Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The pain of being the first generation immigrant.

Every time the phone rings at odd hours, or if the caller ID showed a number from India or even an “Out of Area”…Hubby and me get nervous when we take the call.  Holding our hearts in our mouth, we wait to hear a happy sound come from the other end of the phone. Our parents, live alone in India. Its such a difficult situation that we have no way to resolve. They are staying where they are, by choice. They don’t feel at home living with us, in another country, away from their place of birth and comfort. They are happy to be in their own neighborhood, even if it means staying away from family across oceans.  I’m sure, they wish to be with their children and grandchildren but, we first generation immigrants have no choice but to endure this truth of our lives.

Our parents had wished us to have a good life and a successful career. They had seen great prospect in their children’s life when they had sent us here to achieve bigger goals, to reach higher. We had done our part of achieving and had settled down in our careers as we created our family here. But, in that time..even they had grown older..to the point that its not feasible for them to take care of themselves now. Completely engrossed in our careers and working hard to make our family’s function, we live with this discomforting, nagging feeling in our hearts..reminding us that our parents are alone back home.

It is during this time that they need our company and support more than any time of their lives. Most times..with no family around, and their bodies not as strong as it used to be even a few years ago..life, I know, is difficult for them. The only silver lining for Hubby and Me, is that they have close relatives who live around them, who we could turn to, in case they would need emergency care.

In the community we live, most of us neighbors are in the stage of life..where, every now and then..we find somebody mourning the lose of a parent or, have to make emergency trips to India, to be at the side of an ailing parent. Such moments, as difficult as they are…need immediate decisions to be made. When a parent gets ill, or, has been so for sometime, and the condition takes a turn for the worse..its not like we have the luxury to take off from work and family, for long periods of time to be there for our parents, for their support, to be with them, in this last stage of their life.

Even the rest of the family suffers. The kids miss the parent as he/she has to decide to leave home to be there for their parents.  When I had made the decision to go to India, I was a working mom with triplet toddlers.  I knew that my father health was in a bad state. That he wouldn’t be able to survive his condition further. But, I didn’t know for how long. Each passing day, that I didn’t leave could become a reason that I don’t get to see him or talk to him forever.

Just to even tell him that I loved him so much..maybe just for one last time. To let him know, how proud I was of being his daughter..that, he’d been such a great father, such a motivation for me..in everything I did.  I am sure he had felt very much to meet me too.  He had been sick for some time and his condition had only gotten worse everyday. 

At the time,  luckily, my brother got the benefit, to temporarily change his work center to Hyd, where my parents lived. Still, he had his wife and kids, living in another city, who could not move temporarily because of all the things that tie us to a place, the home, the schools the kids attend, the timing and lot more situations that make themselves known, only when faced with it.

I know, it had been a very tough time for him and his family and my parents too.  He, torn between being absent from his home and also, be there for my parents. For my parents, scared of his absence during the weekends, when he left to be with his family in Bengaluru. 

By the time I made up my mind and left to India, to meet him…he had already passed away the night before I reached my home. I never got to even hold his hand and give him the comfort of my presence. He had known, that I was coming.  When I saw him,  I saw him lying in a freezer, the very thing he had detested..that cold feeling. He had hated it.  He had hated feeling cold.   But, it was a decision that was made so that all his kids could be with him to take him on his final voyage.

From my mom’s accounts, it had been the most painful day of their lives. It had been a weekend, my brother had left to be with his family and my father’s condition took a turn for the worse…my father writhing in pain from his condition and my mom helpless, unable to provide him any relief and not having anybody to turn to for help.  When his condition got worse, as he groaned in pain..she called the hospital for help. It was the dead of night. I had still taken them 2 hours to reach the hospital.

By morning, he had passed away. The hospital, so callous and reckless, didn’t even consider it necessary to inform my waiting mom that he was no more.  This is how much empathy one can expect from the people working in a hospital in India. They see all this pain and suffering, so much everyday that they have become immune to such feelings, I think. The hospitals are always so full, there is no time for anybody to work on the empathy part, to encourage or demand their employees to show some basic respect to the patients family. They had not even cared to close his eyes…when my mom walked inside the room, to check what’s happening to him..since nobody was interested in answering to her about his condition.

As I read in a leading daily today….that if an adult kid is around 40 and/or the parent around 70, then it was time to start the Mom, Dad talk.  The talk that most parents hate to hear and we kids feel so awkward to suggest, to  take residence in an old age home.  This is the way of life here in the USA, where we now reside. Mostly children are packed off once they reach college to fend for themselves and in turn, when children have grown up to have their own jobs, become married and have their own families, the parents never consider living with their kids..They would surely visit them on family gatherings, if they are mobile enough.

Coming from an Indian culture, this way of life is not the way we are used to. Its always had been the practice that the parents were part of their son’s family and continue to stay with them till they depart from this world. Some homes even follow the custom of passing every big decision by their parents for their consent.  So, in India, old age homes are not as prevalent as in this country. Even, during the recent times..when so many people are coming to the USA, or moving to other places within the country,  in the hope of seeing their career’s flourish.  They are leaving behind,  a big population of old helpless parents, to fend for themselves without a support system that would take care of their old parents.  Even provide them with the facility of providing maids to clean their homes, cook their meals, and medical and nursing facility, if they need help.

As I thought about my Hubby’s parents and my Mom, I was shocked, as well as pleased, to hear the triplets mention their concern for their grandparents. How much they missed being with them and having them around. How much they worried for their grandparents safety and health. 

This talk then, led me to recount my escapades with my grandma.  That she was blind and used to feel me from top to bottom with her hands touching me at odd spots sometimes,…even to the point of putting her fingers into my nostrils and my mouth and ears etc…to know how big my ears were, or, how wide my nostril had become, or, how many more teeth I have grown and how I was changing physically, as I grew up.

My triplets, had loved to hear about her.  They had wanted to know more about her and wanted me to continue talking about her. Then they asked to see her picture, if I had any. I luckily found the only picture I had of my grandma…and as soon as I found it..P took it away. Today, She took it with her, to school to proudly showed off her blind great grandma to her friends at school.


my grandma_0001

There she is in the center, flanked by her grandkids and daughter in laws. Never let us kids even feel bad for her condition.  She was so natural and content in spite of her condition. Posed for pictures very proudly.

The first thing my kids said when they saw this pic was,

“What’s with that funny hair mama?”

I let them know, that I didn’t have the luxury to own lengthy hair..until we were big enough to maintain it well. A rule, I’m so lenient with them…A privilege I so willingly give them.


Lulis said...

Dear Gayatri.
I saw our post on immigrant archive project, and clicked the link. I feel for you. My parents were much closer than yours, but the same issues existed. We were traveling back and forth to Mexico to care for one or the other of my parents. In 2005 my father passed away. Luckily, all of us had managed to return to his bedside before he passed. But then we had to wonder what to do with my mother. Luckily, she agreed to come to the USA to be closer to us. We bought her a small home, 2 miles away where she lives independently (despite being 88 years old).
God bless. I understand and know it is not an easy life! OH! By the way, my daughter (26) married a young man from India! :-)

Gayatri said...

Hi Lulis, You are lucky that your mom agreed to move closer to you. Its so relieving to have them around so, you can attend to them, if needed.
Our parents are very stubborn in that respect. Couple of reasons could be the harsh weather conditions of the north east, does very little to convince older people living in tropical climate to move here. Then, there is the problem of independence and boredom, since they don't drive.

Nice to know that your daughter is married to an Indian. How do you adjust with this with the difference in culture? Even though my hubby and me are both Indians but, belong to different sects..we still have so much to complain to each other about each other's difference! :-) :-)

Rachna said...

The fear is not there only for you. We, living in India, also worry about our parents' health because they are physically not there with us. But, we have to trust their decision to stay independent and do things they enjoy in the place they enjoy to live in on their own with the knowledge that they can always turn to us for help in case they feel that their health is failing. I lost my mum when she was just 52. Even though, I reached before she passed away, I have a lingering regret that I could not spend the last few days with her, so regrets will always be there no matter what. I just make sure that the kids and we get to spend a lot of time with our parents. And, even if not physically they stay involved in our affairs through phone calls.

About the last part of long hair for girls. I feel it is really more prudent for young children to have shorter hair, which are easily maintained than to have long hair, which look unkempt.

Gayatri said...

Rachna, You missed the point. Its the speed with which you can reach them that matters bigtime. I never meant to insinuate that people living closer don't worry for their parents health, if you read the essay again you will notice it.

Your dad and my mom are quite mobile and active, at the age they are now .. but, Pavan's parents are both very old and not in the same boat. Another thing, is our parents need for visa's to meet us and their resistance to make this easier adds to the problem.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm happy you got to spend some time with her.

Sure..about shorter hair. I noticed the change in your hair cut TOO!! But,I belonged to the "LIFEBOUY" generation. The hair would surely look unkempt if treated like that.
Now, with the great conditioners and shampoos available, kids do keep good hair and by long hair, I meant atleast, shoulder length.

Ramaa said...

Very touching post Gayathri.I too lost my mom when she was 51 yrs old and to this day I feel the nagging guilt inside me that I could not do more for her.It is due to the very same sentiment, we have decided to return to India. Atleast to give it a try when our living parents are still in a reasonably good health. It will give both our kids an opportunity to know them and to cherish their company while they are still active and healthy.

Rachna said...

I do understand what you say. I was merely trying to say that the worries and regrets always stay with you, one way or another. My grandmother passed away after a massive heart attack at home alone with a servant. My grandfather and my uncle both of whom stayed with her were away at court during the day(they were lawyers). Before they could rush back, she was gone.

For kids, I didn't mean shampoos and conditioners, I meant about the care involved in brushing and general maintenance for which they have to rely on elders who if they do not do it promptly leave the kids looking very untidy and unkempt. I was merely commenting about younger kids not about how an adult wants to maintain her hair. Then, it is simply her choice because she can enforce her decision with her own actions.

Gayatri said...

Hi Ramaa...I remember, it was around the time you got married. All the best in your decision. I think your family must be overjoyed. Where in India will you be moving?

Ramaa said...

Moving to Coimbtore.

Bhagyashree said...

I had not been able to finish reading this post. Today finally did it. :)
Happens with me too. Whenever the phone rings at odd hours, I get a panic attack. But thenw hat is the guarantee that if we were in India we would be with our family. Sometimes I feel reaching our place is easier from here than anywhere in India.

Gayatri said...

Hi Bhagyashree, Nice that it works out better for you in ur situation. In our case, if we were in India, I'm sure Hubbys parents would have stayed with us...

On the contrary, my mom would still live by herself. RIght now, Its been 4 years that she has visited us :-(