Attending funerals is something I kind of look forward to. It sounds morbid, I know, so let me explain why. First, seeing the remains of a person who was living and breathing hours before reminds me of my own mortality and makes me less cocky. Second, it drives in me a sense of urgency to accomplish more in the short time I have. Third, I become less in nice ways – less attached to stuff I own, less upset when things don’t work out – which helps me to be calmer and a little more light-hearted; more accepting of life itself.
At a recent funeral I attended, a man broke into tears while asking those present to pray for his deceased mother. It instantly brought me back to the moment when I was by my mother’s deathbed, as she slipped into the other world. Losing a parent, I learned, is very painful, even for a grown up. It’s extra painful if you’ve had a deep positive relationship with him or her.
Independence, I learnt, does not take away the deep pain the loss of a parent brings. I was extremely close to my mother. That did not mean I agreed with everything she did and neither did she with mine. Far from it. In fact, there were certain requests she made which I wasn’t able to fulfill due to my own commitments. In the end, she accepted that as that.
Because of practical reasons – my mother’s doctors were near my home and my siblings lived in different locations – for years I was usually the one who brought my mother for her medical appointments. I also took care of her in her last months, which until now, remains as some of my most cherished moments with her. What brought me to decide to care for my dying mother?
I was privileged to have witnessed firsthand how a man showed respect to his mother. It was the the holy month of Ramadan. The man refused to eat until he had personally fed his frail mother first. What a profound moment. It inspired me to care for my own mother years later. I never thought of it as a job. It was an honour to care for the person who gave birth to me and raised me as well as she could.
As I write this, I’m thinking of all of you who are now caring for your ailing parents or grandparents. From my experience, having the right attitude is the most important thing.
Doing the best you can does not mean giving in to their every demand. You’re not a bottomless pit. At times, you just have to choose what you can or cannot do. Simply because you might be the only one willing to care for them and if you run out of energy, there might not be another person who could replace you.
Equally important, manage your sensitivities.
The elderly might utter words that are less than kind as they lose their sense of perspective and sensibilities over time. The secret is not to take it personally. In one ear and out the other. Just let it go.
If you were to digest and process every single word said by a dying, temperamental parent or grandparent, it might upset you so much, you might not have the resources to carry on the next day.
Caring for a terminally ill parent or grandparent might take a lot from you. Your patience is tested every single hour with pleas and requests that might at times seem illogical, but you still have to try to address them anyway, as they are real to the person you’re caring for. With the right attitude and sincerity, you just might surprise yourself with what you’re capable of.
Your children will observe what you do and pass on the values they learn to the next generation. Remember: Good leaders are those inspired by a genuine concern for others, especially those who have cared for, nurtured and raised them; in particular, their parents.