Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thoughts while standing on the threshhold......

There have been some recent posts on the "elderly" and their care. Here and here.

What is as clear as daylight , is the fact that we are today, in India, sandwiched between a generation where elders were always resident with the family, and a generation which has necessarily become more mobile, ambitious, and often given to "valuing" tangibles, at the cost of intangibles.

3 stories . Then reach your own conclusions.

X , was leading a comfortable life , as the wife of Y, who had a very secure respectable job. She was well educated , but thought nothing of acquiring jobs by hanging on to and basking in the shadow of the husband; for such folks, their work doesn't matter , their entire "prestige" and "standing" depends on that of the husband. She ensured she was always treated as her husbands wife and not as "a employee".

At one point , her widowed ma-in-law came to live with them clearly because of some medical situation , and was admitted to a hospital. A special nurse attendant was appointed so madam didn't have to feed, and help her ma-in-law in the hospital. Turns out that X told this nurse, that when the hospital lunch arrived, she was to give the patient only half , and take half for herself ; "why does the old lady need so much" were her words. X would make that mandatory daily trip, smile at he visitors and go home, and folks at work would look on in sympathy as they thought she was at the hospital.

By and by the old lady came home, whereupon she was packed off to an old age home, several miles away. Her granddaughter got married, there were other family celebrations, and she was never brought home. When she passed away, her body was brought home with a great show of sorrow, folks visited, attended the rituals, and it all ended with a great lunch served on the 13th day, in a special hall, attended by folks , some of whom were terribly impressed and some who saw through it all. People always wondered what the husband thought of his own mother being sent away like this. Today, these folks are considered one of the smarter folks who have their lives organized just so, and moving up in the world , themselves now as senior citizens.

P was the only caretaker of her very independent minded parents. She had a slightly specialized job in a big organization, thanks to her earlier work experience in industry, the pay wasn't out of this world, but she enjoyed her job which had other benefits. P's parents lived in another town, and as happens, her elderly father was adamant about living there and not moving in with her.

She had some qualms about possible friction happening in her own house , and when the time came, she managed somehow with immense difficulty till she qualified for early retirement benefits, and for several years alternated between her own house and her father's. Of course , there were full time nurses, and attendants, but they needed supervision, and she was lucky she found good staff. She paid through her nose for those, and was grateful that she had her own resources.

Yes, she lost out on lot of her own family life, a few occasions , and her presence could have possibly been beneficial for a teen aged daughter who sometimes had to manage and decide things on the phone, and by herself. But she travelled, and was there for all the Big days in the family. What made it more easy, was clearly the fact that the husband realized this was necessary, and he co-operated by bringing the family down during festival days and stuff. By and by, several years later, P's father passed away, with P sitting by his side on the fateful night.

Yes, P is not considered a success (in monetary and control terms) , in her field of work, although her capability is known, she was told she was stupid for leaving her job. But she is really unconcerned with all this, and now lives with a certain peace of mind, knowing that she was there for her father, and that her own family has learnt some valuable lessons about old age , from it all.

M never worked outside her house. She was one of two sisters. Her husband had a decent comfortable job, her children did well in school, her situation in life allowed her to enjoy the various regional cultural events that took place and she was happy. Her parents are today in their middle nineties.

Sometime in their early nineties, it looked like they wouldn't be able to stay by themselves in a neighboring town, where she had grown up. And so , she convinced them to move to her house. It was difficult at first, and there was a lot of travelling up and down to leave them back at their own house when they demanded and bringing them back when some health problem demanded it. She first arranged for them to be looked at by her own doctor, a lady , who was able to build confidence in the old folks, treating them like her own parents.

In the last few years, falls and dementia at various levels in both the older folks, have necessitated the hiring of day and night nurse attendants. M continues to go through her life, getting children married, entertaining relatives, organizing for grand children's arrivals, in addition to her own social activities. Her friends know her parents live with her, and are very friendly with them when they visit her house. The parents have attended family functions in wheelchairs, sometimes walking with great assistance; due to the onset of dementia, they sometimes do not recognize the people involved, but at the end of the day, they know that something is being celebrated, that they are wanted, and they enjoy the occasion , the best they can.

The children and children-in-law of the house know when to chip in with physical help , and are always cheerfully on call. M's husband, is grateful that he is in a position to help here as he is entitled to a large house, and earns comfortably; but mostly he helps by not making what could be snide and hurtful comments .

Somewhere at the end of the three stories, what is clear, is, that how X, P and M were brought up, plays a big part in all this.

Both P and M are not overly impressed by glamour or money, though they enjoy providing their children with the sort of things young people enjoy today, within fair limits. They have an ability to decide what is a need and what is a luxury, and come to a conclusion on what they must do. Very clearly, their husbands have , throughout their lives, observed and judged their wives and learned how they think, and it looks like they appreciate it.

In X's case, the husband is a total loss (and gutless, according to me ), but probably very successful in commercial terms, something X sets great store by. Both P and M, had older parents-in-law, who they took care off in their last days. Maybe their husbands appreciate that. The husbands may not be saints and paragons, but they see that a parent is a parent, and needs the same care.

At the end of the day, one more younger generation learns what to do and what not to do, by observing folks in the family.

Yes, home care costs money, so does institutional care.

What matters is whether you look upon it as a debit to your fortune, or a credit to someone who taught you what life is.

Whether you look upon folks as golden assets, or medical liabilities.

In the end , it is all about balancing. Your life. In your own way.


  1. very true!
    and it is also about all the choices we make in life...

  2. I am not sure about the upbringing part. I know of R and G blood brothers who grew up together. R took his role as caretaker very seriously and made his wife realize that parents (both his and hers) were very important and they had to do everything within their means to see them comfortable. G on the other hand made it clear that his wife had no one but him and he did not want them at his place messing with their peace. I think it is part nature and part nurture. G however has paid a price. May be I will blog about it some day.

  3. Upbringing definitely plays a role but not always . Children of the same parents behave differently and in such difficult situations the true strengths and weaknesses of a person come out .
    About the person's desires for financial success and material comfort, yes i agree some people can do anything to achieve a glamorous looking life ...including ill treating the dependent family members .

  4. Such priceless lessons that life teaches us.... loved this line of yours 'What matters is whether you look upon it as a debit to your fortune, or a credit to someone who taught you what life is'.
    About 'upbringing', very often, we notice kids of the same family behaving/responding in different ways to the same situation. So yes, upbringing is important, but I think it also have lot to do with the humanity in each person.

  5. I was so disgusted about X taking food away from a sick old lady, I just wanted to cry.
    My parents were very independent for most of their lives, but when the time came for them to accept help, the help was there. Yes, everyone is different, and siblings don't always react the same way despite the same upbringing, but we all loved our parents and did everything we could for them, each in our own way.
    Of your stories, I admire P the most. Like her, I was able to be with my father when he died, and I consider it a privilege.

  6. The Xs, Ys, Ps and Ms are all within the society that we live in ! Growing up and consequently bringing up children who will stand tall on and know the exact difference between luxury and necessity !

    Excellent thought provoking post !

  7. X is just selfish and there is no excuse for her behavior.

    I think it is an individual choice whether to sometimes choose the elder's needs over the childrens. If there were caretakers for the elder relative I would not miss a child's important event to take care of the elder.

    As an elder, I will not ask my children to give up their freedom to care for me. I have lived my life and they should be entitled to live theirs. All elders prefer to stay in their own home, but if the son or daughter has to sacrifice to make that happen it is selfish of the elder to demand it.

    So I am at some odds with P and her solution. However, if her family were not harmed by her absence I think it was a very noble thing to do.

  8. You know what I think - the last couple of posts have been about this. I can't find it in myself to sit in judgment. And normally there's always another facet that people outside don't see. Some adjustment that everyone needs to make - including elders.

    At what point does one choose an elder's needs over their child's? Would the teen aged daughter have appreciated her mom's presence at times when she needed her? Is 'immense difficulty' really needed? As a parent, I would do whatever it took to make sure my kids didn't suffer, even if it was for my sake. I don't see why elders flexing a bit is a problem - not talking abuse here, just adjustment.

  9. quaintkal Yes it is ! Always about the choices we make; and stick to; sometimes with a lot of trouble.

    HHG Yes, I have noticed two kids of the same family and similar upbringing having totally opposite takes on how to handle something. Sometimes it has to do with how much time the kid has spent amidst the parents; like some kids are sent away to school etc. But in my post I could see why X behaved the way she did. That was her philosophy in everything she did. It was all take and no give. In everything. And so i wondered why she remained that way....

    sangeeta True. What you say about two people with the same upbringing behaving differently. Maybe life circumstances of either could have made money suddenly more important; or a perception that something is supremely paramount negates everything else including parents in their eyes. But I am convinced money is a big cause.

    writerzblock You hit the nail on the head. It has everything to do with the humanity in the person ....

    Kay L. Davies I know what you mean. I was in a situation identical to P, and I did consider it an honor and a privilege to be in the situation that I was. It teaches you a lot, it keeps you grouned and you learn to be grateful.

    Kavi Thank you. I guess I am currently ideally situated agewise to ponder about these things....

    Darlene I just read your blogpost, and this comment, coming as it does from someone who still rushes to do her part with immense commitment and responsibility, means a lot. I hope I am able to do something like that when I am your age....Good wishes for gail !

    Sangi Its really an individual choice on what should take priority. Sometimes you are the only one around, sometimes it is finances, sometimes it is attitudes of people you live with. Sometimes one has had parents and/or in-laws, who gave up so much for you in terms of conveniences, their own commitments, social life etc , you feel like doing your bit. But yes, it is an individual choice. My quarrel is those who just throw money around, without meeting minds.

  10. In X's case I feel the son (Mr X) should have been involved, meeting the mother in the hospital and regularly visiting her at the old age home. It's unfortunate that he did not seem to care for his mother.
    In P's case, I wonder why did her parents not support her in supporting them and her teenage daughter, both, by maybe moving closer to P's house? I also feel she should not have had to leave her job. And what if she was not earning? How would she have supported her parents then? DO you think her husband too could have contributed financially?
    I can relate more to M's case, I know of women who have full time nurses taking care of their parents in their own homes, and I find the arrangement terrific. Nobody is physically (my friends are 46 and 54 with their own health problems) overburdened, in both the cases the parents have enough saved to afford such full time care. This arrangement enables the daughters to save their energies for supervision and they have time for their own lives, children, spouses, hobbies etc too.

  11. IHM Mr X is the type who never , and I mean never opposes anything his wife says.He probably cared for his mother, but never had the guts to do what was required. Very puzzling, but is true.

    In P's case, her mother was no more, and they did try having her father move. But he would want to rush back every so many days , and logic at that point didnt work. About P, I know that she tried her best to take all kinds of leave , both paid and unpaid,and was forced to resign when she was denied leave at one point. (She told me that people advised her to simply disappear because no one took any action for months etc, but she wasnt OK with that .) P's husband had no problems contributing, but P refused, for her own reasons. In the end, P's father lived and died the way he would have wished. It was all about two years spent in a way her father desired. She didnt think he was asking too much. Her father never knew she had left her job, he continued to think she was on leave.

    I agree, M's situation seems to be the sensible thing to do.

  12. A very nice post. I have parents who stay alone and are ageing fast. I often wonder how I would take care of them once they are unable to stay alone. I am not sure if my husband would support it whole heartedly though he may not say much given that i earn independently but it bothers me. I guess we will cross the bridge when the time comes.

  13. There's a song which says it all:
    Dhanya bhagya sewa ka avsar paya(Raag Bhairavi)

    Mrs.X most certainly didn't recognise this.

    The opportunity to care for one's elders is not given to everyone.It may not be easy, but it is most certainly necessary. And, if a woman has looked after her ailing,aging in-laws, her husband is usually cooperative when her parents age. Although I was not working after marriage, due to various circumstances, my parents insisted on paying whatever they could from my father's pension, which I'd accept more to keep them happy than out of any great need for it. In the last few months of their lives their savings were also used when there were massive hospital bills for my mother's treatment. At one point we had two night nurses and two day nurses taking care of them both. It was saddening to see them suffer, but at least they were both cared for to the best of our ability. My sister also came and stayed for months at a time. My late brother had also come down from UK and stayed with my parents when our father was first hospitalised.All three of us did what we could, which makes for good memories.