I have always been a wee bit uncomfortable visiting old people. By old, I mean my aged family members and relatives some of whom have zero recollection of who I am. In the winter of their lives, they have become like little children, dependent on others for almost everything, and having let go of any semblance of independence (if such a thing as total independence actually exists). It used to make me squirm, seeing them helpless and so dependent. It made me fear the aging process and go into the worst imaginings of how it would hit me. Losing hair, losing memory, losing independence… loss of dignity, or so it seemed to me.
This October, we visited India. I went to meet my aunt and her mother i.e. my grandmother’s oldest sister. My aunt used to be a professor of Sanskrit in a local college in Bangalore. I have met her only a few times in all these years but I remember her as a strong personality and someone who was very vocal about what she thought and felt. A lifelong vegetarian, she couldn’t fathom how anyone could eat meat. I recall an instance during a family function when she misplaced her watch and got everyone in the house (elders included!) to look for it! That’s the kind of force she used to be… And then her mother who happens to be my grandmother’s oldest sister. She is truly one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met. At age 93, her skin is shining and clear, her hair a pure white, her cheeks rosy. But she is hard of hearing, and in the last couple of years, she has become increasingly sedentary. Her memory is sketchy too but better than her daughter’s. Taking care of the two ladies are my cousins. It’s a 24/7 job that involves cleaning, lifting, feeding and so on.
This visit was different. I felt unusually light and cheerful. Instead of imagining the worst, my mind stayed put in the moment. I chatted with both the ladies, reminded them of how I was, reminisced over past incidents, *introduced* P to them. It was small talk but it meant much to me. And I suppose, to both of them as well. As I left, my heart was clear.
We do what we can, each one of us.