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Retirement Homes: Boon or Bane

July 2, 2015

This post was originally composed last October.

Who wants to have her Mother-In-Law home today. I would like a break myself perhaps had I not lost my mother in an young age. May be that tempered me into hosting her – which I consider is a privilege. I am human, at times I long for privacy and she does wear me out, but at the end of the day I guess this is one cherished treasure I could be leaving behind for my son… a precious something… I remind myself, my MIL is not my MIL but my husband’s mother. I was thinking whether we parents would be happy if our son might be sending us some greenbacks from wherever he will be working/living in future. Is that what parents seek? In modern world where mostly the elderly are either pensioners or somewhat financially sound, what shall they want from their children?

The first question anyone who comes home asks me is: YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW IS WITH YOU?!

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A friend’s widowed mother recently got for herself a condominium (retirement home) at a cost of 75 lacs bucks plus annual maintenance charges running into thousands of rupees per year very much to the chagrin and disappointment of her 2 married and well-settled daughters. Whats more, the lady who is a retired govt teacher, kept her family in the dark about her intentions. That really set me thinking.

My views on old age homes are coloured by what I saw in Malaysia. Malaysia was a real learning period in my life in many ways. Upto 60 years or so the chinese there worked hard. Bought themselves a home (as primary investment) and also a condo in highlands (hill-stations) (for a second loan/secondary investment) to settle down on retirement .

One such a posh retirement village comprising some 100 luxurious condos in Camaroon highlands or somewhere got swept under landslides common in these regions. So that is when I came to know what a lifestyle the retired enjoy in peace in the sunset of their lives, in better-off circles. Later I learned this is a universal phenomenon in ‘mature’ societies like we have in the first & second worlds.

Not every elderly settlement is expensive though. There is a range of retirement homes to suit your budget you can comfortably choose from. And you may opt to live in the heart of the city or pack your bags to quiet nests under mother earth’s shadow.

A mature society boasts of a happy contended senior citizen population

The retired folks happily make the condos their home. A lesson for aging parents in India: the retirees do not leave with their children the burden of guilt. Its a wise decision taken in one’s prime years that works fine with everyone The grandparents graciously leave the centerstage and enrich the evening of their lives in the company of peers playing shuttle, going for swimming and long walks, reading in libraries and attending concerts – in harmony with nature. There is 24 hour in-house doctor on call. No wonder Malaysian chinese live upto 100 years.

Many of our chinese friends were scrupulously saving for their second home – a condo. It also helps that Malaysian cost of living is cheaper than Indian and real estate in Malaysia is not as steep as in India either. Homes are affordable – and yes, even a week-end getaway or a luxury condo. Everyone is able to pay off their first housing loans/car loans by 35-36 years, eligible for an add-on or a second loan by their 40th year.

THE GENE FACTOR – FAMILY VALUES

Whereas we Indians are Indians anywhere & everywhere. Malaysian tamils, most of them, have no connection whatsoever with mainland India. Their ancestors migrated over 150-200 years back. Some do fly down to the south (mostly to Tamil Nadu) (or whichever part of India they are from – a small percentage this is, like Punjabis & Mallus for instance) but by and large they see India only in tv and pictures and books and media.

Yet its a surprise our temples and cuisines (although murdered beyond recognition) and traditions and some typically ‘Indian’ ways of life/culture are preserved until this generation in Malaysia.

First and foremost 0ne that was most striking to me about Malaysian Indian families was their joint-family set-up. Even the MIL-SIL issue was there (to my satisfaction hahaha)! Like in India, the joint families were beginning to give up as nuclear families were already happening, yet the joint family remained intact in many homes.

Next, Indians were in the habit of hoarding real estate properties – houses typically. Indians owned maximum houses in KL, Penang, etc because when others like Malays & Chinese stopped buying with their second wanting to enjoy life, our tamil/Indian bros and sisters went on acquiring their 3rd, 4th and 5th homes & even landed estates. Rentals added to Indian homes’ pooled income naturally! (Seeing us I am told even chinese/malays are now buying more homes!) (The same is true of my Indian American friends who continue buying a string of homes in the US). Looks like this property hoarding/acquisition spree & rentals/leasing is in Indian genes 🙂 Holiday or Investment: Investment ofcourse!! Why should I blame others, I am preaching onething but practising something else for sure!

Our Indian friends were cutting back on expenses and saving diligently just like we keep doing in India for our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc etc. We never enjoy our lives quite, do we – atleast compared to our western counterparts. Among Indians, north Indians even there seem to spend better than us south Indians. South Indians prefer the charpoy over 4 poster kingsize mattress anyday looks like 🙂

The idea of aged parents being sent to old age homes sounded preposterous (atleast until we were around) in the south east asian country (in Indian community).

But I truly liked the condos concept. Senior citizens in developed countries, unlike our Indian seniors, looked forward to spending their twilight years in peace in condominiums, away from the clutters of routine work/family life. With 24 hour security and doctor on duty, to me the condos seemed the ultimate you cannot miss out on. Sounded fun. Even the government fixed age of retirement in India is 58 years, stretched to 60 in the private sector.

Elderly couples opting for condo was such a cute thing. In 60s, mostly we have our children well-settled. They need us no more. May be we can extend our busy years until ’70 if we are lucky. And then what to do.

A retired life sans commitment…

The happy pictures of grannies & grandpas melted my heart. Because I know, we married people hardly have time to ourselves in our younger years. The kids come along, worklife gets demanding, socializing and partying and holidaying all have a fixed time schedule/limit whereas in retirement couples may find themselves truly relishing each other’s company having fulfilled their joint responsibilities together. It is like back-to-square-1 I thought.

Many of our friends in middle east have done the Bali, the New Zealand, the Kenya, the Eurorail and others. Without kids I mean. Somehow I could never bring myself to do that. May be in future I would in the safe knowledge that my son has better company to go see places with …

Most of my local friends share my sentiment. We have similar views on sending our children to dorms/hostel in UG etc. We are reluctant to let go of our children easily …

Now that all of us girls are in the same boat, we find that our grown-up children are adults who we no longer have to wait on. Neither do our kids need us anymore except for moral/economic support. Our young and eager fledglings are flexing their wings waiting to fly out of the nests someday. To those of us with a single kid, this is like a weight placed upon our hearts. Coming to terms with reality is difficult.

Attachment & Detachment

They say in Thamizh: Petha Manam Pithu, Pillai Manam Kallu.

Better we maintain the distance with our kids right from the start keeping in mind, they are not ours forever. Just like we stopped belonging to our parents long back (and in my case from too very long back). Those of my friends with a second kid are relieved they will have a few more ‘years’ to look forward to.

I know we Indian parents are a lot more sentimental than those from other parts of the world and our emotion is our children’s greatest spoiler. One of my friends is too very attached to her only son/child studying to become a professional and it really makes me think of cautioning her. Too much of attachment, somehow I feel, is not good. Either for the boy or for the mother. All hell may break lose in the heavens with a most trivial thing like the arrival of a daughter-in-law in the scene. I have known or rather learned to keep minimum attachments with those I love most because otherwise it hurts too much.

I liked the way of life in Malaysia/other developed nations where elders gave space to the younger  generation. Personally I wouldn’t want to suffocate anyone with too much of emotion. The affection is there in the heart and it will stay for this lifetime and beyond… I do cry at the drop of a hat but when it comes to my family, I try to steel myself and be prepared.

One of my friends who became a citizen of the USA took her in-laws to live with her. Her FIL passed away quietly in a nursing home in a distant state from her place after remaining a vegetable for over 2 years. Electric cremation to the 80 year old man without a sound who lived most of his life in India. I wonder about the purpose. The imposition on children, the anonymity of dying in a cold place hooked to the machines, everything.

Why not a home for the aged in India. There are many now. In last 20 years, Chennai, Coimbatore, Tanjore everywhere even within Tamil Nad we have excellent care centers and/or retirement homes for seniors. Why couldn’t my friend’s in-laws choose to live in one of them.

On one hand I agree, my friend’s husband was firm about wanting his parents to live with him in their old age. He felt it was his responsibility as a son to take care of his parents till they breathed last which is great. Yet as working professionals, the couple could not attend to the sick old man when his health deteriorated  so he finally had to be admitted to a nursing home for professional care and medical attention.

My friend carries a bit of guilt burden about this when there is indeed nothing bad to feel about. The couple did their duties to the fullest. But I think this thing about our parents stays stubborn in our conscience. Despite all that they could do to the old father, the husband-wife pair blame themselves for having had to send away their papa to the care center. Through this period, my friend had to put up with her sulking angry and unreasonable mother-in-law.

In India, yes, we always have 2 extremes or perhaps more.

Where relationships bondage you…

I have always felt that developed societies treated this retirement/nursing home issue with a refinement that comes with better education and emotional maturity. Relationships are not bondages in their circles. Rather they are relaxed and enjoyable without constricting anyone.

Or may be we Indian parents expect too much from our children because we give our children our lives like none other. Ours is one supreme sacrifice. From the moment a child is born he/she becomes the epicenter of the parents world.  There is no such a thing as twosome in Indian families. Its always 3some or 4some (in case of 2 kids) (rare to see over 2 kids in India except in muslim families where 3 is minimum). Where is the privacy between husband and wife. Children become our life. Children become our obsession. And then finally no wonder it gets all the more difficult for us to share our kids with their life partners. Parents start to look like the villains over a stage. Why cannot Indian parents ever learn to quit the scene quietly. I am also a parent – I am willing to give but expect to receive nothing in return. Where there is no expectation, how can there be any disappointment.

Interestingly I learned this lesson from my own MIL. At 77, she is a grand mother and mother of 5 successful kids. All her male children are working professionals good in their fields and the only daughter is married to a professional as well. All her grand kids are budding professionals as well and show promise of a great future. Yet I see her simplicity and broad mindedness in not taking anything for granted. And something much more none of us can resist: not taking credit for her children’s success. You have to be real generous to do that. Born with silver spoon, she travels by auto (rickshaw) just like me without a murmur, never claims any personal victory and has never boasted to any of us how successful she is in her life. Her sons and daughter have come to respect her and love her not fear her. Sometimes I think this is a reason even for her good health (touchwood).

Not getting too very involved in the children’s life is something only level-headed Indian parents can manage I guess. My MIL has such a maturity – to live with us in a joint family yet retain individuality without trampling on our privacy and independence at the same time. I really appreciate that and wish I could emulate her example in future. Any may be this is why I am having her with me.

Irony is, it is those who do not want their in-laws/parents with them today are the ones who cannot let go off their kids ever. Those who live in joint families on the other hand are mentally better prepared. In my observation.

PRIVACY, What? Excuse me, we are Indians!

But even with my MIL I remember when my FIL was around, they hardly spent any time together. Their lives went around their grandchildren in the second innings of their lives. When my FIL was there, I have asked them why they could not go on all-India tour or pilgrimage or just on a simple holiday as a couple. Not even beach or kutchery (music concerts)? But to my amazement, they lacked that kind of interest to step out anywhere as an elderly pair who had accomplished their domestic responsibilities to satisfaction. It always made me wonder whether aged couple wanting a moment of privacy is indecent or selfish or whatever. Is it unnatural?

Today when I see my MIL watching alone the tv soaps, I urge her to go to temples/kutcheries again but she is very disinterested. She gives me space but still is the queen bee of the family. While I respect it I also have this to say: the COMPLETE detachment I saw in Malaysian elderly is absent in not only my MIL but in all septuagenarians or octogenarians of India. Despite the space they allow us that is. Wanting to stay in-charge, never to be side-lined is a privilege that no Indian Mother-in-law seems to relinquish willingly. Or may be I am hoping for too much!

It is good for us in a way. We want her in a condo neither. We like her with us. But my MIL is lucky to have 4 sons/families staying in the city. (Its never the daughter’s responsibility believe me). How many of us could prove to be fortunate like her?

Old-age home is not a bad or cruel idea at all. For some its a dire necessity like for those whose kids are NRIs. For the destitute, there are homes supported by charity. One such is ‘Vishranthi’ – first of its kind to be founded in Chennai.

There are 2 sides to any coin: abusive in-laws/parents versus cruel daughters-in-law/sons-daughters. This underlying fact could be the governing principle when it comes to many choosing between joint and nuclear families.

What is an Old Age Home like? Atleast one run on charity?

A good friend of mine put in a strange request to me last week.   She lives in a neighbouring state.  Hers is a ‘rags to riches’ story.  She has this habit of calling her high school teacher every Teachers’ Day, i.e., on September 5th.  (My friend joined our school for the higher secondary course after completing high school in a different institution).   Born in a very poor and large family, today she has achieved a remarkable and enviable status in her personal and professional life. Says she, the hope instilled in her by her teacher in high school days  is the reason for what she is today.

My friend had called her teacher as usual this Teachers’ Day but found that the phone line was cut.  The old fashioned teacher hardly used a cell phone or gave her numbers to others.  My distraught friend therefore called me in great anxiety wanting to know what happened to the old teacher who was in her ’80s and lived by herself.

I made some enquiries in her old dwelling place and learned that the senior teacher had moved to an old age home run by the school she served for over 30 years zealously.  She had been taken ill and therefore decided to take up the offer by the institution.

Blessed with well-to-do brothers & sisters and happy families, the lady had refused offer of shelter from everyone of her kith & kin to make her old school old age home for women her final residence. The school is unique in that it supports destitute women in a wing from a charity trust.

For my friend’s sake I stepped into the home for the aged for the first time in my life. It smelled of antiseptic right from the reception giving me a sick feeling. I met the grand old teacher in a first floor compact suite with a small built-in kitchenette she hardly used. Bathrooms were shared or attached in bigger rooms. A small tv plugged into the wall was running noiseless pictures.

The lady told me she felt comfortable in the home that she had been living in for over 6 months. She opted for common kitchen food served in the dining. Or sometimes she ordered food to her room. Almost all residents were 75 plus she said and a majority were retired teachers like her without family support.  Some among them were infirm. The teacher herself had been a child bride in those days widowed in her teens without issue. She got her education on her widowhood and was allowed to work as a teacher by her family. She taught high school kids.

Talking to her for over 1 hour I was disarmed by her sense of peace and acceptance of her last days (she is fine now). She said she wanted to pass away in her school grounds – in familiar surroundings – that gave a meaning to her otherwise barren life. Her relatives came to see her on fortnightly visits.

She ate sparsely, she spent her time reading scriptures rather than watching tv but said her eyes were beginning to get weak. I told her about my mom and my aunt and the connection was instantaneous. Here was one woman who had also devoted her life to teaching.

I had gotten her some wholewheat crackers that she accepted. I called my friend from her room and both had a hearty talk. My friend was delighted and grateful that I tracked down her ageing miss. For me it was an utmost satisfying day. The visit to the old age home, the meeting with a senior citizen- a retired teacher who devoted her life to selfless service, seemed to subdue me with a kind of strange emotions. I felt I was at rare peace with myself. At that moment I knew I did good having my MIL. Today my deep anxiety is about what shall happen to her if I have to move with my husband in his workplace?

Finally saying good bye and walking through the school grounds, I looked back at the home for the aged, tucked behind the trees, almost invisible from the rest of the buildings. There wasn’t a clue there were about 2 dozen aged and sick awaiting their turn in those gray blocks. Some got visitors but not all.

Retirement/Old Age Home –  A conscious choice?

I never thought visiting an aged home would depress me that much. It did. I wondered whether all my previous ‘learned’ thinking on retirement homes/condos was like a mirage – unrealistic. Cold. Heartless. Could a home for the aged be so much lonely, miserable and bleak. But I got the distinct feeling with the teacher’s although she never admitted to me she found it depressing.

Or may be it is a figment of my imagination. One more reason I thought could be that, the home was managed by a charitable trust with limited funds. May be the wealthier ones like my friend’s mother got herself were better?

They were for a fact so far as I knew. Because once in OMR, the IT highway, we were looking for some real estate. We chanced upon a property that was already developed into a retirement home. It wasn’t quite the luxurious condo but adapted to Indian lifestyle conditions. There was a temple inside, bhajan halls, tennis court, walking tracks, gardens, dining halls and individual apartments & security and a medical clinic. Guess it was some 15 years back. Now the place is sold out and the brand name has earned a high respect among senior citizens.

I thought the cluster of retirement homes was far better than the gated-community/enclave. In old age, the homes gave privacy not seclusion to its occupants. Safety and medical help were at arm’s reach.

Now I come to learn there are over a dozen in and around the city serving the grand old at various budgets. You may choose the facilities and opt for one as per your finance status.

Age with Dignity

One gracious deed of the MMS/Congress govt was facilitating REVERSE MORTGAGE for senior citizens of the nation that helps preserve their sense of independence.

http://profit.ndtv.com/news/your-money/article-how-senior-citizens-can-benefit-from-reverse-mortgage-373027

This is a good reason for the elderly not to nurture misgivings about imposing on their ‘reluctant’ children and/or for their adult-children in the event of weighing supporting their ageing parents (under trying financial conditions). I wonder what makes some of us think we are doing our parents/in-laws any favour. Rather are we not duty-bound the way they were when they raised us. The retirees can make a choice as to how to live the rest of their days in dignity. The fate of economically unsound/dependent retired lot is awfully miserable to imagine.

Despite my reasoning & logic, I would still like to dispense my responsibilities to the elderly within the comforts of our own home (thankless as they could be) – which alone can save me from a terrible guilty conscience.  May be its a personal decision for each & every one of us. I discovered I did not care whether the ageing Indian parents preferred spending rest of their lives in condos or not. Unless the circumstances are compelling, I hope no senior citizen in this country feels neglected or ignored and thereby needs to exercise the option – even if that could amount to taking our elderly for granted. Retirement/Old Age home is conceptually good, undeniable. Still let us allow our grandchildren the luxury of basking in grandparental love & spoiling pampering which is something we can never hope to substitute with.

Finally son(s), a mother is not after your cheque. A mother wants to see your face first.

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