Yusuf Omar – Lifestyle | 1 November 2016
I recently had the privilege of visiting a home for the aged, or what we commonly refer to as an old-age home. Now, I call it a privilege because many of us never get this opportunity. Even though entrance is free and there are no high walls to jump, for some reason, we just never take out the time to visit such homes. I had this opportunity as part of a development programme. Arrangements were made for some students to visit the home so that they realise the importance of looking after their parents in old age. As their teacher, I tagged along and reaped the benefits as well.
I’ll be honest, when I first got off the bus I was really impressed. The light-brown face bricked houses with little lush gardens outside all built in a systematic order really got the smile out of me. The brightly painted window panes with matching door frames that really made the cute door bells and address boards stand out was almost like candy to the eyes. I started thinking that maybe people underestimate this place. This seems like a cool place. I mean, if you old, why would you want to live in the big wide world. Why experience traffic and the rush of everyday life at that age when you could be chilling in this awesome looking place with all others your age. For a moment, the beauty blew me away.
But then, slowly, beauty started ripping at the seams making way for loneliness to expose its pitiable head.
As the students went from to home visiting the residents, I quietly walked around the place to observe the happenings and to make sure that the students do what they supposed to do (That’s 90% of a teacher’s job). While slowly roaming around the peaceful environment, I met up with a few residents who were sitting outside and baking in the afternoon sun. It was a mixed bag. Some were happy to see us and appreciated the fact that we took out time to meet them while some were expecting gifts so they never take too kindly to our visits when they saw us smiling with empty hands. The events of that one afternoon is just too much for one article. To make it easier, I am going to break it up for you and mention the most important lessons in point form. If you ever thought of putting your parents in a home during old age, here’s four points to make you think again.
1. They want love, not gifts.
When some of the residents got upset because we showed up with no gifts, it really surprised me. I mean this was a home for the aged, not necessarily a home for the poor. Some homes had cars parked outside, others had decent looking furniture so why get upset for gifts. At first, this question baffled me but then I realised something.
“It’s not the value of the gift, it’s the love and attention behind the gift”
Passing long days alone in a home eventually makes you feel wanted. The desire for attention naturally eats you up inside. Not just the elderly, it can happen to any person. That hunger for love and attention builds up to such an extent that even a small gift is enough to temporarily feed it. Of course, the need for love and attention sprouts from the absence of family, the absence of children. In reality, they don’t want our gifts, they don’t even want our smiles. All they want is that love and attention from their own kids. That attention and love they gave decades ago, they want it back, even just a fraction of it.
2. They feel it, deep down.
This point is primarily structured around one incident in particular. I never witness the incident but a few of my students experienced it. They later related the story to me. They visited a home and the elderly aunty invited them in. As they sat down in the lounge, tears started flowing from her eyes. I suppose because they were kids it reminded her of her own kids. She really opened up to them and told them her story. Maybe she just needed to get it out. She told them how her kids forgot about her. Two of them married and successful somewhere in South Africa. A third now living it up in Australia. With tears rolling down her cheeks she told them how they don’t come see her anymore. When the students showed me which house the lady lived in, I noticed she was standing outside looking at us. I only assume that as she looked at us her head was flooded with thoughts of when will her kids will visit her like how the students did. There are many elderly folks like this. They will never open up to adults and they definitely won’t open up to their own kids but deep down, they feel the pain. The thought of your offspring walking out of your life when you need them most must be a devastating feeling. It’s high up there on the worst feelings list. Even worse than loving someone who loves someone else or telling someone you his best friend and he replies with a ‘k’.
3. They’ll never criticise their own.
Even though the above mentioned lady spoke about her kids, notice how she only opened up to the students. Others never opened up at all. Yes, they spoke about various other issues but despite the circumstances, they never blamed their children. I got the feeling that most would never criticise their children. Most will blame the situation but they’ll never blame their children. This stems from the natural love that a mother, and father, has for their children. It’s a love that is divine. If you a parent and you reading his, it will be easy to relate. You might reprimand you child or even use your hand but you’ll never speak bad about him/her in front of others. To the world, your kids must be angels. Isn’t it unfortunate that some of us abandon the very people that would never speak against us.
4. The front porch reeks of loneliness.
Many of the residents sat or stood outside their neatly decorated homes in the front porch. They never come outside to mingle with others or to admire the perfectly trimmed flowers highlighted by the afternoon sun. They came out because they couldn’t stand the loneliness inside. They sensed activity outside and, like a child in a candy store, they couldn’t resist. They miss the days of being with family. They long for the day when they will be surrounded by their own children again. They probably think of how they thought life would end up and how life really ended up. How they imagined playing with grandchildren while being looked after by their children. How they would go on Sunday picnics with the children and grandchildren. Remember, they are aged but they are still human. Their needs and wants might have changed over the years but they still have needs and wants. Society needs to understand this point. Old does not mean life is over. Life has changed but it is not over. Every day they sit in that porch finding something to do or someone to talk to. At the end, they slowly make their way back into that empty lifeless home hoping that one day, maybe one day, when they walk in, they will be met with smiles. Smiles, from the most important people in their lives. In fact, it should be called an old-age house, not an old-age home because its people, love and smiles that turn a house into a home.
Take out some time and go visit one of these homes. Take the kids with. It will teach them lifelong lessons. One of the students started crying as she spoke to one of the residents. I was surprised to see my students helping another elderly lady clean her garden. The same students that look at each other’s faces in the class when you say “someone open the window please” were now happily cleaning someone’s garden. The trip definitely had a great impact on them.
Only Allah knows the tears and pain that such homes see on a daily basis. Similarly, only Allah can truly fight for their cause. Believe me, you don’t want to be an enemy in that battle.
I hope this piece makes you think again if ever the thought of putting your parents in a home crossed your mind. Remember, they might say that it is not a problem. The reason they say this is because they love you and they don’t want to be a burden to you. In reality, they don’t want to go there.
Have you ever visited such a home? Do you think we need to take the youth to visit such places? Leave a comment or drop me a tweet.