When my friend and guide, Yogini shared her thoughts on the passing away of her mother last year, I was amazed at the insights she put together into old age, relationships, death and dying. I knew that I needed to host her experience on this blog. I continued to pester her till she finally sent me this - a poignant tribute to her mother and the lessons learned from spending the final days of life together. Over to Yogini.
My mother lived part of her life in Africa and part in India. She was married at age 16 and the only thing her people exclaimed to her father was ‘where did you give your daughter in marriage!'
Hearing this, my mother determined that she would never let her father’s name down. Her married life started from being this princess in her house to doing every household work including fieldwork, milking buffaloes and making food for 40 people and taking care of in-laws with a terrifying father- in-law, garden work, and fetching water from the wells that were far off. She did all this with an aim to please everyone.
The mental agony of being treated like a child-bearing factory and to put up with a nasty tempered husband, not to mention the sarcasm and taunts of the other co-sisters who had three or four children while she had 13 of which 9 remained alive - it was not something that any of us today can either endure or want under any circumstances.
I do not remember my mother ever complaining about her life. I do not remember anyone mentioning that she shouted or screamed or cried and never heard anyone saying bad things about her. I was too young when all this happened and by the time, I was 18 she was already 54. While I write this, it occurs to me that even when I turned 22 I was unaware of my mother’s age. I lived with her at that time but was not present to my mother’s feelings, likes, or dislikes.
After that, I got married and visited her only during summer holidays with my kids. My father passed away at age 90 and she was 85. At that time, I saw my mother being scolded by my sister very harshly and that was the day I awakened to my mother’s presence. I cried because I could not tolerate her being scolded. This was my first understanding of my mother’s life. I asked her to come and stay with me.
I started chanting for my mother’s happiness five years ago and she heard me chanting every day. I feel she came to me so that I could pay my debt of gratitude and because her days of insecurity and unhappiness were over. Gohonzon heard my prayer when I cried and brought her to me and I could create good fortune for her. I realized Gohonzon’s protection in many ways.
· She never had to go to a hospital
· She fell down so many times in the first year that we were scared of her breaking bones but she remained intact until the end.
· She walked until her death time. She had immense strength in body and mind and it reminds me of what sensei says that sufferings are opportunities to polish your character and shine brighter than others. She was a perfect model of inner strength
· Her karmic retribution, whatever left, came in form of itches and swelling and such like only
· Her mind was alert until the end and she became the centre for our family that was living like four strangers under one roof
· I had help in form of Vanaja who has never done maid work before and she took total care of my mother.
· She had a regular supply of all the food that she wanted from Gujarat, and my bhabhi, who never got along with her, did this with promptness and regularity.
· Best of all was, all relatives came and visited her here even though Hyderabad was an out of the way city for them. This really gave her immense satisfaction of being cared for.
Her five years spent with me was my determination to make up for all the years that no one cared for her and the following are the insights that helped me serve her in the best possible ways.
· In old age she needed only a kind look, word and touch.
· In old age, the sensitivity to harsh words is great because they are no longer secure of themselves.
· They live with fearful thoughts, insecurity of being accepted in old age, being taken care of should the need arise. Sensitive to what people say and hint, being ridiculed or laughed at for their clumsiness, their inability to keep up with the changing times, unable to keep pace with the speed in which others live. Their embarrassment, their guilt.
· They hold many memories of times gone and would love to let people know of stories incidents, beliefs and learnings of life that can teach us a whole lot for our lives and also give us insight to the kind of nature our elders had and what strong personalities they actually were.
· It also directs us to understand how hard life was for them and how they succumbed to situation and people and gave up their dreams , their desires, their smallest of needs and sometimes it has been for us not others.
· They love the feeling of still being wanted and needed even though they may no longer be able to do much work for you. Like cooking or ironing or oiling your hair or putting your things away for you.
· They enjoy best when you let them know that they are still worth having around.
· Fear kills them faster than any health issues.
· One needs to understand what it means to let go of all that you controlled, to feel helpless in front of able people, to bear careless remarks of younger people.
· To cope with one’s own inability, to work with the slow down process, to be neglected by others even for very small needs, not to be allowed involvement, to be disrespected, to be spoken harshly.
· Frustration, anger towards them is not because of another, it is always because of one’s own impatience, intolerance and righteousness.
I would like to add at this point that every time I felt upset or frustrated, I would chant for long on that day to overcome this fundamental darkness and bring myself to a higher life condition. My steadfast faith is the only thing that kept me on the path. I would think of all the things in life that she gave to us and gratitude and compassion would fill my heart wishing to give her the same.
· Time for her is like creating time for any other work. If you cannot cope, it is because you either do not wish to do it or are focussed on your personal agenda.
· Without compassion one cannot take care of self - leave alone another.
· Speaking with respect brings dignity to their life
· They can fight until their last when they know that the person genuinely cares.
· Old age is not about stubbornness or intolerant behaviour. They too will reflect only that which is in your mind.
· You want them to change more for your convenience. Have you tried changing a single habit of your own in the forced manner that you wish upon them? It never works.
· Occupying your mind and hands and walking as much as possible will keep you going until the end.
· They are more fragile than a child is. Your hands need to be as gentle as your words. Speedily working on them or pushing them with your words overwhelms them and put them in a corner.
· Not objecting to anything they say or do which is not harmful gives them a say in the moment and feel heard and understood.
· Talking to them in a general way about your activities of the day, informing them and leaving the house or greeting them when you come in is a way of acknowledging their presence and letting them know that they count.
If I continue, I could probably write a book on all the insights I have had .but I would like to end with a quote from Sensei. "There is no one as strong as a person whose heart is always filled with gratitude. To feel one's gratitude sounds like a trivial thing but this is the mark of true maturity and growth as a human being."
Chanting - In this case, it refers to the practice of verbally voicing devotion to the mystic simultaneity of cause and effect as described in the Lotus Sutra preached by Shakyamuni Buddha.
Gohonzon - the object of fundamental respect and devotion in many forms of Buddhism.
Karmic retribution - the inevitable consequence of actions, contextually usually negative.
Fundamental darkness - The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions, the inability to see or recognize the true Buddha nature of one's existence.
Sensei - In this case, Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist thinker and peace activist, leader of the largest organization of lay Buddhists in the world.