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It's hard to parent a parent who is growing older, more frail, and dementia sets in... and just around the time one grapples with midlife and its fallouts.
I tried to be quiet as I eased my way from under the quilt on a chilly winter morning in Bangalore, India. I was in no mood to listen to another sermon from my husband on how I was letting my health suffer, well knowing he was right. Half-past three was no time to be awake except for a quick visit to the loo though I was creeping down the stairs feeling drained physically, mentally, and emotionally. My stress level was at an all-time high and my fitful sleep was spiking it further.
My annoyance rose when I saw the door of my mother’s room shut tight. I had instructed the night nurse to keep the door ajar. With my hand on the doorknob, I hesitate. I could hear the whirr of the oxygen machine, yet, the slight click of the door latch could alert my mother. I toyed with the idea of turning back but was afraid. She was suffering from Pulmonary- Arterial hypertension which required oxygen support. Doctors had warned that she might pass on in the early hours of the morning. Fearing that, this nocturnal creeping down the steps had become more of a norm than an exception.
Post her fall and resultant hip surgery, her condition was on a downhill spiral as she was afraid to walk. Dementia was added to her list of woes.
Hesitating, I prayed, unsure of what I prayed for, and a fresh bout of guilt washed over me. I wanted to go back to bed. But, then, my mother’s penchant for removing the tubes as soon as she came awake forced me to open the door.
This question, like most rhetoric questions, has no easy answers.
After our father’s demise, we siblings had no choice except to uproot our octogenarian mother from her own home in Chennai, a bustling metropolis in southern India. Her frailty and the fact that we lived in three different Indian cities resulted in complicated logistics and it didn’t leave us with much choice, or so we thought.
We helped her baggage all her memories in a couple of suitcases. Nursing homes and senior living homes are frowned upon and it is not unknown for parents to make a home with their adult children.
The day our father died, we lost our confidante, guide, philosopher, and above all our mother. He took away a major chunk of the spirit of the woman he spent sixty years with and left her a shadow of her earlier self. It was around that time that her latent health issues came to the forefront, and she developed seizures and a year later, dementia dogged her steps.
In retrospect, alienating her from the world she knew best hastened the process. My mother was always one who kept emotions and words in check and became more and more reticent as days went by.
It seemed unfair that a lady who had eclectic interests like practicing yoga, painting, and volunteering at a local blind school besides making pickles, jams, and bottling them for us – to be lost in the cloud and haze in her brain. A grandmother to six grandchildren and great-grandmother to five, she had led a fulfilling life and kept herself busy as the proverbial bee or the ant. She was always there for us, listened to our woes, and was a great source of strength.
In our busyness of life, we forget the loneliness that often dogs their steps. We expect them to adapt their routines to ours if we’re kind enough to invite them to our home. Caught in my midlife crises, children’s needs, and niggling health issues, I was impatient with her needs, to her inability to follow instructions. How difficult it is to parent a parent!
As I stand at the door in the early hours of the morning, I dread the blank, unwavering stare that would inevitably meet mine. I dread the prospect of her calling me by her sister’s name as she doesn’t remember mine.
As I open the door, my heart plummets to my feet. Weeping silent tears of frustration and remorse, I open it wider preparing myself for a long day ahead. I hear myself say wearily knowing very well it wouldn’t reach my mother’s brains, “Amma, you shouldn’t remove the tubes from your nose.” Fixing it back, I sat in the chair next to her, “Go back to sleep, it is too early to take you to the bathroom.”
It hurt that her dignity was compromised as she needed outside help for her basic needs. When she forgot to lift her food to her mouth or had to remind her to chew, it was all the more devastating.
I walk into the room. My eyes well up as the all-too-conundrum of familiar emotions rise in me. I am thankful that she didn’t have to live through this pandemic. I feel sorry that she had to go through all the suffering before slipping away in the early hours of the morning. I am happy that we tried to keep her comfortable till the end yet the most predominant emotion that I have is one of guilt. Could I have been kinder? Been more patient? Could I have done more for her?
Well, these are questions I will be taking with me to my grave as there are no easy answers indeed.
Image source: pixabay
Chandrika R Krishnan, a Bengaluru-based writer and educationist likes all things beginning with a ‘T’ - talking, teaching, tales and tea.
Her 300-odd published articles, poems and stories are eclectic and mostly experiential and read more...
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