My mother says that when I was growing up, she couldn’t wait for me to be older. When I was a few days old, she looked at my cousin who was a year old at the time and in the exhaustion of delivery, wondered when I would grow beyond the three and a half fragile kilograms I was to a tall, weighty, feisty baby. And this wish continued.
My parents raised me on their own with little help from families. My father was mostly estranged from his already. They were not affluent enough to afford a nurse or even a help in those days.
My father cooked the post natal meals for my mother for a week and after she would cook them herself. They had supportive neighbours but that was later when I turned six months old or so and could be carried out easily.
An aunt would come to bathe me when I was little (it was her son’s age my mother coveted for me). But once she accidentally ended up choking me with the bath water till I turned blue in the face and had to be rushed to emergency care. My parents say that they had never known such fear as on that day. They say that I never quite regained the milky white, almost translucent skin after that.
What did my parents wish for then?
For me to live and grow up healthy.
When I survived it, and after the trauma had faded, my mother continued to wish I was older than the toddler I was. If only I could be in school, or college…
What did my mother wish for?
Her own independence. I don’t think she ever got it back.
This is the nature of love then. You always wish to ease your own troubles and suffering at the cost of your loved ones.
But shouldn’t loved ones exist to ease our burdens, just a little, at least? Why then are they the ones to always clip our wings?
It’s so naive to even think this.
Why would a stranger ever bother us?
My mother got her wish in a way. I grew up too soon. But I doubt she ever got the freedom she might have lost once she became my mother when she was only twenty-two years old.
Love doesn’t seem to care much for freedom.
My father suffered a fall two days ago on his morning walk with my mother. Ever since he got back from the care facility, he has been eager about his exercise. The care facility locks its gates, and other than the forty feet courtyard or the terrace, there’s precious little space to meander in. So it’s no surprise that a walk with my mother out on the streets, greeting neighbours, seeing traffic, the park, must feel freeing and exhilarating to him. He gets done with his morning tea and wears his walking shoes, his pants, his sweater, and his cap enthusiastically. So much so that my mother doesn’t have the heart to cancel it even if she’s tired or ill. After the walk, he is ready to start his day. He is happier and calmer for the exercise. He lines his colour pencils and meticulously does his colouring.
His gait has become stronger and surer with his medication. He doesn’t stumble easily. Even so, my mother ensures that they walk slow.
And yet, he slipped and fell. The people around helped him stand, an auto was found, and the auto driver and mom together deposited him on our couch where he sat awkwardly, shivering, unable entirely to stand or lie. My mother scurried around trying to place pillows around him and a blanket.
That was how I found them when I got downstairs dreading the busy day I had ahead of me.
For the first time in my life, I froze in a crisis. I couldn’t move or think. ‘What fresh hell’, ‘what fresh hell’ I kept hearing in my mind.
We know all about falls in the elderly. How common it is, how devastating it can be. But as in all things, you never think it can happen to you. Certainly not when you are barely catching your breath from a crisis like exacerbated dementia.
Things were busy in my work life. I had pending critiques, planning book launches, scheduling new classes for the new year, planning our first ever writing retreat on the weekend. We had barely caught our breath after participating in a launch at the Bangalore Literature Festival. I was thrilled that my father could be in the audience. I had posted about it too. Could it have been Dhrishti, the evil eye? Later, people would tell me that’s what it was. I blamed my mother. Why did she have to take that route? Why didn’t she look after him better? Why is she always so optimistic about his health? Even as I thought these thoughts, I knew they were irrational and they didn’t change the outcome. It was an accident. We had to face the accident for what it was. But I couldn’t. I looked for distractions.
My mother’s phone had become useless. I had just ordered a new one and the delivery guy was on his way to hand over the new phone so I kept trying to concentrate on that.
In the meantime, Papa wanted to use the bathroom to pee and we tried to lift him up and support him but we couldn’t. For the first time in my entire life, perhaps also in his, I heard him utter the words, “I’m in pain. I can’t move. I am in so much pain.”
Yet, he wouldn’t cry.
Few sentences can evoke such paralyzing fear. Few behaviours can numb you.
He looked at me and said, “Don’t worry. I will stand up in a bit.”
My mother said,”See. Don’t stress now. This is why I didn’t wake you up.”
The delivery guy was at the door and I just escaped the situation by transacting with him. He knew I was distressed because I was visibly shaking and he did the entire exchange process on his own.
My mother somehow convinced Papa to pee into a bottle. He is a proud, incredibly clean man. I could see how much this indignity broke him.
I called our family physician and he immediately advised us to take him to a hospital.
Later, I read that the pain of a bone breaking is so acute that people often faint. Yet my father found the heart and the strength to reassure me in all of it.
The ambulance arrived and he was hoisted in reasonable comfort. The ER doctor said it’s a thigh bone fracture and surgery was necessary and imminent.
We admitted him and the process for pre-surgery began.
The doctors were cautious. They said given his age, he might not make it in the surgery. But not operating meant he would be in acute pain and bedridden till the time he could withstand it. There really was no option but to go ahead with the surgery.
His confusion began then. To each doctor that came, his story was that he slipped three days ago while trying to buy flowers, or fruit, or vegetables. He was just in slight pain.
Once they left, he began to yell at mom and me to move him, to help him get up so he could go to the loo, so he could go home. He yelled at us for not removing his bind. By now, they had diapered him. But he wouldn’t allow himself to use it. I am like that too so I could sympathise but there was nothing we could do. The attenders and nurses reassured him and in front of them he was agreeable and docile. But once they left, he tried to pull off his catheter and cannula. When we tried to stop him, he started raging at us till my mom and I left the room unable to bear his suffering or his rage.
And that’s when my mom and I looked at each other and understood what the other was thinking – let his suffering ease.
Implicit in that desire was also the fervent wish to let our suffering ease.
That’s the spirit I sent him into the surgery with. He was on strong painkillers and tranquilizers by then. I explained to him that he was going in for surgery, that he would recover soon, that he had to be strong, and heal well. That he ought to tell the staff if the pain got unbearable. All good, kind things.
But in my heart filled with dread, I kept wishing for the suffering to end. His and ours.
Like my mother those years ago who really wanted her child to be older, I wished for my father’s end if it meant my wings wouldn’t be clipped, dealing relentlessly with one crisis after another.
He has been on the planet for 78 years. He has led a good life. He is losing his mind slowly, but surely. Now he would also be in acute physical pain for the foreseeable future. And along with him, my mother and I would labour to be good and kind caregivers. We would be taxed with more effort than we had the strength to deliver. This is how I rationalized my dark dread. I also knew if situations were reversed he would never wish that for me. Is that the difference between being a parent and a child?
The surgery was successful. The relief was immense and immediate with a sudden burst of dizzy joy and victory. I rushed to see him in the ICU. He was lucid but woozy. Even then, he asked me how I was, if I had eaten. I cried looking at him. I kissed him through my mask. It pleased him. He felt reassured and loved.
I was relieved but also there was a heavy coldness settling in my body. The guilt sank heavily on my overburdened shoulders. My gait out of the ICU was brisk but burdened. There was no joy in my relief now; only frustration and guilt.
The insurance had still not been approved. The recovery time for such a surgery was anywhere between five to seven months. He was also susceptible now to delirium. Coupled with his dementia, what did the future hold for us? I had work coming over the weekend I couldn’t cancel. How would we handle the hospital care and insurance if I just left? With his recovery, things looked hopeful again. It seemed it would all work out. But the fear gnawed at me. I wished vainly that I didn’t have to deal with these situations or conflicts at all.
Logically, I could understand the practicality of my thoughts. Putting myself first. I had spent years in therapy trying to learn this survival skill.
Now that I had, I just felt like a cold bitch. Emotionally, it seemed I would never forgive myself.
I shuddered at the dark nature of love.