Monday, May 05, 2008


It is long since I posted anything in my blog and decided to write something today. I never knew that I too would run out of topic one day. Talkative person that I am I always have some piece of information to share. Not so today. I am just going to write about things that come to my mind in the very order that they make an entry to my mind. But wait. I am not sure if I should heed my head or heart. I think I’ll listen to my heart first.

We have in our apartment complex two old ladies and a gentleman who have lost their life partners and their plight disheartens me. Old age is described as second childhood and my father in law had his fair share of it in his interaction with my children. I’ve referred to it in this post of mine. It was his good luck that he had the pleasure. These days old age is not what it was 20 years back. It is spent aimlessly watching TV programs and waiting for occasional visits and phone calls from one’s children. It helps to have one’s spouse around. My husband and me have fights over who monopolizes the TV and which of is more badly organized. He expects me to keep track of his doctor’s prescription and I make him look for my spectacles almost every day.

“I am getting myself a new TV” I keep announcing but I never ever do it. I perhaps plan to cling to this excuse for picking up a fight with him when I feel bored. When on the rare occasion that he is away and I have the TV to myself I hardly switch it on. But when he sits in front of the TV changing channels I feel like snatching the remote and throwing it out of the house. Are we perhaps entering into the second childhood phase of our lives?

When I think of the ladies and gentleman mentioned earlier I wonder how they might be dealing with the loneliness in their lives. The man lost his wife so suddenly that we could not believe the news when we heard it. He lost his eyesight while in service on account of high blood sugar and it was his wife who took care of him. It was common sight to see her escorting him for a chat session with his friends and taking him home after about an hour or so. She suffered a heat stroke and passed away before anyone realized how serious she was. The previous evening she called me up to ask our milkman to deliver milk since she was too exhausted to go and fetch it. The next morning she was gone.

How did she have the heart to leave me behind and move on? He wailed.

We had no answer.

One of the ladies lost her husband two years ago. He had rheumatic arthritis and his legs were misshapen and curved like a bow. Together they would walk to a homeopathy clinic for treatment. They have 3 sons but for reasons best known to them, they stayed alone. The lady was too old to cook and relied on domestic help to cook them a meal. On days that the cook absented herself they would eat fruits and drink milk. He finally passed away. She regularly visits her son and daughter in law but continues to stay alone. She feels a misfit in their home.

I sometime wonder if we are perhaps heading in the wrong direction. Joint families of yester years are unheard of today. But is it fair that old people should be allowed to live alone despite their frail health and meager bank balance. I know that I would want to lead my life the way I want as far as possible. But if I am left with no choice and have to move in with my children would I be able to adjust? Will I be treated as a family member when I do? Who should adjust and how much? Will it be too late then?

Earlier people supported large families and were unable to put away enough funds to support them in their old age. Not so today. Is this perhaps the reason that adjustment problems are common these days? When money is no longer the problem what else is reason for the attitudinal change in society? Schools encourage their students to celebrate grand parent’s day and a day is marked out for grand parents to visit their grand children’s school as celebrity guests and I hear that the function is a grand success. Shouldn’t there be more occasions for the older generation to interact and feel accepted?


Vinitha said...

This is so touching and comes at a point of time where I am struggling to make decisions. I was brought up in a joint family, not the usual kind but little different. We lived with my mother's parents. It was fun, my uncle n aunt, their children, my brother, my parents and my grandparents. Quite unusual for a daughter to live with her parents but we lived happily. Not by any means a big joint family but still something not common in the days I grew up. Four years back my grandfather passed away. He was a heart patient and he was living on borrowed time, we knew it but it happened. My grandmother, did not just lose her husband but lost her fight buddy. We missed their bickerings and small fights over nothing. The past few years lots have changed. I got married and moved to the US, my parents moved due to new jobs and suddenly the home where we grew up seems lonely. My brother choose a college close to home to stay with family instead of moving to a hostel.
My grandmother has arthritis and it has progressively worsened with time. A couple of days ago she was asked to consider a knee replacement surgery and it was a tough time for all of us (my grandpa passed away after an unwanted operation), especially for me. I was granny's pet. I spoke to her on phone, tried to be objective and tell her to do what she wanted to. More than her fear about surgery, she was worried about my brother moving away from home the next year after college in search of greener pastures and the shrinking home. In spite of having family, all around her, she was lonely. A gap that my grandpa left that none of us can fill up however hard we try. And it was then I started asking myself this question - is it worth living in US? so far from loved ones and dealing with emotions and fights over phone? My heart always said NO but my mind tried to be logical and I kept convincing myself, it is the best for myself. Your post just made me realize how much important it is for me to return home and be my grandmother's pet again for as long as possible and try to make her content if not happy!
Thank you

Vishesh said...

ha i know how it...i live with my grand parents...:) but grandpa even at 75 insists he goes to clue why..:)

B o o said...

This is a subject close to my heart too. I think about this topic all the time since it bothers me a lot. But we cant generalize. Every situation is different and every family has their own reason. I have grown up partly in a joint family and my grand parents mean the world to me. My parents took care of my grand aunt, grandpa and now grandma in spite of my father having 9 siblings. So I am naturally inclined towards taking care of the old rather than leaving them in a home. But older generation today is not as dependent on the children as their parents were and prefer their own space too. So it has become a tricky situation. Living under the same roof takes adjustments and compromises from all sides. Are we willing to do that is the all important question! :(

Tys on Ice said...

who really cares if its right or wrong? other species cares for their old and nature shows us that the young will leave the nest without a second glance the olden days the old did vanaprasta...

that said, i will be there for my parents whn they are old...we all stay very close to each other...we work for the same company...i dont care if its right or wrong...but i wudnt have it anyother way.

love ur post

parijata said...

This was a very, very touching post. Something that I was thinking about, too.

IMO, just adjustment problems are not the reason for nuclear families. I was born and brought up in a joint family. Hubby was in the US when we got married. We came back soon, because my husband is the only child to my inlaws. We all live together now, and though there are some differences of opinion, we would not have it any other way (fingers crossed). But I wonder if I will think the same way when my DIL comes into the picture. I want my children and their spouses to lead their own lives without much interference from us.

That said, I really do not have an answer to what really old people who cannot function without help, can do. The plight of the old people you have described, is heartrending. I guess in such a situation, either the parents can shift homes to stay close to where their children live or the children can shift close to the parents.

As somebody pointed out, we had the vanaprasthashrama - that was for a reason. It is as valid now as it was a thousand years ago. It will give the youngsters a sense of responsibility and the elders some freedom and rest.

Sumana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reflections said...

a very thought provoking post.

It is a fact that children will not be able to look after parents like how their parents looked after them.
With that knowledge we must proceed forward.
I always tell my husband that along with the money we save for kids education, v must also keep aside for retirememnt purposes.
I joke that hopefully we will come across a fundoo Old Age Home where they'll serve Biriyani every Sunday, a picnic every 2 weeks, a quiz competition everyweek, basically activities which we didnt do while we were busy slaving in our youth. Ofcourse, we'll have to pay money to get an entry into the place:-). Something worthwhile will cost, right.
Now we joke about it but it is an option I seriously consider. Instead of staying with children and compromising with everything & getting caught in unwanted old age tensions why not prepare for a future instead of thinking that it is the end.
Yes, losing a partner is devastating. There are no ready-made answers to deal with the loss. Keeping oneself occupied can give some self worth and drive away most of the unwanted thoughts.

Sorry, got carried away. I'm in my thirties but these thoughts do torment the mind time to time. My parents live alone coz their daughters live in diff places. They r happy as can be in the circumstances. But the worry is always there "what happens when circumstances change?"

Hip Grandma said...

I see that many of us haven't off loaded our responsibilities towards ageing parents and still feel committed to ensuring their well being.As pointed out by parijatha equation have changed and not necessarily for the better.With parents opting for a single child they want to give them the very best and the child grows up without learning to share and sacrifice.Grandparents are unwilling to adjust and they are recognized by their grandkids as occasional guests nothing more.Quarrels and patch ups help in forging relations.These days one is generally civil but the warmth is missing.I know of an old lady who has 3 sons staying in the same apartment complex but in different blocks.She has breakfast lunch and dinner at 3 different places.She sleeps at the house where she has her dinner.She has to climb stairs to reach their houses 'cos there is no lift.Yet the arrangement seems to suit everyone.I would have preferred to spend a week at each son's place rather than shuttle from house to house.mothers of young children please allow your children to interact with their grandparents.Their days are crammed with activities.why not let them slow down a bit and learn valuable lessons from them?

Hip Grandma said...

I agree with parijatha that though I had no problem bonding with my in laws and considering them the same as my own family I am not so sure if I want to continue the same way with my children.The situation is indeed tricky and I admit that I am also to be blamed.MY parents in law had no money to lead an independant life but the thought never even crossed their mind or ours.It was understood that they would continue to run the house and we would gradually take responsibility as and when required.It is no longer that simple.Having a house to live in and enough money to lead a decent life has perhaps actually complicated matters.I am mentally preparing myself to move in with my children if required by them or me.I want to be like another old lady known to me.More on her later.

Anonymous said...

HHG, As an older person I think about this too occasionally. My parents chose to stay by themselves, though in a flat next door to my house, rather than stay with any of their children. My mother was a very independent person and my father was too (till he started losing his memory). So she was very sure she wanted to stay in her own house so that she was the one managing the household and spending the money. But she made the concession of selling the house they built with love, to move to a flat near me. She did have regrets once in a while. But then she also knew I was always available. I for one feel that a situation like that is the ideal one. It gives more space to the different generations. But this is assuming that both generations are healthy. If my mother had passed away first and my father had been the one left behind, I would have brought him to my house straight away.
As for my husband and me, we would certainly prefer to stay on our own as long as possible and even after that preferably in our own abode.

Madhumita said...

My husband and I made the very difficult decision to have me move back to my home town with our kids so my parents who are all alone without a single relative in the city would get some support now that they are retired - and get to interact with their grand children to their heart's content. This will mean enforced separation for me and husband (he will continue here with his parents and family owned business) for at least a year, but for all the pertinent questions you raised in your post, this move seems completely worthwhile. Having said this, I think people from my generation are more prepared to live "separate" lives from their children as we grow towards retirement. But only time will tell :-)

Just Like That said...

Tough questions with no perfect solutions. And its not just the old ones who lose out, the young ones do too - for the current generation is too busy making money to devote attentino to either their progeny or their parents. I know I feel guilty over both, but I don't have a solution. a perfect one, that is. some amount of compromise is involved everywhere.

WhatsInAName said...

Another thought provoking post that was. I stay with my inlaws and I will not claim to be a perfect DIL :) Even though we do have our differences every now and then, we have learnt to cope and adjust with each other.
I do think about our old age and get scared at times. I tell my hubby the same thing that nancy mentioned. We will save for ourselves. The worst thing is to be financially dependant on our children. And as for physical dependance ..... I dont want to think too much :( Let me live one day at a time!

Swarna said...

I'm glad I came across this post I have to decide on moving to mom's place or stay put (spouse on a hard area defence posting). Mom stays alone, and I see this as a God-sent opportunity...