By Arathi Devandran
I am sitting by a hospital bed as I write this.
Mother is curled up on her side, her deformed left hand hanging at an awkward angle because the set plug has been placed at the crease around the area of her elbow. She has been dozing on and off for a while, waiting for her next test. She hasn’t eaten in about 16 hours. Nil by mouth, they had said last night.
I am sitting by the hospital bed as I write this.
I haven’t actually said anything to my mother in the last ten minutes. My mother hasn’t actually said anything to me in the same amount of time. I am here, so that she is not alone. Sometimes, that is enough for a person. Today, this is enough for my mother.
This is not the first time I have sat by a hospital bed. I am quite sure, however foreboding it sounds, that this will not be the last time either. Some of us are just plagued with ill health, and this becomes a part of a family’s existence. It is not easy. It is not easy at all.
I have spent much of my life running around hospitals, riding shotgun in ambulances, waking up in the middle of the night with my heart in my mouth, panicking that yet again, something has happened to my family. Most of this usually has to do with malady, and my family. Awful, except that I am not even the one being subjected to the numerous needle pricks, the innumerable scans and tests, the scores of colourful and not-so-colourful pills.
During times like this, I take a deep breath, put on my poker face, and do what needs to be done.
I am sure I am not alone in this experience; this experience where I morph into the parent that my mother needs.
As our parents grow older, this becomes more and more of a reality. Our parents start seeking the kind of support and strength that they have provided us with all their lives. They get irritated more easily, they aren’t afraid to show their emotions as much, their tears fall a little easier, their smiles become more guileless.
I have seen this in both of my parents in the recent years.
My father expresses his frustrations with less inhibitions these days. Little things get to him. He apologises quickly, almost bashfully when he realises that he isn’t as put together as before. I am learning to react less to the things he says. I am growing a little wiser, stepping into bigger shoes. My father is starting to talk more as well. I remember a time where I used to go on, and on, and my father would quietly listen, giving me all the air-time I needed. Now, I have taken the role of the listener as he shares his thoughts and opinions about things that matter to him.
We are exchanging roles. It is a little daunting.
Sometimes I joke that I now have two children. I laugh, but in that laughter is a slight tremor, something like apprehension, or fear, I don’t quite know.
There are many expectations that Asian children are force-fed at a young age. You must be thankful for what your parents do for you. You must be filial to your family. You must know your responsibilities as the eldest/youngest child. Help to put food on the table. Be there. Be strong. Etc. Etc. Etc.
I am not here to tell you whether this is altogether correct, nor am I here to tell you what is right or wrong. But this happens, and as young people, who are learning and growing, it’s something we need to start thinking about. In our endeavours to be the adults our parents need us to be, sometimes we forget the most simple of things. We forget that we cannot always be the givers. We forget that we cannot always be the energy pumpers. We forget that we cannot always keep it together because, well, it’s not human to be so put together all the damn time.
What I am trying to say is that there will always be expectations, and this role reversal act that we play out with our parents will continue to become more pronounced with time. We need to learn how to deal with that. We need to cultivate communities for ourselves where we can draw strength from others. We need to remember that if we don’t have enough of our selves for ourselves, we won’t have anything to give anyone else.
We need to encourage our parents to reach out and do things with their friends; to take steps to have lives that are outside of their comfort zones. We need to hold them gently in our palms and urge them to take flight. We need to be the adults who handhold them back into some semblance of an adulthood.
This will take time. It is not altogether easy. Maybe, it won’t even happen. But we should try.
And slowly, hand in hand, we walk together, parents and children. Life as we know it, changes, settles, continues.
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