Sharda Joshi is around 70 years. She was diagnosed as rectal cancer about 3 years ago and underwent surgery with a permanent colostomy. She is a remarkable lady, a literary critic, managing her stoma and continues to lead a very productive life. She lost her husband nearly 10 years ago. Her only son has moved to California. He did come for the surgery but as many other NRIs, has work pressures and finds it difficult to come to India to see his mother. Obviously he is pressing her to come to California to spend time with the family.
Sharda talked to me and expressed some genuine concerns. She was worried about long flights and concerned how she would manage the stoma.
“I want to go and see my grandchildren but, everyone is going to be busy with their own lives, school and homework. Weekends also turn out to be a busy time with the activities, additional things to do, groceries and other chores.”
She said, “What am I going to do while they are at work or in school and even when they get back they are going to have their own friend circle. Why should they even bother about an old lady sitting at home. Here I have my friends. I can talk to them, call them over and even go to some cultural activities and plays”.
” If I fall sick in a foreign health care system , I have no insurance cover.”
So she said, “Doctor, can you give me a certificate stating that I am not fit to travel to California ?” This was rather unusual as many patients ask for ‘fit to travel’ certificate.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that though there is some emotional guilt on the part of the children, the parents are better off in their own homes and environs. I see a lot of elderly couples or many single elders managing on their own with some help but having more social interaction here in their country. It is really unfair to uproot them from their familiar surroundings and make them feel isolated in a foreign country with practically no social interaction.
I looked into the factors that really gives you happiness. The socio-cultural interaction becomes an important issue. Yes, we are going to see ageing population and perhaps lonely, and the big challenge is not just to attend to their basic physical needs and medical needs but try and be in touch with them and encourage social interaction.
I know of a family, Mr. Ramakrishnan, whose three sons were senior software professionals in the US, who took turns and come here in rotation for 3 months. It will be difficult for many others to do it.
It is fine to allow their parent/s to have a support system and a friend circle.
This is not just a reflection on NRIs but also in many of the families even here in India, the children stay in far away metros and parents stay in their village homes. This is the same story and the same message.
Allow the elderly their space and the freedom to make their choices.
They want their independence and want to be useful.