Meet Rashid, a 72-year-old man who contracted polio when he was only six months old. Growing up, kids with polio were stigmatised, and Rashid spent most of his childhood confined within the walls of his home.
Despite his physical challenges, Rashid persevered with optimism, offering valuable advice to other seniors whose self-image is threatened by the onset of impairment. “Hang in there,” he says, “Do not give up, and never feel sorry for yourself.”
Now, Rashid struggles with post-polio syndrome and has to rely on crutches and leg braces. “I am getting ready for my motorized scooter,” he says with a smile, before quickly turning serious.
“The thing is to accept whatever is happening to you, not deny it,” he says, reflecting on adjusting attitudes about aging. “You cannot keep things as they are. You have to go through a necessary reassessment of what is possible. The thing is to do it with graciousness, not bitterness, and to learn how to ask for help, acknowledging the reality of interdependence.”
Rashid’s story highlights the struggles of physically challenged senior citizens. “I live in Srinagar because my youngest son is working here,” he says.
“I used to be a farmer with a house and land in a village; I spent more than 70 years there. I brought up five children, gave them education, and got them settled after marriage. My two daughters moved to their husbands’ homes, and my sons also married and moved to different cities for work. Now, there is no one to take care of my farm.”
Rashid’s life took a tragic turn three years ago when his wife passed away, and he was left handicapped for life after a serious accident. He called his three sons and divided his property among them, but he confesses that due to his inclination towards his youngest son, he gave him the biggest share, which earned him the annoyance of his other children. Rashid finds it difficult to adjust due to his handicap and has not been able to visit his community in Kupwara for the last seven years. He misses it very much and feels homeless, with one thought constantly haunting him: “If I die, will I be laid to rest in my ancestral graveyard where my parents stand buried?”
Rashid’s youngest son and his wife both work and he spends most of his time alone, feeling caged. He requested his son several times to take him to Kupwara, but his pleas were ignored, and he was physically assaulted on trivial issues. His son has caged him in one room and severed all social connections.
Rashid’s wheelchair needed minor repairs, but he had been asking his son for the last six months to get it fixed, to no avail. His son is stressing him to sell the remaining piece of his 5 marla ancestral land, which Rashid had committed to donate for the expansion of the local mosque and graveyard.
In the city, it is difficult to survive, and Rashid does not have friends to share his feelings with. He misses the respect he received from people in his village.
From Rashid’s story, we can derive three important lessons. Firstly, in old age, we must consider all dimensions when migrating. Secondly, while distributing property among our children, we should maintain fairness and impartiality. Lastly, we should keep something saved as old age security.
Let us share with you a heartwarming case study, as told by a caregiver-daughter. “My mother-in-law was my closest confidante until almost a decade ago when she began to slip away. After many doctor visits, we learned that she had Alzheimer’s. I was devastated. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her to this disease, of her forgetting who I was. But I knew that all I could do was love her and be there for her in every way possible. I show her my affection through each meal, bath time, change of clothes, every walk we take, and every hug, smile, and kiss. It’s my chance to repay the love and care she’s given me all these years. As Alzheimer’s progressed, some friends and relatives couldn’t handle it and chose to step away. But true friends and family members stepped up to help with caregiving. Balancing my roles as a caregiver-daughter and a mother has not been easy, but with God’s help, I’m managing. I do get tired, but I never complain, and I keep smiling. My mother-in-law may not remember me, but I’ll never forget her, and she’ll always be my best friend.”
Dr Zubair Saleem is a Senior Geriatric Consultant and Gerontologist and Dr Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK