granddaughter Isabel.

As we approach Christmas, our beautiful 87-year-old mom struggles to stay asleep. Each time she shuts her eyes, she hopes she doesn’t wake up. She says she’s ready to check out and be reunited with our father and two brothers in heaven.

We think we’re ready to say goodbye. But this in-between stage is fraught with uncertainty. We have been through this before. First, it happened with our brother who died of cancer when he was only 55 in 2017. Then it happened when our 92-year-old dad had a massive stroke in June and died on Father’s Day.

The truth is, all the previous experience with loved ones dying doesn’t make it any easier. Each time we have walked down this path, we are confronted with a myriad of difficult decisions, none of them clear but all of them eventually leading to the same heartbreaking conclusion.

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A decision made

Our mom is a pragmatist. Once she learned she had an aggressive form of brain cancer, compounded by a stroke and broken ribs, she decided she no longer wanted any medical interventions.

But her bleak prognosis didn’t stop her doctors from suggesting everything possible to extend her life, even after she signed her end-of-life directive. Palliative and hospice care are relatively new concepts in the Philippines. That has made an excruciating situation even more complex and confusing.

One night, we asked the doctors to give her something for her acute anxiety and insomnia. Instead of giving her a medication, they referred her to their psychiatry team and sent two “junior doctors” to evaluate her. They asked her two hours worth of questions about trauma in her life, starting from her childhood. After all that, a doctor prescribed 10 mg of the antidepressant Lexapro, which was useless since she wasn’t able to swallow after her stroke.

Each of her 10 medical specialists had different ideas on how to keep her going. But my mom was only interested in how quickly she could slip into a deep sleep and not wake up. She yanked out her nasal gastric tube and said she only wants to eat the “natural way.”

On Thursday, after nearly three long weeks in the hospital, we were finally able to bring her home.

Now, our focus is on keeping her as comfortable as possible. No more tubes in her nose. No more needles poking her arms. No more medications other than for pain relief. We know the days ahead are going to be rough and raw. Our own bodies are tired but we are armed with morphine, fentanyl patches and lots of love and compassion. We cherish the minutes, sometimes even hours, when she musters enough energy to laugh about life and enjoy the goofiness of her daughters.

My sister Hanni and I are in our 50s, but, at times, we revert to how we were, sharing a bedroom during our childhood. We love when we can cackle with abandon and our mom does too.

With Christmas just two days away, one of our Gee and Ursula show listeners, Dave P., sent me a message, saying he hopes my mother’s situation won’t ruin every Christmas for me in the future.

It won’t.

Even in the darkest hours, there is beauty if you look for it. In our time of crisis, we met a cousin once removed who just so happens to be a trained caregiver. Diana has been a godsend! Our cousin Vicki has also been a tremendous help as we navigate all of this in a foreign country. She’s a fantastic cook and has been making all our favorite Filipino dishes.

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A new memory created

Over the last few weeks, we have also created many core memories, most of which will remain within our family. But there’s one I have to share because it epitomizes our mom. On one of her last nights in the hospital, Hanni, Diana and I had an impromptu karaoke session next to our mom’s hospital bed. As uncomfortable as she was, she had a huge smile on her face as we attempted to belt out all her favorites from her professional singing days.

When we got to Frank Sinatra’s classic tune, “My Way,” she joined us, despite the nasal gastric tube that was rubbing her throat raw. The melody was gone but she sang this verse that made all three of us cry:

“I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more
I did it, I did it my way …”

She certainly has. I love you, mama.❤️

I wish all of you a joyous holiday season. Your kind thoughts and abundance of prayers for my mom are so appreciated. She told me I could share what’s happening over here and she wanted me to thank all of you for the love and care you’ve shown to all of us. I’ve read your messages to her and they’ve given us all great comfort during a very difficult time. I look forward to being back with you in early 2024.

With lots of love,

Ursula

Gee and Ursula Show

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Ursula: My mom has lived a life that’s full; she did it her way