Friday, July 15, 2005


One of the hardest things about coming home after a long time away is that things change. It’s almost as if I expect things to remain exactly as they had been when I left – which is ridiculous, I know – but change is hard for me to handle. Ten months is the longest I’ve ever been away. Up until now, the major changes I noticed were things like new wall colors and rearranged furniture. This time, though, it’s the people that have changed. Most of the changes were good, and it made me happy to see my family in such a good place. My mom has improved her lifestyle and is healthier and in better shape that I’ve ever seen her. My dad started a business and is happy (although overworked) with his success. My brother and I are working on having a closer sibling relationship, and my sister has really grown up. These were all nice things, and I was pleasantly surprised by the positive changes that happened while I was away. But not everything is positive.

By far the hardest thing for me to deal with is the changes in my three elderly grandparents. My maternal grandmother needed to move to a nursing home after breaking her leg. She just never quite recovered and my mom realized that she needed 24 hour supervision in order to stay home. Grandma has trouble remembering things and there were several “memory lapse” instances where the stove was involved. Mom made the difficult decision to have grandma move into a really nice senior living home called “Martha’s”. Grandma has a beautiful room and a nice big bathroom all to herself. The cat at Martha’s has adopted my grandma, and it seems like she has everything she needs. But it’s obvious that she’s extremely unhappy there. I think it’s the social aspect – she has to have breakfast with strangers, there are always voices and commotion created by other residents, and grandma has to put up with random intrusions. Mom is having a hard time with it, too. Even though it’s logically the best place for grandma to be, I know mom struggles with leaving grandma there. She always used to say she’d never make grandma go to a “home”, but it’s really difficult to take care of grandma and mom has to work. It became necessary for grandma's safety, and I think mom made the right choice. She still visits grandma every day, even though she's so extremely busy.

My paternal grandparents are still living independently, or more precisely, interdependently. My grandpa can’t seem to remember things anymore – from taking his pills to eating breakfast – and my grandma thrives on bossing people around, so it’s a match made in heaven. But last week my grandma had a bad reaction to some antibiotics and got really sick. She was discovered lying in bed by one of her friends. My dad checks up on them twice a week, but she had been in a bad way for a few days. She was severely dehydrated and needed to spend four days in the hospital, getting fluids and antibiotics. My grandpa, in the mean time, was completely lost without her. The whole fiasco was really hard on my dad, who had to go into town every morning at 4:30 a.m. (my grandpa was a farmer and that’s when he gets up!) and make sure that grandpa had eaten breakfast and was okay for the day. Apparently, however, grandpa forgot to take his heart medicine all week. Dad didn’t really know how bad my grandpa was, and my grandma got pretty ornery with my dad when he tried to help. If there’s one thing she can’t stand, it’s feeling helpless!

There is such a huge difference with how people deal with old age, sickness and death in this country vs. Bangladesh. Here, we value independence so much that it’s extremely painful for us to lose it. It’s hard for us to take care of our elderly parents for the same reason – it’s a boundary that we have to cross in order to survive. In Bangladesh, however, elderly people seem to have few qualms about depending on their children, because the entire purpose of procreating (over and over and over) is to have a caregiver in old age. Call it biological social security.

Old age is all around me here. It’s not only my grandparents; the dog and cat are on their last legs as well. Happy the dog has heart disease and crippling arthritis. He lies around all day gasping for breath. I’m pretty sure mom and dad will need to euthanize him pretty soon. Pickles the cat is a huge ball of obesity. Her ears are half gone from frostbite – a few winters ago she refused to come near the house for some reason. She must be over 12 years old and probably won’t be around much longer till she goes to that catnip field in the sky.

I’d like to say that being around all of this inevitable death has made me think about the importance of living a good life and appreciating the moment, but the truth is all it’s done is make me sad. I will miss my grandparents (and my pets) when they are gone. I know that some day I’ll have to deal with my own parents going through this same process, and eventually, I’ll be the one who doesn’t want to give up my own independence to rely on my son. Yes, it’s a natural process, but it’s so hard to deal with. My dad says that he’s come to a place where he can really grasp the finite nature of our time on the earth and he sees time in terms of eternity. I hope that I can revive my once strong believe in the after life so that I can come to terms with the grief that inevitable loss brings. Is the afterlife something that human beings created in order to deal with the pain of losing loved ones, or is there really a chance that I will see everyone again once we are all gone? I have to believe it.

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