Elderly parents and NRIs

 

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.

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One thought on “Elderly parents and NRIs

  1. Of course, social interactions are essential during old age. I left India 30 years ago, but I never brought my parents to where I have been living in the West. But things have been changing a lot, and in many cities in the United States, elderly parents have social gatherings and support from local temples or associations. It is not that bad. For some elderly people being with their children and grand children gives a lot of happiness during old age, despite the change in living conditions abroad. Some elderly people find ingenious ways to spend their time during daytime, when their children are at work and grand children have gone to school. When I was in Maryland in early 1990s, I found that elderly parents from India used to sit on the benches in the local malls and chat. They just walk to the malls and meet with others and have lunch together in mall food courts, and then go home by the time their grand children return from the schools. Some others hook up to the TV. With cable network, they can watch all the Indian channels or movies. So, the current situation in the United States is not that bad for elderly parents to spend their time. And more importantly, if there is an emergency when they are alone at home, calling 911 in the US will definitely offer first class emergency medical service. And emergency medical services are offered free of charge (the State Govt will pick up the tab) if the patient does not have insurance or cannot afford to pay.

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