Doing Right by your Parents

Is there ever a correct way of doing right by your loved ones? We, three sisters, had no choice but to uproot our mother from her own home in Chennai, post our father’s demise to make a home with us in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore respectively. Her deteriorating health and the distance of our own homes resulting in complicated logistics did not leave us with much choice but in retrospect, did it hasten her downward spiralling health issues? Now that she is sinking, all these thoughts and more are making its presence felt even more strongly. Our ageing parents were contemplating closing down their establishment in Chennai for the past few years and their stay in our respective homes was getting extended but they never took concrete action as they liked to enjoy their own independence now and then, but all that was paid put by my father’s demise at 84.

One of the greatest miseries that one can experience in this lifetime is to seek release for your loved ones from the suffering in this lifetime. As my childhood friend cried, “How unlucky we are to pray that our parents are free from suffering.”

We, three siblings, lost the lady, who was our confidante, guide, philosopher and above all our mother the day, my father did not wake up from sleep due to stroke. 24 days later he passed on taking a major chunk of the spirit of the woman he spent 60 years with. He being more garrulous and autocratic of the two, my mother was happy playing second fiddle to my dad and bowed down to his wishes as was the wont of most women her generation. Why, even watching a movie was interspersed with my dad’s comments that many a times, my mother simply switched off the TV to shut him up! So needless to say, she became a mere shadow of her earlier self.

It was around that time, her latent health issues came to the forefront and she developed seizures which later was diagnosed as Parkinson’s and a year later onset of dementia too dogged her steps. The heavy medicine for her seizures clouded her thoughts. Hence, the thought of leaving her to fend for herself with or without help was not an option. The loss of her stronger half and her alienation from the world she knew best obviously compounded to her agony. Unfortunately, all three of us taking after our father, like to complete sentences for others and my mother who grew up keeping her emotions under tight rein and her words in check, grew to become more and more reticent blending with the wallpaper!

It’s agonising to see a mother who magically made my dosas come out the skillet sitting in faraway Chennai to my Lucknow, to hearing me out during my worries about my children’s various falls and sutures now grapple with the basics. She was there for our deliveries and our surgeries and care. She was always a mere phone call away. She was a queen at making pickles, jams and post 60 learnt yoga, Tanjore Painting and went on to volunteer at local blind school and went to Ladies Club and participated in a lot of activities. She was a true Karma yogi besides helping her children, helped her neighbours, relatives and friends. Maybe, the good karma has fetched for her gems of sons-in-law who are actually more patient and more accommodative than her own daughters! She is a grandmother to 6 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. She had a fulfilling life indeed, though far from an easy one and hence we worry about her living beyond the years where the dignity of life is compromised.

Two plus years on, she is deteriorating. Travelling back after one more visit to see my mother, a sense of regret, shame, and sadness enveloped me. Does being grown up going through one’s own mid-life crisis predispose me to tell her what to do and how to live her life? Let there be peace for my mother, I prayed and have been praying for the last 4 months since the time she was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension and I have been asking my father to take her with him but suddenly I am overcome with shame at the thought of who exactly I want peace for? Am I actually willing to let her go? Am I unselfish and want her suffering to end or am I playing God? Am I wondering if my visit to my daughter abroad be not as peaceful if she is still alive? The greatest gift she has given us is our relationship with my siblings. We all believe in sharing responsibility equally instead of letting just one person take complete responsibility for her care. Our children have settled abroad and hence visiting them too worries us at the thought of my mother’s needs.

As one day runs into another, we realise that we have a piece of her in each one of us. One of us had imbibed her patience and one her creativity but none had to work as hard as she did to provide for us. As moments of her travelling 9 km to the main market by bus to bring home vegetables to grinding for idli and dosa batter on the grinding stone; to spend time on tailoring, gardening or on crafts to help the finances stretch a bit, she did it all. Money was tight, yet never, ever heard her or my constantly ‘touring’ father crib about money or lack of. She taught us to differentiate between needs and wants.

One of the regrets is the fact that we never heard her playing the Veena nor encouraged her to play more. We never recognised the ‘girl in her’, as the advertisement for Amazon.

Today, when we see our elegant mother clad in the ubiquitous housecoat, needing nursing care and oxygen support, with a repeat hip dislocation and rapidly growing dementia, we wish that we can somehow help her pass on before things grow from bad to worse….yet a niggling doubt constantly shadows us…worse for who?
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Chandrika Radhakrishnan

Author of around 160 published works, Chandrika R Krishnan weaves fiction and dispenses gyaan alike to the unsuspecting audience.Teaching, Talking, Reading and Storytelling are her other hobbies and she tries to balance all as much as she can.Her home runs despite her!

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