Children grow up, parents grow older. Five adult sons shared their challenging stories as guardians of their elderly and sick parents
Ahmed Ullah (alias), an 82-year-old man, went missing from Rampura. His desperate son posted photos on Facebook. The news spread in the groups, inboxes, and timelines of his friends and well-wishers. Next morning, a Facebook user found the man sitting at a tea stall near Khilgaon Sporting Club.
The son, Rahmat Ullah (alias), who is a 35-year-old reporter, recalled, "My father has long suffered from dementia and diabetes. As a result, an attendant is always with him on regular outings. On August 2 this year, however, he went out alone to pray. Later he forgot his way back home, and couldn't remember his name either."
At 66, after her husband passed away, Rehana Khan (alias) started living alone to enjoy life on her own terms.
Her three sons checked up on her every day, provided her with nutritious groceries, took her to the doctor, and spent a good amount of time keeping their mother healthy and happy.
But everything fell apart when Rehana had a stroke. Doctors found her kidneys to be damaged and her heart with a few blocks. When she was discharged from the hospital, her youngest son brought her to his home. Within the next three months, Rehana was hospitalized six times.
"My mother lost her memory and became a stubborn child. She sometimes wanted to dislodge her feeding tube and hated taking medication," said her youngest son, Imtiaz Khan (alias), 50, a media personality.
"Those scenes made me nervous. I remember screaming at her a few times for being obstinate to eat," sighed Imtiaz, who lost his mother after a battle in 2014.
Many, like Rahman and Imtiaz, have similar stories about their elderly parents.
"Our demographic estimates show that 7.5 per cent of people are above the age of 60, which was 4.4 percent in 1951," informed Aminul Haque, professor of Population Sciences department of Dhaka University.
Elderly people, when they cross 60, need special support and attention. Family members usually come forward in our society. Adult offspring happily assume new roles as the guardians of their parents.
A new role and a newer reality
"In our country, we do not care about age related diseases and disorders, unless they show signs that they have taken a step in the last stage of life," said Amimul Ehsan, the Deputy General Manager of Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, also known as CRP.
Adult offsprings witness the last phase of elderly parents who have endured the hurdles of their upbringing. It is hard to cope with this new reality. Countless of them struggle to solve what their elderly parents might need and how they can help.
For a graphic designer Hasanul Alam (alias), 47, the struggle still exists. His world was shattered in 2017 when his 78-year-old mother suffered a stroke and was partially paralysed. According to the doctors, there was little hope for his mother's full recovery.
"She couldn't walk or eat. Imagine, the woman who loved to talk for hours cannot say a word. Her catheter often caused internal infection, and diapers did not help," Hasanul sobbed.
"Well, I remember the phase, my life was limited to going to the office and coming back home. Even at work, the pale face of my mother hunted me," added Hasanul.
Imtiaz Khan also referred to a similar phase in his mother's illness.
"Clearly, her illness has affected the entire family. I was so stressed that I could not sleep at night. The emergency number was always on my speed dial," said Imtiaz.
Money and moral dilemma
Apart from the psychological turmoil, the family also suffers from extra financial burdens. Ailing patients often need long-term geriatric care even after coming home from the hospital.
"Many families cannot afford the expenses of geriatric care even if they want to. The government must be accounted for taking responsibility here," said economist Bazlul Huque Khondaker.
Rahmat said, addressing his reality, "It's true that I am taking care of the person I was born from, but finances is a big concern for me. I am ready to do everything but how can I ignore my economic constraints?"
Imtiaz said, "I somehow made ends meet when it was about the expenses. I was more worried about my mother's wellbeing than spending my time to worry about the cost of medicine, nursing and equipment. I arranged for everything to ease her suffering."
Another son of an ailing mother, Hasanul appointed a full-time nurse to take care of his mother but was dissatisfied with the experience. "Trained nurses cannot support her emotionally. The caregiver is cautious only with the patient's physical condition."
Rumi Akhter, a physiotherapy consultant of CRP, echoed the same sentiment, "Elderly patients are prone to suffer from extreme loneliness. I have seen cases where family members cannot invest enough time to save their ailing relatives."
Adnan Mahmud (alias), 37, an NGO employee, revealed a moral dilemma.
Two years ago, he had a great honeymoon plan but his father had a stroke before the wedding. The accident shattered all his plans. He had to bring his ailing and lonely father, who was living in another town, to his apartment in Dhaka. Adnan now struggles juggling roles between a breadwinner, a husband, and a responsible child.
While seeking for a caregiver, Adnan found that a professional male nurse provided from an agency to be beyond his budget. But to meet demands, he ended up assigning an untrained teenager to his father.
"I hired Karim, an 18-year-old boy, to stay with my wheel chair bound father day and night. Later, I found he was depressed because of his monotonous job. Karim left. I felt helpless, but I also felt it was good for him."
"Another boy, who was much younger, is now attending to my father 24/7, but I am still hanging on to the dilemma of feelings of selfishness and helplessness," Adnan said.
Not all siblings are concerned about taking care of elderly parents.
Hasan realised, "We all have our own excuses, our own business, and our own jobs. And this is the reality check."
"Still, I see my sister, who is 57-year-old, as an extraordinary woman who, even with diabetes, hypertension and many other diseases, has never cared for an excuse when it comes to caring for our mother", Hasan added.
Towards the end, Imtiaz revealed, "My siblings could rarely ever come to look after our mother, and they had enough reasons. But if your sense of love comes from within, could you ignore the responsibility?"
Senior citizens deserve social recognition and governmental facilities for as reward for their contributions to the country.
Adnan, voicing his concerns, said, "I could not find a one-stop solution for my father. The geriatric treatment services are scattered, unreliable, expensive and sometimes unavailable too."
"The fastest growing section of the population in our country consists of people above 80 years of age, thanks to the development of medical sciences. Now, we need to establish a culture of empathy towards them," emphasised ASM Atiqur Rahman, Secretary General of Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine (BAAIGM).
While most people bail on their responsibilities, it is up to individuals to choose how willing they are to sacrifice a part of their wellbeing for their elderly parents.
Hold the hand of your elderly ailing parent tightly and whisper the same lullaby they once sang to comfort you. Let them know that you are willing to give them as much love and patience as they once gave you when you as a child slowly learned the ways of this world.