A couple of years ago a friend commented that she had never heard me speak of my mother. I said that if I started talking about my mother I would not be able to stop. I didn’t go into much detail at that moment because the question caught me off guard and I felt tears welling up in my eyes and I didn’t want to start to cry. Nevertheless, I began to ask myself why I never talk about my mother. As time as has passed I know for certain that in the cycle of life, nothing is lost, that no human suffering is in vain, and that all misery ultimately helps us grow. This is why I cannot think of a better way to inaugurate my new blog “Among the Coconuts” than by sharing my mothers Maria Pozo’s journey during her final days. The experiences that I lived with my mother have colored my professional life and led me to search for a better way. In that light, I do not doubt that my mother’s death ultimately helped me see things I needed to see. Today I shared these memories with you.
My mother died in 1981 in a private room at Auxcilo Mutuo Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her four-year battle with cancer was a comedy of errors and a tragedy of clinical inhumanity. Initially the famous Cuban doctor from Havana (the family doctor) routinely wrote her prescriptions for blue Valium because he determined that my mother was “hysterical” and her complaints unfounded. Mom visited the doctor a day before a tumor the size of a grapefruit and another size of an orange perforated her ovaries provoking the peritonitis that almost caused her death. The previous day the doctor had written her another new prescription for blue Valium. After surviving the peritonitis my mom fell under the care of a famous Puerto Rican oncologist. My intentions of entering into a dialog with my mother about cancer and death were defeated by my father, a Spanish priest who was a friend of the family, and the oncologist who prohibited me from speaking to my mother about the subject. After all, my mother already had been diagnosed as a hysterical.
Meanwhile, my father consoled himself with the thought that he had great medical coverage and was able to offer my mother a private room and the best care available in one the best hospitals on the Island. This felt like a substantial accomplishment to a Cuban refugee. While my father found consolation in providing my mother with the medical care, I found consolation in the books of Elizabeth Kubler Ross and Ram Dass and in Zen stories. At the ripe age of 18 I had already found powerful reasons to question Cuban values, the Catholic church and medical ethics. Emotionally, I did not think I could survive my mother’s death. I knew my mom was dying in a psychological vacuum while I was paralyzed and incapable of speaking with her. The whole family was suffering from parallel solitude. I am not going to get into details because I would have to write a novel, but I need to mention that the oncologist wanted to operate on my mother a week before she died, knowing that there was no hope of healing.
Luckily, we sought out a second opinion and spared her from the trauma of that last surgery. I was fortunate to be with my mother at the time of her death. Earlier that night she broke the silence and said goodbye to me and gave me messages for her loved ones. The silence and the solitude of being next to my mother’s death bed at 4:20 A.M. were pregnant with peace. In a strange way, that morning we had beat the cancer and I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise from the hospital window. It was a moment of confusion seeing so much beauty and feeling so much joy and sorrow simultaneously. This is how I said goodbye to my mom.
Like many people of my generation I have explored alternative medicine after watching a loved one suffer in the hands of a medical system that has caused them more pain than comfort. We have been both brave and foolish to experiment with our bodies and alternative methods of therapy. In the same way that good medicine has saved our lives in the past, bad medicine has done violence to our hearts not to mention what it has done to our physical bodies. After decades of exploration and culinary activism I have had the privilege of seeing many people heal from various illnesses and physical challenges after undergoing a change of diet and a detox process. After all these years I am happy to see that we have at least sparked the curiosity of the medical professionals who now ask ‘’what is that sprouted raw food diet all about’’? When my mother died in 1981, one in 30 people had cancer. Today cancer is as common as any other degenerative disease.
We already know what the road to life looks like. The time is ripe for greater opening of minds and hearts. Let us humbly look for a better way of walking on this earth with reverence. Many health professionals, doctors and hungry people have found their way to my workshops. We are all now learning that we need to act responsibly and choose a diet free of chemicals, growth hormones, stress and pesticides. I have great hope because I see a longing for a better way in the hearts of all the health professionals and others that attend my workshops. If we all work together for the common good, I have no doubt that we will be able to attain a better quality of life.
No amount of sprouts or wheat grass juice is ultimately going to spare us the process of aging or death. But what a plant based diet and all the verdant greens can do for us is to open our hearts and eyes to all the possibilities of having a different relationship with food, health and death. May we find answers to all of our existential questions.
One never sees a person in their totality until they die. It is like seeing the end of a movie. The death of our loved ones either leaves us with a bitter or a sweet taste in our mouths that undoubtedly will impact how we see our existence at a profound level. It is my hope that the departure of our loved ones leave us with a sweet taste in our mouths and a feeling of victory in our hearts.