New Eyes in a Sad Thailand

Have you ever looked at someone and then, suddenly, seen them with different eyes? On a recent trip to Thailand that’s exactly happened to me.

Mum and MeOver the years I’ve been to Thailand several times to study Thai Yoga Massage. As I parked my car at the airport, about to leave London on my latest trip a few weeks ago, the radio announced the death of the King of Thailand. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived.

Regardless of the lèse majesté law making it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the king, King Bhumibol was held in high esteem by the Thai population. He was seen as being responsible for modernising the country, numerous civil projects, being the stabilising force during military and civil unrest and having a genuine love for his people.

My plane landed the morning after the king’s death and, by that time, permissible and respectable ways to mark the king’s death had been introduced. A national period of mourning of one year had been announced after which the king would be cremated.

Memorial shrine to the King of ThailandFor the first thirty days all television channels would show programmes about the king and his life, all music and celebrations were muted and Thais were asked to wear black as much as possible. Shops had black or black and white displays in their windows and tourists, who probably hadn’t packed much black clothing, could show their respect for the King by wearing black ribbons. Even my masseur on the beach wore black.

Memorial shrines to the king appeared in stores and many temples, schools and government buildings had black and white ribbons wrapped over their fronts. . Black and white images of the king were everywhere – on screens in banks, airports and shops including the large Tesco’s. There was silence as I walked through usually lively shopping centres or passed deserted bars.

Without exception, when I asked people spoke of ‘my King’, as if the king belonged to them and was a member their own family.

Along side all this, this trip was to spend time with my brother and being there to help my Mum enjoy her 91st birthday before accompanying her back to the UK. Travelling in your 90’s can be tiring!

In the rush of everyday life, pausing, reflecting and having time to spend with family can be a rare. The joy of this trip was the ‘space’ to do all three.

Perhaps the most powerful impact of this trip has been seeing, actually seeing, Mum. I’d be the first to admit that sometimes I can find I’m short tempered with my Mum. I seem to have this ‘golden age’ of my Mum in my head that I project onto her and when she doesn’t measure up to it I get impatient and frustrated.

The first few days after I arrived, I found myself taking over, controlling and telling Mum what was best for her. It never entered my mind that my Mum had flown the five thousand plus miles to Thailand on her own before I arrived.

I’d discounted that my Mum lives alone in a three storey house, does her cleaning, washing and shopping, goes to ‘her clubs’ at least three days each week, takes regular day trips out and, over the past couple of years, has discovered how to use her ‘tablet’.

In my own mind, I had decided that my Mum ‘needed’ my help. I was in fixing mode though nothing needing fixing aside from my own lack of patience! I wasn’t seeing my Mum I was seeing my image of my Mum. I realised this wasn’t new and I’m uncertain when it started.

Perhaps after my Dad died or as my parents grew older or when I became busy and got wrapped up in my own world or discovered the time zap of social media or fell in love…It doesn’t matter. It happened. I projected my version of Mum onto her. In the rush of daily life, its easy and quicker to get wrapped up into seeing life ‘your way’.

Then something changed. I can’t say why. Perhaps it was that I had decided to turn my phone off or I’d read something or the mood in Thailand? Whatever caused it, I was ready to see things differently. I gave myself time to look and see my Mum as she is.

Time to listen without adding my own filter. Time to be present as I walked with her to breakfast. Time to chat as she sorted her weekly medication. Time to see the world through her eyes. Time to enjoy her company. Time to reflect about her past and mine.

Time to remember that Mum got butted by a goat as she went to collect the milk when she was a girl in Cardiff; used to avoid the tram lines as she cycled to her first job at the Co-op in ‘town’; had trained as a GPO telephonist; was one of the first ladies to land in Dunkirk after D-Day and is the only survivor of those 16; that she’d lived in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Vienna, to name a few, after the war; that she lent Mick ten shillings and he drowned that same afternoon; had moved to London in 1952 and bought up two sets of twins in a flat when Dad was away most of the week driving his lorry; that money was tight and Mum managed it; that her best friend was Anna: that she once got drunk and her grandson kept putting the lid down on her head as she was leaning over the toilet bowl; that 12 years ago Mum had a bypass; that Dad died eleven years ago and Mum had to get used to a new way of living her life; that she has lost one of her children; and that, like everyone one of us, she has laughed and cried, been scared and been courageous.

I’d forgotten that each and everyone of us is made up of thousands, perhaps millions, of experiences. Memories of being young and, if we are fortunate, growing older.

MumI started to give her back her own power rather than take it away from her. I asked how I could help rather than assume I knew best. I stopped being a parent and became an adult.

On the flight home we had over 12 hours to sit beside each other. We chatted easily and laughed. We talked of both our lives. It was an incredible flight and we met so much kindness along the way from the people we met. The time flew by. Its a lovely memory of being with my Mum.

By the time we arrived at Heathrow, Mum was shattered, dozed during the car ride home, and by the time her bed was in sight was more than ready for it.

I’ve been back ten days now. I’d love to say that I’ve been a paragon of virtue and haven’t been annoyed at Mum once. I live in the real world though. A couple of times when we’ve spoken on the phone, I’ve felt my impatience rising. The difference is now I know its me and not my Mum.

It was quite a trip to Thailand. It was an even more amazing time getting to see me Mum.

Is there anyone in your life you would enjoy meeting differently today?

Enjoy the day you create.

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