My grandparents made their inaugural visit to their sons’ homes in the US in 2001. They left with great excitement, eager to see this land of dreams for themselves. They returned a few months later, shattered by the unkindness shown by both daughters-in-law. My grandfather, not a man to exaggerate, stated he’d never set foot in his sons’ houses again. He was no longer the powerful personality of his youth, and my grandmother is the non-confrontational type. They shared their sadness with mom, but were not keen to delve into it with the rest of the family. A year later in 2003, he passed away.
Obviously, my grandmother struggled to cope. As the mother of four, and then later as the wife of an ageing and ailing husband, she’d been competent, capable, even tough when the need arose. But the loss of her husband, and the reality of her sons’ homes sapped that strength completely. In 2004, a brief stay at Daughter 2’s home was also hellish. She was subjected to the whims and tantrums of her own daughter, who till date has not outgrown being the pampered youngest child. She returned devastated from there too. Nevertheless, as long as we were also in Mumbai, she felt able to continue living in her own home.
Then in 2005, after 25 years of slogging it out in the desert, my dad was promoted to a job in his company’s head office in Abu Dhabi city. It was a regular 9-to-5 deal, with accommodation for his family included. This out-of-the-blue development brought life-changing consequences. After over two decades of regular separations, my family finally had the chance to live together. As my sister had just begun her HSC, we were to relocate after she finished her final exams the following year.
It gave my grandmother and mom’s siblings a year to decide what to do. Son 1 was the only sibling who was happy for us; the others weren’t, realising they’d have to now actively share in caring for their mother. At that point, my grandmother refused to stay in Mumbai without any of her children residing there too, but neither was she looking forward to living with her sons. She knew she was unwanted by her daughters-in-law, but didn’t have the strength to assert her rights.
Her rising stress level started taking its toll. She was convinced there was something physically wrong with her. Even her cardiologist telling her she was physically healthy, it was just anxiety manifesting itself, didn’t calm her. A couple of months later, she contracted a severe case of shingles and was admitted to a local hospital near our house. But the poor quality of care there necessitated an arduous shift to one of the top hospitals in Mumbai; an episode that is still traumatic for mom as she was the one who had to face the terror of seeing her mother semi-conscious and bleeding with the nurses totally apathetic to her state.
At this point, I had been four months into my very first job, and also studying for my Masters degree online. My sister was preparing for the make-or-break HSC and dad couldn’t come down or his job would be on the line. I quit my job to help out more at home because I could see that my mom was at breaking point. On her release from hospital, my grandmother came to stay with us.
The months that followed were enormously difficult. For a variety of reasons, chief among them being the lack of love from her younger two children, my grandmother slid into depression. There aren’t words to describe the shock and horror of watching someone you’ve known and loved your whole life lose their mental grip. Mom told her siblings what was happening, but barring Son 1, the others just couldn’t understand. I suppose unless it’s something you witness firsthand, it’s hard to imagine the kind of stuff we dealt with in those months. Physical ailments have specific tasks that lead to a cure; but for this kind of mental illness, we were totally at a loss. It didn’t matter how much love and care we lavished on her, she continued to pine for some sign of affection from her other children and grandchildren.
Is that too much to expect from one’s own family? Eventually, after one token phone call from Daughter 2, a brief visit from Son 2, my grandmother recovered enough to travel to the US with Son 1 in February 2006. If only mom’s siblings had fulfilled their responsibilities with the same commitment she did, events would not have unfolded as they then did.