Elder Abandonment: Who Left Mercy?

As long as my mother resided in Mumbai and quietly took care of my grandmother, her siblings and their spouses were content. But her relocation to Abu Dhabi in 2006, which necessitated them having to actively participate in their mother’s care, became a point of contention. Some family members have termed mom’s leaving Mumbai, as “abandoning her mother”. In this post, I examine the validity of that claim.

1. The Siblings’ Migration
Firstly, my grandparents, like so many others, chose to leave their hometowns and settle in Mumbai to provide a better life for their children. It was my grandfather’s dream to see his children settled in America. Both sons achieved that independently; Son 1 went first, followed by Son 2. So in terms of leaving Mumbai for better opportunities overseas, it was they who went first. After SIL 2 found employment in Dubai, he settled his family over there, leaving mom as the only sibling living in Mumbai.

2. My Mother’s Relocation
With my father in his rotation-based job in Abu Dhabi, Mumbai is where we thought we’d spend our whole lives. His promotion finally allowed him and mom to live together without separations, like her other siblings and their spouses did. I also use the term ‘relocation’ here as opposed to migration, because this wasn’t permanent; they could only live there till my father’s retirement. Mom’s relocation was communicated a year in advance, giving all her siblings and her mother the time to decide a mutually suitable plan for Mercy’s care.

3. My Grandmother’s Relocations
As my grandmother didn’t want to live alone in Mumbai at that point, she was to take turns living with her other children. Is that such an unreasonable or unheard of idea, that an elderly, widowed mother should be able to live with each of her children?

She left for the US in February 2006 to live with Son 1 near Seattle. Discord initiated by DIL 1 prompted her earlier-than-expected move to Son 2’s home near Boston. He accompanied her to India in January 2008 to attend my wedding, but did not book a return ticket for her. So she then went to Abu Dhabi with my parents.

After this stay, Son 1 had to come to get his mother. This time, DIL 1 took to her bed, lying down for years on end under the pretext of some illness or the other, with the full encouragement of her parents. It was her way of protesting my grandmother’s presence in her house. She wouldn’t even get up to see to her kids, leaving the burden of running the home, looking after the kids and his business on her husband. When that didn’t work, her increasingly volatile and at one point dangerous behaviour necessitated my grandmother’s leaving for Son 2’s home, where she stayed till 2014.

4. The Final Move to Mumbai
In November 2013, my sister moved to Chicago on work. Hoping to have our grandmother come and visit, she repeatedly tried to contact Son 2, but received no response. Six months later, when my mom informed her siblings she was visiting the US too, Son 2 immediately reverted with a mail stating that our grandmother was permanently returning to Mumbai, ostensibly to look after her flat. To say that we were stunned would be putting it mildly.

Given this background, I ask:

  1. Mom’s siblings all made the choice to live abroad to give their families a better life. Was my mom not entitled to make that same choice?
  2. When she had to move, she did so entrusting the care of her mother to her siblings. At no point in the intervening years did she, or us, stop being in touch with Mercy, except when contact was deliberately denied at Son 2’s house. Did these siblings not have a duty to look after their old mother and make her feel welcome in their homes, as we had done in ours? Did they not have a duty to enable her to stay in touch with the rest of her family?
  3. Mercy’s return to Mumbai in 2014, where none of her children lived anymore, was an event that impacted her entire family. Yet, none of her other children were consulted, or informed, until she was about to travel. So whose care was Son 2 entrusting her to?
  4. 11 years ago when she was reasonably healthier, she felt unable to live alone in Mumbai without her children around. So why has she now been left alone, when she is older, more frail, more sickly and struggling with a weakening memory?
  5. Mercy will tell you that this decision was solely hers. But I know she was manoeuvred into it, abused into it, by the sharp minds pulling strings in this family to suit their own needs. You see, as per information my parents had shared long ago, 2014 should have been the year my dad retired. Son 2 and family counted on my parents returning, and thought things could revert to the old situation of my parents looking after Mercy and then they could go scot free. Except that my dad didn’t retire; he was granted extensions annually, every year thereafter. Couldn’t Son 2 have determined whether or not they’d be returning that year before taking his mother back?
  6. But no, DIL 2 and her folks brazenly do as they wish and expect others to fall in line, no questions asked. My parents couldn’t return in 2014, and so for nearly three years now, Mercy has been living alone with a maid / housekeeper to look after her, dependant on her neighbours for assistance with her frequent medical needs. Is this how families should function, with zero communication and utter disregard for others’s lives and schedules?
  7. After Mercy returned to Mumbai, mom started sending her money on a monthly basis from November 2014, but Son 2 told her not to accept it and only use the amount he sent. She then feels further distressed over her financial dependance. Shouldn’t all children support their parents in their old age?
  8. Mercy was also a green card holder. It has now lapsed due to the amount of time she has spent outside the US. Was she made aware of the consequences of losing her green card? She also had health insurance in the US, but not so in Mumbai. Further, for someone whose immediate family all live abroad, why was she left there with a handwritten passport that is no longer valid for travel?

Today, millions of people live far away from their old parents. That in itself cannot be termed as abandonment. It is whether or not you are actively and compassionately involved in their care that is the decider. In the light of these facts, please draw your own conclusion as to who really abandoned Mercy.

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