Just a few minutes ago, I read an article, capturing the life that revolves around the old people in our families. I thought it was a very well written article and more than that it truly reflected the angst of the “middle generation”. They are indefinitely trapped and have to yield to their parents and their children and walk this trapeze with such stress so as to not let anyone down.
“While you’re caring for the old, you can’t believe what you’re called on to do and where you find yourself, can’t believe that your time with them will ever end.”- the article says and I couldn’t agree more. I have been a part of such a family where we all had gathered around and tended my grandmother in her last days. I have seen my parents struggle to catch a moment’s relief and their wholehearted commitment to caring and tending for my grandma.
In India, honor of the parents is one big deal (righfully so!). And so, when the doctors told my dad, that they couldn’t really help my grandmom and she should be admitted into a terminally ill patients home- my dad took offence. He would not abandon his mother when she most needed him, and we decided that she is going to stay with us till however long it takes. I remember I was in my 10th standard and we lived in a very small 350sq. house. So when my grandmom came home from the hospital, it was me my grandad, my sister, mom, dad and my grandmom’s nurse all squeezed in together. My grandmom had reached the acute Alzheimer’s stage – she had no control over her bodily functions and he speech had become incoherant. She remember her childhood, my dad’s childhood , her marriage in bits and pieces.
In the beginning it was very frustrating for me. All my time was now divided between studying and listening to my grandmom howl in pain. I used to feel as if my parents had suddenly stopped caring about us and that my grandmom had become the center of their lives. My parents never once told me and my sister to really help them – they would bathe my grandmom, my dad would come home from work every afternoon to feed her lunch with his own hands. my mom would change my grandmom’s clothes, her diapers and catheters . But while they were so involved in my grandmom, me and my sister did feel neglected at times. One day, when I was particularly in a bad mood, I just yelled at my mom telling her why don’t we put my grandmom in some home – and an unexpected “faaaaaaaaaaaat” came across my cheeks. And then my mom started crying. She told me that my grandmom doesn’t remember her at all. She doesn’t remember my father’s marriage, my mom’s name, my mom’s little things that annoyed her so much. Imagine her frustration, giving her time and soul for a woman who is never going to recover and who doesn’t even remember her. My mom said, that you are thinking of your grandmom as a patient, think of her as this wonderful lady who has pampered you and fulfilled all your needs, who has loved you unconditionally and perhaps you would see her in another light. It is at that point, I realised how much my parents needed us – they didn’t need us to help them with the daily chores, they expected us to support them and that later in lives, when they would need, stand by them just as they had done for my grandmom.
I remember one day, my grandfather getting mad at my grandmom becuase she was refusing to take medicines. My grandmom (in her rare spell of memory) shouted back saying, “don’t you yell at me, all this things you see, I got them in my dowry”…and my grandfather simply cowed. !!! Those moments, soon became the highpoints of our day. My grandmom, would talk endlessly, and we would try to hear if she was spilling beans about any other family members. And surprisingly she would do that all the time. Of course, it was not meant for us to know – but it was fun. She would speak of an aunt who would dance for her husband, when he was angry or her step brother who promised to be there, but who ran away from home when he was barely 14 or her grandmother, who hated her for being dark skinned. Some stories made us laugh, and some storied made us realize why my grandmom was what she is. But while we made a sport of my ajji’s illness (I am not sure if it was right ! but it was fun!), we knew the clock was ticking.
And one day it happened. I remember it was lunchtime, my dad had come home to feed my grandmom. It had become a practise in our house, to add basil leaves in water and drink that water (for health reasons). My ajji’s head was rested in my dad’s lap, and she had eaten few morsels and then wanted water. My dad took a spoonful of tulsi-water and gave her and my ajji breathed her last. This was the best death anyone could get, all of the family members gathered around and the last drop of water from her son’s hand. The son who stood by her mother throughout lifetime, the daughter-in-law who stood by her son, the husband who was rubbing her feet, and we the grandkids telling her some story… And at that point I realized my grandmom was so lucky.
And I also realized how it changed my life. I became more respectful of my parents. I received first hand lessons, in being the perfect child for your parents. I realized how to become one helluva, tremendous supporting wife. And the biggest learning from it all was, death is going come – sooner or later – the journey becomes lighter if it becomes a joke !
P.S. : here’s the article I was referring to http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/suddenly-theyre-all-gone/?src=me&ref=general