Lessons From My Mother
What Ida Jones and her brother have learned from their mother’s life based on a vow.
by Ida Jones
My mother, Peggy Taylor, took her last big trip in July 2010, when she attended the Rock the Era Youth Culture Festival in Long Beach, California. Although she was surrounded by her children and grandchildren, she was in an unfamiliar setting, far removed from her home in Montana. This is when we noticed for the first time that her memory had faded far beyond forgetfulness. She could no longer recognize some of her immediate family members.
After we returned home, a physician diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Although my mother remained upbeat and cheerful, it wasn’t long before she could no longer recognize her family or verbalize who we were.
As a registered nurse, I was ready for anything her illness threw my way. As her daughter, I had romanticized the final stage of my mother’s life. Although my mother lived with me for 16 years, my older brother, Rex, and I were fully united in supporting and praying for her victory. I pictured caring for her until her final moments in the same way that she so lovingly raised us.
My mother had received the Gohonzon in March 1963, while my father was stationed at a U.S. Army base in Germany. I was 3 years old then, but I can still recall the joy of attending Soka Gakkai activities with her and Rex. The members were always so happy to see us, and I felt like an important human being. That was etched in my heart as a child.
I also remember my mother making monthly financial contributions to support kosen-rufu activities from the start of her practice. My mother somehow understood that she wasn’t being asked for money—she was being encouraged to make a cause to transform her own destiny, which she did.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo sincerely to the Gohonzon and sharing Buddhism with others formed the basis of her practice. She made all these causes while working two jobs to support our education, enabling my brother and me to graduate debt-free.
My mother taught us how to have conviction in the Gohonzon and the central role the mentor-disciple relationship plays in living a victorious life. Because of that, she was never defeated by any hardship.
But it wasn’t until her illness that I saw the depth of her vow.
My mother had stopped recognizing us by the time the May Commemorative Contribution activity came around. I was on the phone encouraging a member, with contribution envelopes and guidance material spread across my table. My mother was pacing back and forth, when she took a contribution envelope and slapped it down in front of me. “It’s time, right?” she asked me. “Yes, Mom, it’s time,” I responded. We filled out her envelope and chanted to the Gohonzon. After that, she stopped pacing. She was teaching me that a life connected to the Mystic Law remembers everything.
With Alzheimer’s disease, the brain views images as if in 3D, so a picture becomes a real person. One day, she placed the photos of her grandchildren, SGI President and Mrs. Ikeda in a circle. She put little round donuts in front of the grandchildren’s photos and a glass of water in front of Sensei’s portrait.
She came upstairs and told me, “The meeting has to end.” My daughter and I put the photos away, and she went to bed. After speaking with her doctor, I realized that my mother felt that Sensei was visiting her.
But it wasn’t until her illness
that I saw the depth of her vow.
After that, every morning we put his picture up, so that she could carry on her conversation with her mentor. At night, we took it down, and she would say: “Sensei went home to rest. I can go to sleep now, too.” Even then, she was concerned with how Sensei and her grandchildren were doing.
As her dementia progressed, she started leaving the house at odd hours, sometimes in the middle of the night. I thought of ways to keep her home, even installing locks on all the doors. But she would still get out, and the final straw was finding her by the pool at 1:30 a.m.
It was painful to think of my mother at a facility, because I wanted her with me. But I couldn’t live with the thought of her getting injured or worse. When I spoke to my brother, he said, “We should do what is best for mom. I’ll support you 100 percent.” I had been chanting to find the best way to keep her with me, but then my prayer shifted to: What does her life really need?
I had a lot of pain and tears, but then I came across Sensei’s encouragement about how everyone has a profound mission, even in illness. As I chanted, I realized that my mother still had a mission to fulfill, and that’s when I was able to let go of my own image of her happiness.
I found a wonderful memory care facility 10 minutes from my home. The first thing the nurses asked was, “Why is she so happy?” I was able to say, “Because she has practiced SGI Nichiren Buddhism for 53 years.” When they would hear this, the response was always, “Sign me up!” Three of her nurses’ aides have received the Gohonzon so far, and begun to transform their own lives.
The facility has music therapy, and every resident has their own iPod. I asked them to put Soka Gakkai songs on hers, and the first time they put headphones over her ears, she cried and put her hand over her heart. When I’m traveling, and my mother becomes scared or agitated, which is common with dementia, the nurses know to say, “Don’t worry, Peggy, Sensei is here.” And she calms down.
My mother turned 93 in April. Even now, she’s always smiling, always filled with appreciation. If I give her even the smallest thing, she tells me “Arigato” (thank you in Japanese), with such a depth of appreciation that I have to blink back tears and look away. This year, on a routine visit to see my mom, I brought along a contribution envelope. She took it, kissed it and placed it over her heart.
Sensei says: “The memory of striving arduously in our Buddhist practice for both the happiness of ourselves and others and earnestly chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is eternal, enduring throughout the three existences of past, present and future. It remains indelible in our lives, even if we should succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. It is clearly recorded in the ‘diary of the heart’ ”(December 2015 Living Buddhism, p. 50).
I realize now that if my mom had remained at home, she would have been isolated. Now, she’s constantly with people, living out her mission for kosen-rufu. My mother has shown my brother and I that our life state of Buddhahood and the oneness of mentor and disciple are all we need to become a champion of life.