Monday, March 05, 2007

Monday Mumblings..

If we aren’t confronting our own mortality, some of us are at an age where we confront it as it approaches some of our loved ones, usually aging parents. I speak for myself here. My parents are in their 80s. Dad (88 now) has usually (touchwood) been in good health but the body starts to give out at some point as age and time go about their inevitable take down.

Mum is the one with assorted health issues incl non-insulin dependent diabetes, high blood pressure and a weak heart. That and she get stressed out easily. Combine that will all the meds she has to take and their side effects. Her kidneys are not great, she has bad knees, and does not get out much out of the house these days.

I am the only son, they do have domestic help, but things still need to get done around the house. I have a sis who lives close by and she has her own life too but despite that she helps out.

It’s a routine phone call that I make every Sunday to check on my parents. This also happens to be one that holds some trepidation for me. Sometimes merely hearing a change of tone will tell me if one of them is not feeling well.

My dad despite all his rough edges and non demonstrative nature always helps out in the house. Ever since mum realized that with her failing health she can’t but rely on dad, they don’t disagree with each other as much. Otherwise to me they always seemed to be at loggerheads, locked in a battle that neither of them wanted to back out of.

So I was a bit surprised when my normally reserved dad said to me.. “Son, I feel tired these days. It’s hard when you live to be this old and your body gives out. It’s probably better to not live this long”.

It must be hard for him, to care for himself and mum. Me being this far away does not help either. All I could say was hang in there dad. But to me they were just words I said. The emotions that slice thru me after calls like these are a mix of guilt, sadness, frustration, anger at my self for leaving the land of my birth in search for a better life and leaving them behind. I usually manage to push them away by going out running or working out or doing something else to take my mind off things.

But this one just sort of broke my heart. My sis has told me to be ready to come down on short notice. I mean what does that even mean? Am I supposed to keep this thought at the back of my mind and go about life? Maybe I should.

Either way not being religious puts a bit of a different twist on this for me. Perhaps religion also partly evolved over time to help us deal with mortality better, our own and that of our loved ones. That does not work for me (religion does not make it any easy for me to deal with death). I thought about this and the inherently skeptical nature I have about things that can’t be explained empirically. My opinions on how I would like to go when and if I make it to that age might ruffle some feathers so am gonna keep it for another day.

And sometimes some of these thoughts come to me at the strangest of places. While catching my breath at the weight bench, I recalled this kid who lived in our apartment complex when I was no more than 10 – 12. Shekhar was the son of very religious parents and about my age. They were South Indian and would always have ash/sandalwood on their foreheads. Their home was adorned with pictures and idols that belong to the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. I went to his place one day and he noticed me looking at a picture of one of the many Hindu deities. He said to me that picture is special. I asked him why? He said, the picture spontaneously generates vermilion, and it’s the work of god. To this day I recall sounding cynical about it, it must have shown, as he said, you have to believe in god no? I said yes.

Maybe the seeds of my views were laid way back then and there is no larger point to this post, just another ramble about things.

I am not quite sure how I will deal with things with my folks. I dread visiting India these days. The last visit was for a death (A’s brother). A is not inclined to visit anymore and my next trips may well be on my own. I have no friends left behind. People I know seem like strangers or maybe I have become a stranger to them. I visit the land of my birth with a feeling of disquiet in me. I don’t feel like I belong in anyone place anymore. When I visit I seem to withdraw within myself, almost as if I am afraid to feel. What is it that I feel or I am afraid of? Feelings that my roots are not deep enough or that they have already been ripped out? Or are they so deep that I don’t want to deal with reminders of where I came from.
There are good things that the homogenized life in America does for me, but there are aspects to it that are less pleasant but worthy of analysis at some point. Shopping and watching escapist TV does not work for me, in case you wondered.

Yes I do sound muddled I guess, but as Socrates once said “An unexamined life is not worth living”.


MONA said...

Dear Sanjay...Take heart....Death is not something to be so scared of. Life is terminal after all.The moment we take birth, we have taken one step towards Death; & we keep approaching it at our own individual speed. Just pray that whatever happens, May God make things easy for them, in the best way He pleases...I know it is hard,to lose a loved one to death but then, it is the ultimate reality...May your parents find Peace in this life & hereafter, if there is such a thing...

beenzzz said...

Sanjay, I am so sorry that you are going through this. It becomes so strange to have that in the back of your mind all the time. It seems unfair. I understand completely.

Cacophoenix said...

I can perhaps relate to you in a way. It's my grandparents who are at that age and being really close to them dosen't help. I shu down involuantarily when I am with them. I am perhaps under denial of their age and mortality. I am also irritated with the fact that I want to be in two places at the same time and I don't want to feel too emotionally overwhelmed when I am there for the fear of becoming uncomfortable with this place. There is never an easy solution and like bheesma we each lie on our own bed of arrows.

ML said...

Sanjay, this is such a tough spot to be in and as I read through your post, I could totally relate to everything you were saying.

Your description of your Mom's health is the same as my mother's. Your post really hit home.

Everyone has to deal with situations like this in their own way. I hope you find peace.

Lotus Reads said...

The part about your parents both touched and resonated with me Sanjay, because, I, too have loved ones in India that I don't get to see a lot.

I don't have any advice, except to tell you that sometimes it is better to feel the fear and do it anyway, you know? I do believe that is the title of a book I read a long time ago and essentially the author was saying, take that fear, the trepidition and channel it into action.

I guess what I would do with that is to go down to India while my parents are still able enjoy me and spend quality time with them. Write down their memories, their stories (your heritage), take photographs, allow them to cook you your favorite foods, visit all the people they love, spend time making them laugh and cry and when you return, even if the inevitable happens, you will know that you made their lives that much better(happier) by spending time with them.

Like I said, I can only tell you what I would do - it may not necessarily be the answer for you. Good luck and keep us posted, ok?

Sanjay said...

@Mona. Thank you for your comments. I am not worried about death or the fact that life is terminal. Ya I do hope the final years are not painful.

@Beenzzz. It's ok to have it in the back of my mind, most of the times am ok with it.

@Cacophoenix, you do sum it up rather well I have to say ... thanks.

Asha said...

Hi Sanjay,face the fear and uneasiness head on and get it over with.You should go and spend some time with your parents now rather than later.There should be no regrets.Death is a certainty for all of us,why waste time thinking about it. Que Sera Sera!!
I don't feel the pull towards India either.I am just glad that my family is alive and well right at this moment.No examining or asking questions for me.I will deal with life as it comes to me.I may sound cold but that's me really,like it or not!!:)
Keep thinking positive and smile.A short visit to India may do good for you and your parents.Just a suggestion.

Sanjay said...

@Ml. Thanks, I do take heart from the fact that a lot of us are dealing with similar situations. I hope your mom keeps good health too.

@Lotus. Thank you for your kind comments. I hear ya and you offer excellent suggestions on what can be done to make things better. I will keep you posted.
I hope you find the strength to deal with your loved ones being away as well.

priya said...


Being so far away can be painful to them and in you but that love remains the same forever. We all have it in our minds "what if" but we pray for them to be well and safe.

When I visit I seem to withdraw within myself, almost as if I am afraid to feel. What is it that I feel or I am afraid of?

- We are not afraid but a sense of guilt which makes us feel, been away for such a long time, takes all the good things and when you go back, what remains is the moments we enjoyed back home.

Sometimes it cna eb empty as we are only treated as a visitor and do not belong in ther.

Carrie said...

Socrates was right!

You just need to take days one at a time. You have no control over it. You only have control over the way you feel. Good luck.


meno said...

I am not yet confronting my own mortality, but i am confronting the mortality of my knees!

My parents too are in their 80s. They live close by and are doing well, but whenever the phone rings and i see that it's them, i wonder if this is "the phone call" and my heart skips a beat, just for a second.

If you need to make a visit to ease your heart, you should. If it won't make it any better, then stay home.

It's hard either way.

Anonymous said...

wow, man you got me a little choked up....

I hope it all works out. I would imagine this is the hardest part of life.

My parents are in their 60's and both of their parents lived to mid 90's so I have a ways to go.

I wish you and yours all the best.

listmaker said...

Sanjay, I understand. It's so difficult to deal with these issues, and for you, especially with the distance. I hope you find a means to cope and find peace with the inevitable changes that are happening.

starry nights said...

Sanjay..I can alsmost feel the pain you feel regarding your parents.It is very difficult when you are so far away.If I were you I would go visit with them and maybe that will make them happy.I wish I had done that .I have been away from India for so long also and have very few friends,some of whom don't even know me anymore.I can understand how you feel.Sometimes I am also torn between two worlds and dont know exactly where I fit in.I think I will never know. Take care .Sometimes I think religion does help us face death and uncertainty but I think I am a skeptic also.

patches said...

I can empathize. The in-laws have been descending for years, but these last two months things have picked up speed. Every day is a battle. For your own peace of mind, being closer (20 minutes) hasn't made it any easier. The guilt isn't the same, but it's still there. Giving them the help they need is seldom feels like enough. It's hard relieve someone else's fatigue. May peace be with you and A.

Orchid said...

Dear Sanjay,
Your thoughts are very valid however unsettling they may be and it's a good thing you decided to blog about it, because honestly there is nothing else we can do about these situations no matter how much we want to. Maybe like Asha suggested take a few days off and go visit yor parents if you can....
Just the fact that you are thinking about your parents so much tells us that you are a good son. Candid and well written, hope you feel better.

Sai said...

I can relate to you at many levels. All I can say is God is great! Be there for your parents as much as you can. THey love you unconditionally and will always understand!

Shionge said...

Hiya Sanjay, when I looked around my friends I realised that we belonged to this group known as the 'sandwich' class, a term used in Singapore.

Being middle age now, we have to juggle besides work, looking after our children and care for our aged parents. It is an uphill task.

I could understand your feelings right now coz I have to manage my own family yet worried about my parents. My Dad passed away two years ago and I could see the emptiness within my Mom and it pains me so much for not being able to spend time with her.

Do what you can and I suppose this is just part of life that all of us have to go through.

My thoughts are with you my dear friend.

Id it is said...

It never did harm to do some introspection, but it does sadden the heart and at times bruise the ego. But then, it gives birth to wisdom, and that is never a bad thing. Sad as the realization may be, human mortality always needs some grappling with, and it's your turn to do just that; but eventually there is giving in; after all, as the existentialists say, death is the only reality of which we are certain! So acceptance with grace is probably the way to go.

MONA said...

Sanjay...if I am not being too intrusive...& if you have time...Go & meet them..spend a few days with them. Imagine, you will be giving them the utmost joy & pleasure they crave...& it will give you peace too.In the end both will be you know this feeling that you are undergoing now, tends to become a constant factor in your life if you are too late...I have faced it, so I know...

Mona Buonanotte said...

My parents are in their 60s, and my mom has already told me, "When it's time, just put dad and me in a good home...I don't want to be a burden."

While it's nice that she thinks that, I'm feeling pre-guilt already.

deepsat said...

I can empathize with you sanjay. be strong. these are somethings we all have to go through with. some harsh realities of life which we always ignore!

take care man!!

moegirl said...

Sometimes when confronted with literally life and death, its hard to know how or what to feel. I wish you the very best. Take care.

Enyur said...

Wow this post really touched my heart Sanjay. It's such a difficult position to be in. I guess all I can say is, feeling guilty will not make things easier. You just have to do whatever is humanly possible and then go about your normal life knowing that whatever is to happen will happen (at least that's how I see it). Okay no, I think I sound muddled.

Paparazzi said...

I understand the concern.. My mom is living all by herself and refuses to move here, since she feels much more at home where she is, but not a day goes by when I don't worry about her. Having lost one parent a few years back, I'd just say, probably one should just make sure that one should do as much as possible to make 'today' happy for them.. in our interactions with them, and in fulfilling any wishes they may have as much as possible. I have consciously tried in the past few years to destress her as much as possible, and make her feel she did the right thing instead of worrying her more with the concern that I am not happy with her or my decision to be apart. It actually worked as far as I can tell. I think that will be so much of a consolation to the self when the inevitable happens. I hope this didn't depress you further, I was trying to help based on my own personal experience. Parents can be such a treasure.. Sometimes we forget that, I'm very glad to know you realize that..

Aditi said...

As someone who is in a reverse situation with my parents there and facing rapid health concerns I know what you mean.. yesterday my dad told me in a weak voice that my mom was aging very rapidly, and just not keeping well.
I know ... I know what u're going through..atleast a part of it

Fuzzylogic said...

I don't know why but I felt choked up as I read this because I know how frustrating that feeling can be as at this moment I have my grandmother in the same situation.I am however going to visit her soon but I know perhaps that would be the last time I might see her.When I feel so much about my grandmother I can realize how much your feelings for your parents would be as well.Take sometime out and go visit them.I think it will do both you and them good.Take care Sanjay!

Keshi said...

Sanjay go spend some time with them if u can. That's the best u cud do at the moment.

The only truth abt life is old age and death r inevitable.


Shitrint said...

not a muddled post sanjay...u were quite clear
i know wat it must be like to feel desperate, wanting to do somethin, reach out and yet not being able to do anything! and the more we try to push these thoughts out, we feel worse and guilty...88 is a very ripe age...glad to kow they hav ur sis to help in some way.

im sorry to know u feel like a stranger back in india...i hope it all turns out fine for u and ur parents!

take care and dont lose heart!
u need hugs! :)

Sugarlips said...

Sanjay, I'm so sorry that you are going through this but we all have to go sooner or later and its very hard to lose your loved ones so just be there for them and make them happy as much as you can and Inshallah you will feel better.

Stay Beautiful..!

Anali said...

Sanjay, I'm sorry you are going through such a difficult time. My grandmother went through a lot of pain and struggle for years before she died. One day I was visiting her and she looked at me with such sadness in her eyes and told me to never get old, because it is so hard. I'll never forget that. It scares me, but so does the alternative.

Take care and I wish you and your family well.

Hollydolly said...

Sanjay, I read your post with smiles and tears. I know exactly where you are coming from. I too left my parents, in England, to spend a few years in South Africa, then back to the UK, and finally, out here to Canada. I enjoyed all my visits back "home", but as my parents became older, and started to have health issues, I too used to dread the phone calls, and hear the changes in their voices that would tell me something was wrong. I have a Brother who lives close to where they lived, he would make the almost daily visits and do what he could to help. He also said to me, "be ready to make a trip at short notice", I knew the time would come when I had to do just that, but somehow, with him putting it into words made it seem so real. In the last years of my parents lives, I visited as often as I could, and we did have good times, lots of laughs and good food, as my Mum was still able to prepare her lovely meals almost right up to the end of her life.As the time came to say my final goodbyes to each of them, I did so with sorrow, but also with thanks for having the best parents anyone could wish for. If you can Sanjay, go for a visit, and spend some time with them. I would give anything to have just "One more visit"....Sylvia...Consider yourself hugged.

Teri said...

Ah, Sanjay, hang in there.

Death is hard to face, harder still when it's someone close to you.

Sanjay said...

@Priya.. Thank you for your comments, helps puts things in perspective.

@Carrie.. thanks.

@Meno.. yes it is hard, no easy answers.

@Donviti.. thanks man.

@Listmaker thankyou for your kind thoughts.

@Starry ..Thanks pal.

@Patches. It helped to know that being close does not mean it is any better.

@Orchid. Thank you.

Sanjay said...

@Sai.. Thanks

@Shionge, Thank you :) @sandwich class.

@Id. thank you.

@Mona. I plan to visit later this year and no you are not being intrusive at all.

@Mona B. Thanks

@Deepsat.. Thanks.

@Enyur Thank you.

@moegirl Danke.

@paparazzi. No not depressed at all, it helpd to know how you are dealing with it.

@Aditi. hope it works out for your folks, hang in.

@Shitrint.. Thanks

@Fuzzy.. Thanks

@Keshi. Thank you.


@Anali.. Yes I know what you mean sort of like what my dad said to me.

@Hollydolly. Your comment was touching too. Thank you.

@Teri.. Thanks

Ash said...

Touching post.

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Lera said...

yep, a true picture of NRI's ,that lingering sense of guilt makes one go through myriad emotions,especially if there are aged near and dear ones.

Jas Bhambra said...

You have described every emotion that I feel regarding loved ones... my parents who are ageing and are back home in India....

I hopped on from Nabeel's blog. Great blog you have here.