Some nine and a half years back, I had to say goodbye forever to my father. He was 90 years old, an intellectual, a scholar, ex-civil servant, ex-diplomat. It was then that I realized that watching a parent age, and eventually die in front of your eyes is one of the hardest things to go through. Having been a care-giver, and having gone through the stresses and strains of caring for someone, compelled me to seek professional counseling from a psychologist. I saw her for 2 years and ended the engagement well after he passed on.
Now, nine and a half years later, I am going through all this again with my 94 year old mother. Ninety four, you say? Well, that is a long life and a ripe old age to have lived, so why stress and why feel sad? Right?
Wrong! It doesn’t work like that. The mental image of the parent as a giant of a person hides inside your sub-conscious forever. So when that parent, instead of caring, needs caring himself or herself (as in this case), it is hard to watch. Unlike my father, my mother has 2 full time caregivers, apart from my wife and I. My father had just the one caregiver, apart from the two of us. She needs help with everything but is strangely also able to do stuff my father could not do in the last 2 years of his life. She can walk, she can eat by herself (sometimes she chooses to just not eat, and has to be force-fed).
The last couple of weeks have been particularly hard to watch, as she has started to withdraw within herself, and be in a zone where no one seems to able to reach her. She stares into space with a faraway look that is hard to see. She is ready to go, but God doesn’t seem to be ready to take her. She has a wretched existence, being constantly manhandled, pulled, pushed, bathed, dressed, cleaned after using the toilet and sometimes fed. She had a bad fall about 4 months back, and had intra-cranial bleeding which started her decline. Despite emergency surgery and physiotherapy, which restored her motor functions, now she just is not there. She is somewhere else.
Till a few weeks ago, I used to entertain her by playing old Hindi songs which were her favorites, and she would enjoy them. Today, I tried it again, and she looked distressed, and wanted me to stop. I did stop, but not before I broke down and wept in front of her. She reached out to me and cupped my chin in her hands, in a surprisingly tender gesture, and stared at me as if willing me to stop. Her look had love and kindness in such a measure it melted my heart. She spoke to me almost normally for a little while and then zoned out again.
I know she will never get better. I am reconciled to it. I just wish that God would show a little more kindness and take her before I lose my mind, looking at her meaningless existence,. This is a lady that had attitude and aggression in equal measure. You didn’t screw with her, if you knew what was good for you. She was tough, a great cook, fought with everyone in the family and outside, and you were never in doubt about how she felt about anything.
Above: A happy Bhabi on her 85th birthday (4th iteration, I think), and a Bhabi with attitude, in Singapore, when she was 91.
I do not have the heart to put up a picture of what she looks like now, because like my whole family, I want to remember the lady in the pictures above.
God, please listen to my prayer. She does not deserve this.