Caring for the elderly is a challenge that can throw the sturdiest off balance. Deepti Paikray explains how we can extend care and compassion without neglecting our own lives and goals
A CAREGIVER`S TALEAugust 24, 2009. The date is imprinted in my memory because that is the day my sturdy, independent mother fell ill with malaria, which eventually culminated in a stroke. The stroke paralysed her right arm and leg, and stole her speech and capacity to eat. After a few futile days in the hospital the doctors suggested we take her back home and play “bhajans” for her until she left her body. They were confident that she would not last long.
Ironically, we commemorated the second anniversary of her illness a couple of days ago. Looking back on the mosaic of the last two years, I’m simply grateful to have hung in there. Glad that the enormity of the challenge did not swallow me whole and spit me out, all spent and angry. Glad that I still enjoy my life and that although I experience moments of frustration, I spring back to balance and sanity. And above all, glad that I used the situation as an instrument of growth.
In the last two years I have grown in acceptance, patience, and capability. My boundaries are better guarded than they used to be, and I am learning the secrets of self-reliance, adaptability, responsibility, and taking care of another. Above all, the situation is taking me to increasing peace, and presence, a precious gift worth all the pain.
When it dawned on me that the stroke would not take my mother away but would instead condemn her to near-vegetable status, I confess I quaked. I was not the best care-giver in the world. I was forgetful, absent-minded, self-absorbed. And yet I was surprised by the maternal tenderness that filled me when we brought my mother home. How helpless and vulnerable she was. Life was christening me a mother, a role that I had not enacted earlier, not having married. And I was ready.
Over the next months, multiple challenges unfolded. The first was the financial burden that looking after an invalid entails. The services of an ayah, a nurse, and a physiotherapist came at a price; diapers and medicine were additional expenses. Jousting with the egos of various ayahs challenged my boundaries severely.
There was also the challenge of balancing my responsibilities at work with responsibilities at home. Periodically, I rebelled at being imprisoned at home, and having to put my life on hold.
Through it all, a fine skein of grace was woven, almost from the moment my mother fell ill. It was almost as if I was treading on sacred ground. Money for my mother’s treatment came from various sources within the family without my ever having to ask. My supportive publisher permitted me to work largely from home and as an additional bonus, my office moved much closer to my home. My sister, who is also unmarried and lives three floors below me, valiantly took joint responsibility for mom which was a huge blessing. I was also bolstered by the Indian belief that it is a great blessing to have the privilege of taking care of your parents.
Looking back, two factors have kept me going. One was a firm conviction that my mother and I were in a karmic gridlock which I was determined to release for both our sakes. The second was a strong determination not to let the situation defeat me. I walk towards the uncertain future clad in the faith that these two factors will see me through.
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