“My son called me from Canada asking me what I need for Christmas. I told him, ‘I don’t need anything, but for you to come down and hug me and spend few hours with me. It’s been four years since I’ve not seen?you’. He also told me that he has arranged a refrigerator for my personal use at the old-age home. I yelled at him saying, ‘Son, you can put that fridge on my grave after my death”- Mary (name changed) at an Old-age Home, Mangaluru.
“I shouldn’t be at the old-age home at all. I have a huge house, just because my daughter-in-law doesn’t want me to live with them, my son, a month after he got married dumped me here at the old-age center. Just look at my fate, I am living and sharing my life with strangers here, rather than being happy with my family members at my house that me and my husband owned” -? Severine (name changed) – Old-age Home, Mangaluru.
“My son said he will be back within a year as he left on a ship job, but when he reached Florida-USA he left that job and found a job in a restaurant in Orlando-Florida. Since being an illegal immigrant there, ?he now cannot even return to Goa. I was alone for two years at home, and finally he made arrangements to shift me to a old-age home. I miss my son, my home, my family members and relatives. I am very depressed thinking of my only son, I only hope that he will return home before I breathe my last”– Pauline (real name) at an NGO old-age home-Goa
Mangaluru: Elder abuse is a bit like AIDS in India. We know it?s a big problem; we have even heard it?s a crisis. But most of us, especially in middle class India, insist it doesn?t happen in our families. Many elderly folks have experienced some kind of abuse or the other, usually from family members, especially from Children and daughters-in-law. And we don’t have to go far-we can see that elderly abuse right here in our hometown-Mangaluru. I have been following up on this issue for the last couple of months, slowly interviewing inmates of Old-age and Rehabilitation Centers in Mangaluru- and the stories that I?have heard from these seniors have even brought tears in my eyes. Although I had met only a few, but I bet there are many who would have the same kind of stories / feelings to share about their agony by being at an old-age home. Many of these elders who were looking forward to spend Christmas/New Year with their children/loved ones are helpless, with no choice than to spend the festivities amidst strangers.
I am not blaming?the children who have their parents admitted in old-age homes, because certain circumstances and due to no other options they had to- and many of them take good care about their elders even when they are abroad. But there are quite a few who have totally neglected their elderly folks by dumping them at the old-age homes. Talk about elder dumping- That?s right, take grandma/or mother from her posh three/four bedroom home in a grand locality and leave/dump her out in a single room at a scary Old-age Home im some dilapidated area/village. And it’s happening in Mangaluru lately- with children opting to work abroad/some not even bothering to return back home, their elderly parents/grandparents are left at these old-age homes or rehabilitation centers, where they get good care/food/facilities, but no love and company of their dear children whom they had raised/fed/gave education etc etc- and now they have to face the agony by living in a home, other than the one they owned/built. Too sad!
Go to any old age home and you?ll hear these kinds of horror stories. At an old age home, Mariamma, a anxious looking widow in her seventies- She says she moved here after her sons and daughters-in-law assaulted her. She had refused to sign over the title of her house to them after her husband died. ?They pushed me down,? she says softly. ?I hurt my leg badly. I had to go to the hospital. There was blood in my stool.? Now she shares a blue-washed dormitory room with a dozen other women. There?s a garlanded black and white photograph of her late husband on her nightstand, a picture of Jesus Christ and a small potted plant. She misses her old garden, she says. She used to have jasmine, roses and other kind of flowers. ?Now I don?t know who looks after them,? she says.
These stories shock us. But in a way they also insulate us from the real problem which is far more ubiquitous. Not everyone is pushing their old mother down the stairs. But we brush older people aside in ways we don?t even realise. I have learnt that according to a survey, 87 percent of elders in the 70-80 age group complain of isolation. And that happens even when they are living with family, at home. They just find themselves shunted off to the back bedroom. A survey also reports that in 2050, 400 million people will be over 80 all over the world. 48.1 million of them will be in India. That doesn?t mean India will become a sea of grey. The median age of Indians will still be only 38. But 48.1 million people can?t be shoved into the back bedroom either.
The answer is also not going to be about forcing children to take care of their elders. That?s already written into the law as well. One elderly lady tells me that she did her best to raise her children properly. One works for the local electricity board. Another works at a wood factory. ?If sons act like this what can we do?? she says. ?Elders need to be respected. Do we now have to teach that?? Perhaps not. But what we might need to teach ourselves is that old age isn?t just about our children and what they will or won?t do for us.
Getting ready for old age is about financial security. It?s about health insurance. It?s about infrastructure. And that doesn?t mean just more retirement/old-age homes. The fact is most older people are themselves not really prepared to enter this new world of old age. There might be wheel chair ramps here. But there are no rails to hold on to. One should know that aging came to India before development. Western countries developed first and then longevity came. Most of all it?s about attitude. Notwithstanding the conditions in old-age homes, occupants often decry the fact that they are either ?dumped? there or compelled to stay there. This is the case often with senior citizens who do not fit in the modern lifestyle of the children or whose children find them to be a financial burden.
Another very depressed man around 70-75 years old narrated his story saying, ?When I and my wife got retired, we got some money. My wife suggested that I should help my son in getting higher education, as he desired to be a doctor. I paid Rs 2 lakh for his fees and with the remaining Rs 1 lakh I repaid the loan on my flat. While my wife saved her money for our daughter?s marriage. When my son became a doctor and got married to a doctor wife, they both started ignoring us.? We were deeply hurt. Couple of years later, my wife suffered a heart attack and died. They then admitted me in the old age home even though I had a will to stay in my own flat, because, they did not have time for me. Both wanted to work and had no time for me,? he sobbed. He however refused to reveal his name as he did not want to defame his children.
Yet another spinster, and an occupant of an old-age home in the outskirts of Mangaluru, had a different tale to tell, ?I was suffering from diabetes and my leg wound would not heal easily. My brothers neglected me and often grumbled. Their wives and children also did not want me in their company. I was like a burden to them, even though I had helped them all financially. Frustrated over their attitude and negligence towards me , I asked my neighbours to put me in this old-age home.?
While I was in Goa along with few friends for the Exposition of relics of St Francis Xavier, we had visited a old-age home in the outskirts of Margao to distribute some Christmas goodies on 27 December- where also I listened to some very sad stories of the inmates there- their stories were much more worse than I heard here in Mangaluru. Many older people are put in old-age homes in Goa, since most of their children work abroad, or on the?ship,?when they reach USA or other European countries they jump of the ship and find different jobs on land and don’t come back home for years. And unfortunately their grandparents and parents with no one to take care are put in old-age or rehabilitation centers. How sad!
One senior citizen at the Old-age home in Goa said that he was admitted here by his neighbours and that he will spend the rest of his life here. He said, ?I had a big family of six siblings. All of them are educated. My brothers were working in America. However, everything was not smooth in my life. After six years of marriage, my wife deserted me for another man. My two kids after their education took off to States, and never kept in touch. This is what I get for raising my kids and spending all the money I had on their education. I took to alcohol. Though my brothers had the wherewithal to support me, they did not. I got remarried. But my second wife loved my riches more than me. She transferred most of my Goan properties in her name and dumped me. Seeing me frequenting the bar, my neighbours came to my rescue and helped me getting admitted here.?
Its very sad to hear such stories. How a son/daughter can do such things with their own parents who gave them birth and gave better upbringing with good education, and?this is what they get from there kids during their old age, Its a big shame on us that this happens in India, a country where we always talk about our culture where we are being taught since childhood to respect our parents, teachers and elders. This is not only about India but its happening almost every where…. because people don’t realize if today they will consider their parents as BURDEN, then tomorrow they will suffer from their own childrens hands.
The term ?old? can be associated with physical incapacity, biological deterioration or disabilities or even psychological factors. Many older persons find living with their adult children more difficult than living alone and many do not have a choice and have to live separately. In these circumstances, old age homes seem to be the choice for the older persons. Although the old-age centers provide all the facilities,?elders encounter a lot of difficulties when they need proper care and affection of their children as they have had devoted their lives for the well-being of their near and dear ones.
It is sad to note that many children lately, irrespective of they being educated or uneducated, rich or poor, healthy or not so healthy abandon their parents in the old-age homes as they feel awkward to live with them in their modern houses/bungalows. A supervisor at a old-age said to me, ?Can you imagine a woman coming to me with her aged mother-in-law seeking admission here on the grounds that she is dirtying the walls of her posh new bungalow and that she reached this decision on the advice of her friend.? He also said that taking care of these aged people especially the bed-ridden is a tough job. Some family members are ready to pay but do not want to look after the elderly, he said.
Even though the staff at some of the old-age homes told me that the occupants get along well with each other and consider others as their family members – Healthy inmates also assist the weak and bedridden, but when I heard of some stories narrated by these inmates I was bit confused as to whom to believe- the management/staff or the inmates. But no matter what by the look and sadness on the faces of some of these elderly folks at old-age homes, I can say that these seniors are very much depressed and lonely- all they wanted for Christmas was love and the company of their children and not gifts/money.
In conclusion, our parents gave us life and took care of us when we were small, now its our time to pay them to take care of them during rest of their life. Even though they are not asking, it is our responsibility to love and care for them. I am ashamed of all these ungrateful children who dump and neglect their elderly folks at the old-age homes.. Do not forget the fact that you will reach that age one day and you never know that your children will do the same to you. How would you feel?? Remember your parents are your life…they were your eyes when you couldn’t see…your angels when you were in need…they held you when you couldn’t walk – why are you doing this to them??? Sons….you can get plenty of wives but you HAVE ONLY ONE MOTHER & FATHER. If your wives cannot respect your parents – how do you expect these selfish women to respect you….open your eyes…get a grip and stand up to your parents – they are invaluable a priceless treasure. So please, sons and daughters love your parents..don’t abandon them. Remember of the saying “one can replace his spouse but not parents”. May God bless you all!
An exclusive report by Alfie -Team Mangalorean
Note: Photographs in this article are for illustrations only, and none of them are related to the story
Author: Alfie DSouza-Illinois