Monday, December 3, 2012

Loneliness of old age

Getting old is probably the worst that can happen to man. And maybe that is why it is his worst nightmare. Though thoughts of getting old and lonely is embedded deep in our mind always, we are never geared up to face the situation when it actually comes to that. For us all the bad things happen only to others. We like to think that our spouse will be with us always and our children will take good care of us. But that is not always so. And we tend to fall apart when the truth strikes. We feel more and more lonely when our spouse, friends and relatives die on us. And when we suddenly find that our social circle isn’t as big as it used to be. And to top it all, the fear of death nags you always.
Once during our vacation in Kerala, an incident occurred which made me sit up and think about this issue. We were staying with my sister and her husband who are both doctors. One morning when I woke up and came out of my room, I saw both of them discussing something, serious expressions on their faces. They are both generally jovial and so I knew something was wrong. They were talking about a patient. Seeing the questioning look on my face, my sister turned to me and said, “Our ammachi is at it again. She fell from her chair last night when she was about to rise after dinner and has multiple fractures on her leg. And it looks like she also banged her head. She has been taken to Pushpagiri”. I knew being taken to Pushpagiri Hospital was itself quite serious. No ordinary mortal would opt for Pushpagiri if the disease was manageable with a medical mission or general hospital.
I knew this ammachi was staying in a huge house, with no one to look after her. All her children were abroad, and they always called her to go stay with them, but stubborn as she was she refused every time. 
She had not been keeping well for the past so many years, in fact from as long as I knew her. The first attack on her came in the form of cancer. It affected her very badly. But then she managed to come out of it, maybe because she was quite young then. The next was a heart attack, from which she could not come out easily. She was in hospital for about a month and had to endure its repercussions for very long after that. And then this fall. The silver lining in the whole episode was her children, who threw aside all their busyness to be with her whenever she needed them. And I knew they would come rushing when they heard this news. And as usual they would try to persuade her to accompany them. But her sentiments towards her ancestral home and her surroundings would prevent her from yielding to that.
It is pathetic to see the sufferings of the old. It is during old age that they need their dear and near ones beside them. But it rarely happens that way. The phenomenon which we now call generation gap always play truant. The parents rarely are able to communicate with their children effectively. Many a time they are misunderstood for what they say or how they behave because of their concern for their children. And they are forced to withdraw into a cocoon. This loneliness is felt more when one of the couple is dead.
This reminds me of a couple who used to live next door when my husband and I were in Chennai. We used to call them thatha (grandfather) and paati (grandmother). The couple was very old and they were living happily with their daughter and family. Their granddaughter Kavita was a very good friend of ours. 
My husband and I used to watch thatha and paati when they went for their long evening walks. We could see them talking animatedly all along and they were in their own world. But they never shied away from the new generation. They used to participate in the family get-togethers and colony gatherings. And they always had their contributions.
They were always a pleasure to our eyes. And we used to wonder what would happen when one of them was no more. And we never liked to go into details, since the thought itself distressed us.
Then we had to come back to Kerala, and lost touch with them for many years. When we met Kavita almost 8 years later, thatha had died. And paati was all alone. She never wanted to leave Chennai, where possibly she had spent many of her happy days. But as Kavitha lived in Canada and wanted to take her mother along, she was not left with much choice.  Last heard paati is in Mumbai with her other children, possibly lost.
I have seen how lost my father was after my mother died. Even he insisted on staying alone in a house with only servants to take care of him. He never wanted to come stay with us permanently. Even when his health deteriorated, he never wanted to stay with anyone of us. But in the end my sister forcibly took him with her where he breathed his last. 
We always tend to forget that the sense of security and belonging the elderly need at old age can be provided only by the younger generation. And the smile a grandchild can bring to their lips is………..rejuvenation?

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