My grandmother Mercy’s pitiful plight and the continued indifference of her two younger children, compelled my parents to look for assistance outside the family. In March 2017, they contacted two leading elder care non-profit organisations in Mumbai with her story, requesting help with transporting her to a hospital for a long-delayed review. However, they were turned down. Both organisations said they could only intervene if Mercy herself asked for help.
These organisations aren’t alone in this stance. Every elder abuse awareness site I have read, cautions to brace for this cold, hard fact: that for various reasons, some victims will simply not admit to any mistreatment, even if a complaint is made on their behalf. In such a situation, organisations everywhere are powerless.
So besides my mother and myself, why does my grandmother refuse to tell anyone else there is a problem? What stops her from asking for help?
Her upbringing and deeply rooted value system make her consider the family’s reputation as something to be treasured and protected. No matter what occurs within the family, one doesn’t mention anything to any outsider.
I last saw her in September 2014. We had had a three-week stay at my in-laws’ home in Kerala planned; her shock return to Mumbai in May 2014 necessitated a change in our itinerary. We managed to make a quick trip to Mumbai and stayed at her home for two days. At that point, my husband and I had been married for over six years. He was not an outsider, or a newcomer to the family. Yet, she was acutely embarrassed to discuss matters in his presence. “What must he think of us?” was her constant worry.
Her entire train of thought can be summed up like this:
“My children were all raised with so much love and care. How can they behave like this? Nobody from a decent family does these things. What will people say, if they know? Our name will be ruined.”
That anguish of being unloved by her younger children and their families, the fear of humiliation, and a misplaced sense of shame, combine to form a toxic mix of emotions that’s slowly killing her. She cannot handle the disintegration of her family, cannot accept the horrifying truth that her younger two children, for their own malicious interests, have chosen to cut off other family members.
Therefore, she retreated to the flat where she and my late grandfather raised their family. It is on the second storey of a now-dilapidated building with narrow, crumbling stairs and no elevator. Time and again, we had advised her to sell it off and use the proceeds to live comfortably in a retirement home, or a building with better facilities. But neither she nor the others ever supported that suggestion. And so in her present physical condition, she is virtually trapped in that flat.
She has been ridiculed for accepting help from her daughters and sons-in-law in the past. Made to believe that Son 2 is her only financial support, that she has no other options, she is forced to defend him, rather than state the obvious truth that no, he isn’t doing his best to look after her. Even when my parents and sister visited her, her suffering and neglect clearly evident, she stubbornly insisted that she was fine, that her son was looking after her. Could they have intervened without her consent?
As we learned from my sister Sonetta’s battle with cancer last year, from a legal and ethical standpoint, one person needs to assume the formal responsibility for the patient’s care. Though both my parents were involved, with my father needing to return to work in Abu Dhabi, mom became Sonet’s primary caregiver, to sign paperwork and make decisions on her behalf while she was incapacitated.
In my grandmother’s case, that caregiver is Son 2. It was his house she last resided in, he who brought her back to Mumbai without discussing her future care with any of his siblings. It is his name on her medical reports. Since her fracture, he has appointed a day nurse to assist the housekeeper with her care. But neither the nurse nor housekeeper are decision-makers. Neither of them could get him to organise her safe trip to the hospital for the review which should have happened in February 2017, as clearly stated in her reports. Neither has the authority to purchase the equipment or refurbish the apartment to adequately meet my grandmother’s new physical needs.
My grandmother’s memory is now so bad, that she has already forgotten my parents and Sonet visited, though it was only a few weeks ago. She is unclear about what ails her, or how to proceed ahead. Bluntly speaking, she has lost the will to live; she is now merely existing, and clinging to her defence mechanism – my son is looking after me.
Purely because of my mom’s daily emails, and the revelations on this blog, Son 2’s elder brother-in-law – who had just weeks before told my dad he had nothing to do with my grandmother – arranged for a doctor to come examine her. And he is supposedly bringing her much-needed walker next week.
It is some sort of progress, but at a snail’s pace. My grandmother is beyond the point of understanding that it is imperative she ask for help. What she does ask for is for her children to reunite; the happiness of that is the only thing that can possibly save her. My family are willing, but we cannot do it without a complete change of heart in my mom’s siblings.
I ask you, if this has moved you at all, please show your support for my grandmother, and the millions of abused elderly like her.