Caregiving indeed requires a high degree of emotional intelligence I feel, to balance all that goes into taking care of another human being.

The term caregiving came to my knowledge only once I moved to Canada (it’s quite non-existent in India, as it’s a given that we take care of other family members or aging parents, while living together). I would like to write about the humanness in caregiving and how it made me see more meaning in life. To summarize, I learnt 5 valuable lessons, not really being a caregiver but just by seeing my mom as a caregiver to my grandmother for 4 years, in a hearbeat!

To all the caregivers out there, total respect for you, to serve selflessly and for giving so much of yourself to make the other person feel loved, cared for and valuable.

Brief background- my paternal grandmother suffered brain hemorrhage (high blood pressure) which rendered her left side of body in paralysis and bed ridden for the remaining part of her life. She was 86 years old then and was still doing daily chores by herself, being the independent and self reliant woman that she had always been for her entire life. However with this condition in a matter of seconds she was rendered incapable of doing anything and it started the 4 long years for our family, which in essence changed us, especially me.

My grandparents still lived with us (as in case of most Indian families) and I would have not been the person that I am without their presence in my life.

My mom and grandmother have always been this duo who have defied all conventional norms and stereotypes that are out there for Mother-in-law (MIL) and Daughter-in-Law (DIL) relationships (specially in the Indian culture, where my roots are) as well as the way women of their generation lived their lives. They were best of friends, more like real mother-daughter rather than in-law and each other’s cheer leader in every step of their life together ever since my mom got married and moved in with dad and my grandparents.

Though dad was there as a support always, it was my mom who took the role of the primary caregiver to my 86 year old grandma in 2010 and at that age it was like having to take care of an infant. Here are the 5 lessons I learnt seeing this power couple live life:

  • Unconditional Love and Acceptance- Grandma wanted constant attention in that state (limited physical conditions bring out the insecurities and fears in a person more so than any other times) and my mom lovingly gave her that without ever having any irritation or frustration. Granny was like an 86 year old infant, who had to be fed, bathed, put to bed, had her moments and could not be left unattended anytime, and mom never ever made her feel as a dependent and involved her in everything happening in the family and around and attended to every need with a smile, even when mom always knew she could walk away from all this. The love that mom showered on granny, in that condition, expands my heart with even deeper love and pride of being her daughter. If someone now asks me, if I believe in unconditional love in today’s world, I say I do, I ve seen it daily for 4 years of my life. Not a single day mom missed telling grandma how much she loved her and how grateful we were to have granny alive with us. No judgement, no expectations or resentment or guilt or blaming. Only pure, genuine, unadulterated unconditional love and acceptance.
  • Resiliency and Compassion -This DIL-MIL duo were so unlike the stereotypical MIL-DIL relationship that they show in movies/TV. They never spoke bad about each other but always uplifting and cheering each other on and that love and drive to fight these days together as a team only grew more with each passing day. Both warriors, showed me what it was to be resilient in the face of adversity and when life happens. The incident occurred in a matter of few seconds. I can still recall the images of the moment I received the call from my mom, while I was still on my way back from office that something had happened to granny and to hurry home. None of us knew the gravity of the situation that had hit us, we were too naïve or rather ignorant to know the repercussions of brain hemorrhage. When I got home grandma was on bed and I sat beside holding her hand, mom dad were scurrying around for doctor, ambulance etc. That was Day 1 and till Day 1460 (4 years later, she died on exactly same day that she had the attack on), this resiliency continued and stayed consistent to face it all and stay strong and be more compassionate.
  • Having Hope & High spirits – My mom became the beacon of positivity in the aftermath of this attack on granny. As she grew into a shell with each passing day and her insecurities grew stronger with questions like “Why me”, mom became the harbinger of optimism, seeing the lessons in this for grandma and for herself. Making this more of a self reflective time than complaining or cribbing for anyone. Though I did see her break down once but majority of the time, she kept herself calm and collected. She kept the spirits high of not only granny but also everyone else in the family. I often feel that it was my mom’s unrelenting efforts as well as optimism that kept grandma alive and joyful for 4 years, given her initial condition. Having hope and giving hope to others, mom just never gave up, no matter what!
  • Meaning of “I always have your back”- It’s now often that we see how easily people move away from what they said they would do/be, when the time comes or long after their mood or circumstances have changed! It’s easy to be part of the rushing crowd on the streets and drown ourselves in distractions than to really be there for someone when they need us the most as they go through their emotions, pain and sometimes medicines and hospital visits! No matter what time of the day or night, pain or joy, mom was always there for grandma. From arranging physiotherapists to come home or nurses when grandma’s condition was deteriorating, no stone was left unturned to keep grandma in the best of conditions. Mom literally had granny’s back, when I saw her lovingly tend to the ugly and painful back sores that grandma got as a result of lying on bed all day, in the beginning and at end of her days as a patient. Complete respect and devotion in that one act.
  • Small acts make the biggest difference- How priceless it is to make someone smile, through small acts of love, care and thoughtfulness. Be it cooking grandma’s favorite meal or getting her ice cream and then seeing the joy on her face and sparkle in her eyes like a child, are some priceless moments, which no job promotion, career progression or any other achievement comes close to. Reinstated the importance of human connection and relationships in our life, for me, of making someone smile and feel loved, whoever that is. At the end of our days, it is the people we meet and bond with, that matter and not the labels or trophies. So on any given day, if you are lucky to get a chance to make someone smile and make them feel loved, do that!