Sunday, December 06, 2009

Old age or second childhood??

I wonder why a perfectly balanced, normal person gets transformed into a cribber and complainer when old age and illness sets in. My experience with people in the last lap of their lives tells me that they become worse than children in their pre-teens and dealing with them can be quite exasperating. My own mother in law was quite a handful. I had two little daughters when she became bed ridden. I had never dealt with anyone so sick and there were times when I’d be at wit’s end. Pickle and rice with plenty of gingili oil was her favorite food item. Being diabetic she was always hungry and demanded food at odd hours. But I am glad that I was young and energetic and it was easier for me to handle her. Anyone who knew my mother in law would swear that she was never like that and it was only illness that made her act the way she did.

I now hear of another dear old lady in her 80s who is bent on making life hell for everyone around her. And I cannot believe what I hear. This particular lady was a very pleasant person till about two years back. She had a pleasant smile and was always good humored. I remember a conversation I had with her daughter in law some 20 years back.

“I really wish my husband was a little more helpful” I said. “He has to be told every little thing. When he sees me buzzing around can’t he just pitch in to help? If I ask him to dice vegetables he sits in one place and I have to give him everything starting from knife and cutting board to a clean piece of cloth to wipe the washed vegetables and a container to put them in.

“Mine is just the opposite” said her daughter in law. “I really wish he’d stay out of the kitchen. He messes up everything and I have to do it all over again.”

Deep in conversation we hadn’t noticed the lady sitting just behind us.

“On the whole, neither of you are happy with your husbands” she said in an indulgent voice. “For that matter, I must admit that I too found my husband ‘not so up to the mark’ on many an occasion. It is these little differences that make life interesting.”

I did not know where to look. After all, it was her son who was being criticized. But the woman bore no grudge and simply laughed it off. She was particularly fond of me and looked forward to my visits. Her grandchildren adored her and daughters in law loved her dearly. I hear that she screams at people these days. Her voice is loaded with sarcasm and no one, including her grandsons who are now married, wants to sit and talk to her. They accuse her of being deliberately difficult. Her daughter in law is now nearing 60 years of age and is herself diabetic. She is unable to stay awake at night but the old lady will not allow her to hire a nurse or attendant even for the night. Even when one was hired for a short while she shooed her off and the daughter in law had to wake up and come for her assistance.

I don’t for a moment believe that old people act funny just to grab some attention. They are perhaps highly insecure and feel left out. Or perhaps their internal system is failing little by little and they simply feel restless and are unable to express themselves. An infant acts difficult for the same reason but one does take a child’s behavior to be part of growing up. But when it is an ageing parent or a loved one in one’s care that throws a tantrum, we lose patience. There is one moving experience I can never forget and I wish to share it with you.

My father in law was hospitalized and his days were numbered. My husband was attending to him in hospital coming home just to have a bath and breakfast. I’d visit the hospital thrice a day, taking my husband’s meals from time to time and also to relieve him even if it was for a short time. The nurse had inserted a tube into his nose for nasal feeding but my father in law perhaps in his restlessness managed to pull it off. Reinserting it would be painful and it was very difficult for my husband to see his father in so much pain. The nurses, for their part, would get angry with him for not taking proper care pf the patient. All this upset my husband and he told a friend of his that he could take it no more and wanted to go home.

"The nurses and doctors are here to look after him. After all I cannot do much and may as well go home." He said.

His friend sensed that my husband was very tired and terribly upset. He pacified him and took him out for coffee. My father in law could not speak but in the 15 minutes that followed, he kept questioning me and all others present with his eyes if his son was upset with him and had actually gone away. I kept telling my father in law that he would not go home and would be back soon. And the relief I saw in his eyes when the son returned cannot be adequately described in words. He looked up to my husband for support and security just as a child would look up to its parent.

I don’t really know why some are patient and others throw tantrums when their health fails. But I do know that all of us going to reach that stage sooner or later and difficult though it may be, one ought to deal with an old person with patience and kindness. We cannot take away their pain or insecurity. All we can do is to treat them with the love and affection that they’ve always showered on us and if due to our busy schedule we are unable to give them the required attention at least let us not be critical of their behavior. Let us accept it as the second childhood in their lives and understand that if growing up was difficult phasing off is not easy either.

14 comments:

artnavy said...

my grandma is getting childish at 80 and acknowledges it herself... making it easier for all of us to relate with her!!

WhatsInAName said...

My MIL is almost 80 and has just recovered from Dengue. I feel so sorry for her at times and there are times, I am exasperated to the limit. Yes, they do become kids with time. The only difference is that we cannot be strict with them the way we can be with out kids. That makes it even more tough!
Your last para has brought tears to my eyes. I wish and pray to God to give me more patience!

Ugich Konitari said...

HHG,

You know, I often feel that life is one big circle, and thats why old age and babyhood has so many similar features.

Except, a lot of those who are our parents generation, have lead very disciplined and restrained lives, with better quality of food and air. Then if in their , say 9th decade, they demand some indulgent care, I think we need to give it, the best we can. My late father went through something like you described , in his last year, and I as sole caretaker often wondered what would happen when I was his age .

I really didnt have an answer. Since I think reaching that age, as fit as he was, is itself so difficult. With all our fancy convenience foods, sedentary lives, and other life stresses....

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

My grandparents lived with us till the end. While my grandpa always remained a quiet person until his end ... my grandma always wanted attention. I witnessed diametrically opposite behaviors.
Your last parah is very nicely put. Pray we have the patience/ energy to deal with the elderly with love/care.

Ardra said...

I too have often thought about this...I have seen family members accusing the elderly of deliberately throwing tantrums. While it might definitely seem so, I think they can't help it and I too pray that I've the patience, compassion and love when the need arises...

Usha said...

This is one thing I dread - becoming old and cranky and being considered a nuisance even by loved ones. Today we don't even have our children available to us if this were to happen.
That is why I sometimes wonder if it is a good thing to live until you become infirm.
Very touching anecdotes.

Saumya said...

Nice post. Unfortunately, the fear and insecurity is clubbed with fear of death, and fear makes us behave unpredictably. We can only hope to retain our reasoning powers with our own irascible selves when we get to that stage, and pray that we don't prolong suffering for ourselves and our dear ones.

Hip Grandma said...

Hi all,
Thanks for your inputs and I am glad that the topic raised by me is of concern to all of you too.I expect to be busy in the coming weeks but will try to catch up with your posts as and when possible.

Ranjooo said...

Hello..

Read your post and it brought in tears reminding me of my grandparents.. Well written post..

Ranjani

workhard said...

Old people are total kids.. they go back to being stubborn and start behaving like kids and need to be taken care of so..

You have a wonderful blog and it was a pleasure reading your posts


Work from home India

Hip Grandma said...

Ranjoo,workhard:welcome here and thanks.

The Cal Bong said...

Till a week back my mom was very active. Post a severe stroke she is still in the ICU and her reactions etc are exactly like my two year old niece's. She was given a colorful card by the nursing home on 25th.. the resultant expression is so happy, so child like..

frissko said...

I hop in here once in a while from 'Life and other such nonsense', but never left a trail...

Your wisdom shines across in most of your posts. This one in particular is very relavant to a generation in a hurry. If my mom's generation, which to me is 'patience' personified, was at wit's end in dealing with the said situation, i can't begin to imagine how ill equipped mine is, to handle the same...

Dotm said...

Have been reading up on some of your posts, all very intelligently written and all leave me thinking about the subject in that post. but this post reminded me of what is happening now with an Aunt living in a Nursing Home. The first few months she was forever packing up her things and saying she was going back home. I try to visit her at least once every week as she only has the two sons, their wives and a couple grandchildren. Her oldest son gets to me . I hate the way he talks to his mother, while the younger one handles everything as kindly as he can and he also is the one who mostly handles everything himself. His brother and wife are both retired school teachers, but more interested in their own life now than in spending much time visiting his mother, while the younger one still works as does his wife, so has less time, but still visits his mother often. When I was there on Thursday, the older son showed up, and the minute his mother started talking about something scary that happened at the home a couple weeks ago, he told her she had to stop talking about things from the past. I wanted to tell him, what else does she have to talk about as she goes no place and does nothing to make new news to talk about. I feel he is too harsh with no friendly understanding for his own mother. She always says seeing me brightens up her day. I let her talk about whatever concerns her and about my Uncle who had died about a year before she went into the home. I seldom have to answer , just be a good listener. Yes, there are some trying times, but I think about how I would feel if I was ever taken from my own home and placed into a nursing home where you do not control your own life and are made to live by others rules. Time when she feels she was put there because her kids do not care for her anymore are the hardest, because I know they love her and that she needs to be where she is- not alone for her own safety. I finally got her back crocheting and she made gifts for her family and another cousin and myself for Christmas and last week I took her down more patterns to give her more things to make, plus she has also started doing a little picture drawing and painting which she was always very good at. It is good seeing her getting interested in things again. Wish I could make her life better so she would not think she might be better off dead,I hate hearing that. My heart goes out to others who care for loved ones when they are older. She will turn 90 years old in April.