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On Aging Parents


By Rajshekhar Pant

… And finally we had to bring him to the nursing home, where he had earlier been operated upon around eight years ago for the replacement of both his femur balls consecutively. Down with extremely high fever, above 105 degree that could be brought down with Nice tablets alone preceded with prolonged icing, he was suffering from extreme debility. Even for sitting on his haunches he needed the support (something that he literally abhorred and would be the last person ever to accept) of two persons to lift his once robust torso. His left leg swollen exceptionally with red blotches and blisters all over was noticed by us only when the fever came under control. Despite the apprehension of our brother-in- law, a most dependable physician, that he should immediately be taken for a test of DVT (deep venal thrombosis) we all, without discussing the fallouts of DVT, were suggesting to ourselves that the possibility of it being some infection, some allergy that has flared up was rather more pronounced.
“Isn’t it that he is obdurate enough to ignore the concern and repeated entreaties of all of us not to exert himself beyond a limit and give up his I will do it myself attitude?” He would often have swollen legs or palms when he woke up in the morning. Did he ever listen to our request to give up his routine rounds of the lawn and de-weed the fuchsia or cyclamen pots; or to visit the self-made statue of Shirdi Sai Baba right at the entrance and the open shrine of Shiva at the opposite end? What they refer to as Ostrich syndrome i.e. closing your eyes to a perceptible threat simply because you don’t have the courage to face it may best highlight the mental state we were in.
Seven days did elapse since we admitted him to the hospital. In the meanwhile, the expert opinions of physicians, surgeons and physiotherapists were being taken. Taking him out for certain tests of course was suggestive that something was serious. However, the positive approach of our Doctor and the visible reduction of the swelling kept us consoled and did not let our hidden apprehension strike deep roots.
On the tenth day of our stay in the hospital, the Doctor, a good old family friend as he is, did call me quite late in the evening to his chamber. By then he had already completed his evening round and was sitting quite idly in his room. “Pantji,” he said in a grave voice, “had you not been known to me for such a long period of time I would never have taken this case… You know Babuji’s case was that of severe septicemia… and at the age of ninety-seven it could have been fatal…” Suddenly I understood why he had been calling surgeons and yet another veteran physician so repeatedly and why Pappa was suddenly sent to an advanced pathology lab. The doctor kept on chatting with me for more than an hour- more like a philosopher, a well wisher and an emotional son who had already lost both his parents, than as a medical professional. “Take extra care of him, do pay due attention to his wishes and have more trust in God than on any doctor,” was his parting message.
Walking back to room number three on the first floor I was reminded of the lingering look that Pappa, while seated in the wheel chair was being taken to the car park for a drive to the hospital, gave his roses in bloom, camellias, and other flowers along with the statues he had sculpted decades ago in our garden. Was he getting thanatophobic then… and how about all of us? Of course, the common fear that we all had without letting it surface up ostensibly, was conditioning all of us for the possible eventuality. By way of assuring each other we all were probably reassuring ourselves. Oh! Nothing will happen; it is just a common infection; he will shortly be back home. And back home he was following about a fortnight of hospitalisation.
His getting better did give me an opportunity to realise and understand so many things. With advancing age, the fear of death, especially among those who are cared for and respected in their families and do feel that they matter, becomes more and more pronounced. The fact, however, is that this issue generally remains beyond the pale of discussion or even a casual conversation. One can see it in their actions, in their routine, and their growing concern for the well being of self. They try to keep themselves connected with the day to day happenings, concerning themselves with the routine mundane affairs, probably in order to push this realisation to the back seat that, with each passing day, month or year, a digit is being added to the span of time they have already spent, already lived. At times, you may find their other-worldliness, consequent upon the study of philosophical treatises like non-dualism, monotheism, raj yoga, theory of karma or transmigration of soul, etc., receding to the background. Stronger becomes the sense of belonging with each passing year. I may be wrong, however, my feeling is that it is all a defence mechanism to ward off thanatophobia.
Spend some time with them; talk to them on the issues of their interest; ask about their well being as they wake up in the morning…; just do something to make them feel that they matter… matter a lot to all of you and you do not want to lose them. You may sometime find their preferences, their engagements quite inconvenient, even bizarre at times… bear it with patience. A twisted eyebrow or sense of irritation on your face fosters a self sympathising attitude in them and that too quite involuntarily… and having sympathy with your own self is like being on a mission suicide. The age may have started telling upon you also; you may be on the wrong side of the sixties and seventies but more often than not it is the father-son relationship, the protective attitude of the grownups towards those still growing- that conditions their behaviour, expectations and the initial relationship with you… just respect it, they’ll feel good.
Forget it not that they are not forever. They are more like raindrops glistening on the green twigs in the fuzzy light of the setting sun. They may just drop down with a slight whiff of wind or stop glistening suddenly with the sun getting enveloped in a patch of cloud or rolling down beyond the horizon.