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Every one of us has heard of old age homes abroad, but none of us anticipated the day we would get to see them in Pakistan. It was something that we thought would never penetrate our society. Our cultural values and ethics were too strong to let this practice sink its claws in. But our ideology went up in flames when the trend of elder people going to old age homes increased in Pakistan.
More and more children started to admit their old parents into old homes. Why did the same parents who had worked all their lives to give us a better life become such a burden that we made them leave their own homes? Were they creating any hurdles in our successful lives? Were they too much of a hassle for us with their hypertension, arthritis and dementia?
When asked, we hide behind the argument that their schedules are so busy that they can’t take proper care of our parents. Some of us even have the audacity to say that we don’t earn enough to pay for our parents’ health care, or that our parents interfere with our daily and marital lives, due to which we have no choice but to transfer them to old homes.
These institutes provide them with a chance to find meaning in life through creative activities and companionship again.
What I fail to understand is, from where do we get the guts to kick out our own parents? These are the same parents who sacrifice everything to provide us with everything we could ever want before we want it; basic necessities, luxuries, an education! But when they need us the most, we abandon them. If this isn’t cruelty at its peak, I don’t know what is.
I have seen many old people being mistreated in their own homes. They are not given proper food, health and companionship. Neglected and sometimes persecuted by their own family within four walls could be exhausting and traumatizing for the fragile souls. Some of them have even graver fates. Being vulnerable and pitiable, they become ideal beggars.
But old people, regardless of knowledge being their strength or weakness, possess true wisdom based on both the pleasant and harsh times they have faced during their lives.
Owing to their experiences, they are beacons of knowledge for the future generations. But with the erosion of our social structure every day, the elderly are being neglected in many ways, the evidence of which lies in the increasing numbers at old age homes across the country.
“The importance of the elderly has not gone down, nor will it ever …but there have been cases where people have brought in their parents to be admitted at the centre,” says Abdur Razzaq, the manager of an old age home.
If we don’t have the time to look after our parents, then we can hire a nurse rather than relegating them to old age homes for what years they have left. We need to understand that an old age home is not a home. Our parents dedicate all their lives to build a house for themselves and then when they have the luxury to stay home and finally relax, we kick them out. That is just wrong, and heartbreaking, and sick, on every level.
Elders have a special affiliation and connection with their homes. It’s their life’s work. Other than us, of course. They’re like small children and everyone knows what happens when you snatch a child’s favorite toy. For our parents, ‘home’ is that special toy which they just can’t let go.
Where did this practice come from? Is it prevailing due to the influence of western culture and media? We Pakistanis are so influenced and awed by the western culture and traditions that we have embraced every single aspect of it, irrespective of its morality. It is natural to adopt some things when exposed to new cultures, but not to the extent that we forget our own beliefs, our singular identity.
Media has brainwashed us to the degree that we overlook our faith, our principles, entirely. In the west, admitting one’s parents to an old home is a common practice. When they feel that their parents are becoming a burden, they shift them to an old age home. Just because they don’t think it’s an aberration doesn’t mean we start disregarding our morals and ignoring our duties as well. It wasn’t too long ago that Pakistan had a strong joint family system, but due to excessive media exposure it is rapidly weakening.
Sending one’s parent to an old home is against the very basics of our social norms and family values. In Pakistan’s culture, family bonds and elderly figures carry a lot of importance. Regardless of our family structure, we should be aware of the importance of parents and other elders.
Throughout our upbringing, we are taught to respect our elders and treat them with care, so where does all that teaching go when we become an adult ourselves? Why are we all so convinced that we can’t take care of our own parents? It at least warrants a try. Taking care of our parents was an mom-challengeable and indisputable norm of our society. It was considered an honor and a blessing but after so called “modernization”, we see them as a burden. Bluntly put, they crimp our style.
I vividly remember a conversation I had with an American citizen about a year ago. He wanted to know more about our culture and traditions, and I told him about how my grandparents lived with us. He became very interested in how that worked out.
At the end, he divulged how he paid for all his daughter’s expenses on the sole condition of weekly phone calls to her mom, and even that she didn’t abide by. If only you could see the utter sadness and sorrow in his eyes. Little did I know that very soon my countrymen would be traveling down the same path.
Just try to look at this from an old person’s perspective. When old people are sent to such homes they feel as if they are worthless and have been discarded. Even the nursing homes we have are in terrible condition; no proper health facilities are provided. The elderly feel isolated and lonely at times, which usually results in depression. Is this fair to them? All their lives they work tirelessly, and when they finally retire, they have to face more adversity.
If we are so far gone that our parents’ suffering doesn’t affect us, we should think about our future generations, our own children. Do we really expect them to take care of us or even respect us? They learn from us and our actions. And what we’re teaching them is, when they grow up, they should treat us the exact same way they saw us treating our own parents. So if nothing else prevails upon our conscience, we should love and cherish our parents for our own sake.
Because of the following reasons, elderly people take the painful decision to move to these homes.
- Sometimes grown-ups fail to realize their duty and are so much engrossed in their personal lives that they feel it a burden to keep the parents with them. They feel it as an interference in their personal lives and eventually tell their parents that they cannot keep them.
- The ego clash between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law causes too much stress in the house and the situation comes at such the worst that they cannot live together.
- New generation is becoming more materialistic and their attitude towards parents is changing. They seem to have lost their patience
- Many people experience loneliness and depression due to stay in old age homes as a result of living alone or due to lack of close family ties and reduced connections with their culture of origin, which results in an inability to actively participate in the community activities.
- Stay in old age home may lead to serious health-related consequences. It is one of the 3 main factors leading to depression and an important cause of suicide and suicide attempts. Loneliness was related to poor psychological adjustment, dissatisfaction with family and social relationships.
- The presence of perceived loneliness in old age home contributed strongly to the effect of depression on mortality. Thus, in the oldest old, depression is associated with mortality only when feelings of loneliness are present. Depression is a problem that often accompanies loneliness. In many cases, depressive symptoms such as withdrawal, anxiety, lack of motivation and sadness mimic and mask the symptoms of loneliness
It’s not an easy decision for the parents. But, they have to move to these houses when they can no longer tolerate the insult or they are told by their stone-hearted children to leave the house. Old age home is their last resort or where else would they go? People must realize their responsibility towards the parents who need physical and emotional support in the late years of their life.
In a country like Pakistan where old people are given a lot of respect there should be no need of old age homes because their children should take care of them. If more old age homes would be there, their children will leave them there.
Pakistan will lose its traditions by this step. It is our primary duty to look after parents till the end of their life. They have done lot for us. What we are today is only because of them. They have sacrificed many things in their life for our sake.
We can say they are responsible for our physical existence without which we would not have survived on this earth. As such we must not encourage setting up of more and more Old Age Homes.
We shall think of looking after them and also educate others also to follow this in their families. They are the greatest asset to us; they are the light of our life. Let parents live long with lots of happiness. This is equal to worshiping God.