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By Kay Mouradian
As a child growing up in the United States, my mother, Flora, would tell me stories of her own childhood in Turkey. She was a survivor of the 1915 Armenian genocide and it was these stories that became the basis for my novel, A Gift in the Sunlight. I would not have written the book however, if it hadn’t been for a series of remarkable events that happened to my mother in the ﬁnal years of her life. In 1984, at the age of 83 my mother, having outlived her husband and two of her four children, was hospitalized. She was diagnosed as terminally ill with congestive heart failure, and could not feed herself because she suffered from severe hand tremors. Most likely due to the onset of Alzheimer’s, became confused and did not recognize people she once knew. "Let her spend her last few days at home," her doctor said. There was nothing more he could do for her. With a heavy heart, I brought her home. Her ﬁnal moments were near. I did not expect her to survive the night. But I was wrong. As time passed, not only did my mother rebound but she literally recovered! Her hands quieted and no longer trembled and more amazingly, her mind was again clear and alert as if her brain cells had been renewed. Was this a miracle? I watched as she developed new relationships with friends that only recently she hadn’t recognized. Strangely, she didn’t remember her past associations with them, but remembered everything about them from that point on—it was as if she had met them for the ﬁrst time. The most miraculous and wonderful part of all of this was that my mother had become more loving. Until her heart attack, her life had been colored by the Armenian tragedy. She was ﬁlled with anger and self-pity and dwelt on the horrors of the past. She often talked about her family who had perished at the hands of the Turks. Now, incredibly, that dark shadow was gone. It was as though something happened inside Flora’s heart, something beyond my ability to understand. I remember
telling friends--with humble humor--that my mother left her negativity on the other side and returned with all her good qualities intensiﬁed. I smile, even today, when I think that that transmutation may have actually occurred. My mother had three more episodes. Each time my family and I were told she would not survive without the help of a respirator and each time we refused, feeling she needed to move on if it was her time. But Flora was not ready to die. She had a second bout with congestive heart failure in 1986 which also proved to be a stunner. With her heart laboring in cardiac care, her doctor didn’t expect her to survive the night. My cousin, my nephew, and I sat at her bedside waiting for her to transition. My mother had remained unresponsive the whole time when suddenly she began to speak. “Do you know why I’m still here?” she asked, sounding as if she knew a great truth. She looked at my cousin and said, “Because you don’t have any children.” She turned toward me and again said, “Because you don’t have any children.” Then to my nephew sitting farther away she said, “And you don’t have any children. If I died no one would know. They showed me a lot of pictures.” I wondered who the “they” were. I knew people who had near-death experiences claim to view their lives at the moment of death. Was my mother having the same kind of “vision” with whoever “they” were? She looked at my cousin. “Your mother was there.” His mother had died thirty years earlier. My mother mentioned seeing an Armenian family who was a karmic mirror of her family and told us prophetic things that would happen to members of our own family. Two of them have already come to pass. “They showed the afghans.” she said. Over the years my mother had made afghans for everyone in our family, our neighbors, and our friends. Interestingly, after this vision she began making her exquisite afghans speciﬁcally for disabled veterans, and I still wonder today if her enlightened understanding at that moment urged her into an act of service for the greater good. She turned her gaze to me. “You’re going to write a book about my life.” “No, Mom, not me,” I said. “Maybe your other daughter will. She’s the real Armenian in the family.” “No! You are!” she protested “And you’re going to be on The Donahue Show!”
The Donahue Show! In 1986 Phil Donahue was the king of talk shows but my mother, who loved family stories such as Little House on the Prairie, had never watched Donahue. I dismissed that statement as delusion. Then she ended her “little speech” saying “They said it was my choice.” The sentence gripped my attention. Did she mean that it was her choice as to whether she stayed or transitioned? I have spent my entire adult life trying to make the right choices and it is never an easy thing for me. Now my mother had made the choice to stay on in deﬁance of her body’s fragile and deathly appearing state. She obviously had more to do before she could let go. I just was not aware of it at the time. Against the odds my mother rallied and a few days later, was released from the hospital. In the middle of her ﬁrst night home I heard her stir and rushed into her bedroom. There she was sitting up in bed, her face absolutely radiant. She gave me a huge smile. “Do you know what life is all about?” she asked, not waiting for a reply. “It’s all about love and understanding, but everyone’s brain is not the same, so you help when you can. That’s what life’s all about.” Her face still radiant, she laid herself down and went back to sleep. That is a night I will never forget. The next day she again couldn’t move without help. Time passed again and slowly my mother recovered. With each attack and each recovery she became more alert and more loving. After her third incredible recovery her doctor began to refer to her as “the miracle lady.” Every time she “died” we thought it was the end and each time she surprised us. Despite this emotional rollercoaster, I have always felt privileged to have been a witness to her amazing transformation, but I was also awed. As her primary caregiver, there were times she was so frail I couldn't leave her side for even two minutes. Weeks, sometimes months, would pass before she regained enough strength to resume her church and senior citizen activities or even merely crochet her exquisite afghans. My mother’s fourth encounter with death really stopped me. In 1988 I had gone to Aleppo, Syria, to search for the family that had given my mother safe refuge from the death march into the hot barren Syrian Desert in 1915. I found the one remaining descendant, a woman who was born in 1920, two years after my mother had left Aleppo. The next day I received a call from Los Angeles. My
mother had another attack. I prepared myself for the worst, believing this would be the end. When I saw my mother lying once again in a hospital bed, she tried to smile but was too weak. “I don’t know why I didn’t die,” she said. Her voice was barely audible. I wondered also. I wondered if my mother knew something I didn’t. I leaned close to her and gently asked, “Mom, do you think you will die now?” “It doesn’t look like it,” she said, her voice cracking and her face reﬂecting her own disbelief. Somehow, she knew. Two days later, when I entered the cardiac care unit I was astonished to see my mother sitting up in bed, unattended. A day earlier she couldn’t even turn her head without help. When she saw me she shouted something in Turkish, a language she hadn’t spoken in more than ﬁfty years! I was startled. She was ﬁlled with energy and animated. But I couldn’t understand why she was speaking Turkish. I also felt bewildered as I couldn’t understand what she was saying. “Mom, I don’t understand you,” I said, trying to calm her. “Speak to me in English or Armenian.” She kept shouting in Turkish, and I began to panic. What if she had become delusional and would only continue to speak only Turkish? I wondered if I would lose contact with her forever. I decided I would try to retrain my mother’s brain to think in English. ”Mom,” I said ﬁrmly “Repeat everything I say.” I went through the entire English alphabet. She repeated each letter dutifully, as if she were in school following a teacher’s instructions. We counted numbers and she repeated those in English. But then she started to shout in Turkish again. An occasional English or Armenian word was in the mix. I struggled to understand. The best I could comprehend her yelling was: “They took my education! They took my family! Do you know what it was like? I went crazy!” She looked straight into my eyes and said loud and clear in English, “The bastards!”
I couldn’t hold back a laugh. Though there were moments when I panicked, other moments like this one were just plain comical. Throughout this wild scenario, even when she was shouting in Turkish, my mother appeared to be joyful. “Mom, are you happy?” I asked trying to understand this phenomenon. “Yes!” she said emphatically. “Why?” I questioned. “Because I’m awake!” she said with authority. I found her choice of word intriguing. I would have expected her to say, "Because I'm alive.” But after three recoveries, from what I now call her “return from death’s door,” I had a suspicion of what might have happened. But these suspicions were just questions, with no answers. Could my mother have crossed over into another plane and witnessed the Armenian Holocaust from a higher, nonpersonal view? Had she gained an understanding of the horriﬁc karmic debt the perpetrators would have to pay? Had she been given an opportunity to release her own intense hatred of the Turks? Was that hatred released with the strong expulsion of her anger when she shouted, “The bastards!”--a word not even in my mother’s vocabulary? I'll never know for sure, but I can state for a fact that my dear mother was very loving after this fourth brush with death that she couldn’t harbor hatred, even toward the Turks. Love poured out of her heart, like a ﬂower releasing its perfume. Everyone around her felt it. These unusual events made me question much about my own life. At the time, I had dismissed much of my mother’s visions or predictions as delusion, especially the part about Donahue. I had no plans to write a book about my mother or the Armenian tragedy that she experienced ﬁrsthand. My mind was focused on researching material for exercises that stimulate the body’s “chi,” and I had been accepted to study at the Acupuncture International Training Centre in Beijing, China. But what was happening to my mother was remarkable, and I began to rethink what she said about writing her story. I began to read about events that happened in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and became overwhelmed. I had not known the depth of the Armenian tragedy, and I began to understand the heartbreaking scars on my mother’s heart and on the hearts of Armenian survivors everywhere. I came to realize that my mother’s story needed to be told in detail, including the blessing that was granted to her in the ﬁnal years of her life.
Eventually, I set aside my plans to study in China in order to write my mother’s story. I was unaware of how difﬁcult it would be to write about this little woman who kept escaping death time and time again and who instead of becoming bitter, became more alert, aware and loving each time. Her amazing transformation during those last ﬁve years of her life taught me a lifetime of understanding. The greatest of these is the fact that when negative matrixes like hatred and anger no longer rule the heart, streams of fragrant love pour out of every cell in the body. She shined like a thousand suns. I knew my mother was being helped by unseen forces. For her to have grown from her ﬁrst hospitalization when she did not know who I was, only referring to me as her “old age cane,” and to have grown so quickly into the person she truly was—an irresistible and loving human being—she had to have had super human help. My heart tells me there are great and learned souls who care. They live high in the Himalayas, and for many years I have felt a strong bond to those teachers and their chelas. They watch from afar and are quietly engaged. Assuming their energies were helping my mother, I had to understand my role. Was I merely a caretaker? Or was my mother’s miraculous transformation a sign of hope for all? As a witness to her growth, was I needed to tell the inspirational story of her unimaginable adventures through a ﬁctionalized memoir of her life? Only time will tell if I have concluded correctly.