Recently a very dear friend suffered a huge setback. Her father had been confined to bed for many years, now her mother who had been the primary caregiver for her dad suffered a stroke. My friend, an only child, rushed to her hometown to be with her infirm parents. In her own home, many, many miles away, was a teenage son studying in the 12th Grade and a husband who has a job that necessitates a lot of travel.
There she was torn by love at both ends. Her parents, both confined to bed, on one and her husband and child on the other. A supporting spouse and a mature child helped her cope with the situation, so she turned her attention to where it was needed most. In the early days, I was unable to speak to her she was handling a lot and for obvious reasons needed to concentrate her energies on the constantly developing situation in front of her.
My friend is a vibrant person, whenever we spoke we have only laughed be it the mundane or the difficult she has always managed to look at things from a quirky point of view. My thoughts were with her constantly, worrying and wondering how she would cope. Life had suddenly thrown her a curve ball the like of which I had never heard of. Caring for one ageing and infirm parent is tough enough; she had two to take care of at the same time. I was in my teens when my ageing Grandmother had been confined to the bed for five years and I had seen what my parents went through in those tough times. So yes, I worried and wondered and worried some more for this friend whose spirit through thick and thin has always laughed and made me laugh along with her.
I worried when I thought of her taking decisions that would determine the course of her parents’ healthcare. Are any of us ever prepared to take such decisions? I worried about her support mechanism. Who was there standing besides her helping? From the outside everyone can advise, but she was the one ultimately who would live with the consequences.
I wondered if people were calling her telling her to be brave. To be resilient in the face of adversity. To take it one day at a time. Some would say you have the strength you just need to find it. Others would tell her that its karma and she has a part to play. Some old school folk, I knew would try to encourage by saying she was ‘blessed’ to be paying back the debt that is owed to parents. Telling her that this was the greatest duty and that she was noble soul for having undertaken it. I put myself in her shoes and another thought started to trouble me, would I want to hear all this?
In a flash the answer came No!!
Why do we mouth such tired expressions to people going through difficult times. How do such phrases help anyone? Does it encourage them or are we assuaging our guilt for not being able to do more? These are questions to which I have no answers. But, what is very clear to me is the fact that a person dealing with a tough situation does not want to hear mere platitudes from me, they want me to just listen to them. Can I not do that thinking of their needs rather than my own?
A few days later after having got her life under control as it were, we finally spoke. The first thing she said to me was, “Babe, make me laugh!” That was what she needed and I did just that!
Later I also listened when she shared the pain that she was in, the conflicting emotions that she goes through every day. Watching her parents in that state. Her child and her husband far away in a home that she hasn’t been able to go back to since the fateful day that her mother collapsed. Every day she wakes up to a choice that was not hers, but she made it. A lot has happened in these days and I will need another post to express the myriad emotions that she has shared and I have felt with her.