Team CovaiCare and I launched our first experimental project in senior living and care about 20 years ago in Coimbatore. In these 20 years, I have also grown younger to 75 years of age from 55 years. I was fortunate to understand this segment. I realise that while age is a number, ageing can be hilarious. In India, above 60 years of age gives you the right to call yourself senior citizen (with no concessions in income tax, or airline ques or getting a seat in a crowded bus etc,) With longevity, meaning that senior citizens are not dying young, the age of departure from planet Earth keeps increasing every year. If you are a woman, you are likely to live additional 2 to 3 years than men. Sometimes, I wonder if this is a gift from God to men.
But men are keen to live longer to match their macho image, even if it means using a walker or be wheelchair dependant. Bible says, Eve was created out of Adam. We always say Ram and Sita and not Sita and Ram. If the wife dies, the man invariably gets into depression and seeks not empathy, but pity. A single woman leads more enjoyable life after her husband has been given the ceremonial departure from this world with or without minimum mandatory rituals. Women are stronger than men emotionally and face life stronger when the spouse is gone. Men look and behave as if they have lost everything in life when the wife predeceases them. On the other hand, women are carefree!
God forbid, if the wife dies before her husband, the same macho man is sad, depressed, and miserable. Many forget to laugh and move around like zombies. They behave like strangers when they visit their friend, whose spouse is alive. Suddenly there is self-doubt about being a “kabab mein haddi!” On entering the friend’s house, he would ask, “hope I am not disturbing you?” Of course, you are but the couple look for such (divine) intervention as they have run out of conversation and are on the verge of another (friendly) shouting match! As one ages, no need to worry about civility, disturbing neighbours and only be natural self! Every deed of yours is attributable to the age. A single woman would simply walk in or breeze into the friend’s home, talk to the lady of the house, make plans to go for a movie and leave your home leaving you confused if you too are going to see the movie. You are not, is my guess!
Men are born with ego. Women may be jealous but are not egoistic, except when dealing with their mothers-in- law. As one ages, the ego in a man also gets bloated. Try offering your hand to an aged man, he will refuse to take it. He would prefer to fall rather than being seen dependant on others. The fall may lead to a fracture. So what? You get more attention! Use of the words like “subsidy, help, assist etc.,” hurts a man’s ego.
A senior citizen thinks that he is Raja forever! So long you let him live with such delusions, and massage his ego, he will be happy. You must listen to his story about his past glory repeatedly and never say, “third time repeat!” The ego will get hurt and with advancing age, he will end up sulking, “I am useless. None is listening to me!” The grand children are a delight to grandfathers till they become teenagers. Then, they simply show through fingers as to how many times the story has been repeated. But, if the “young man and his lady wife” are aged they would not mind the stories being repeated to each other. Probably, one of them may be hard of hearing and the other is in early stage of dementia. Ego in a man will never let him accept that he is hard of hearing. It is you who is speaking softly. The wife will complain, “my husband is hard of hearing but hears, what he is not supposed to!”
Once we had pre-cremation rituals for a man in one of our senior living communities. He was around 85 years and spent his last five years of his life between wheelchair and bed. Another (gentle)man who was past 90 years asked me, “why I am not dyeing?” I politely told him, “Sir there is no vacancy in heaven.” Frankly speaking I had no answer. “Then how come he died?” But since he insisted an answer from me, I said, “Sir this is Kaliyuga and may be the one who died today, committed less sin than you and therefore, your time of departure is delayed.” He never liked me thereafter!
I wonder, why Brahma, the creator did not send us an email about our date of departure, duly confirmed by Yama? If He had done that, either we would have died happy by living long or led a miserable life, if we were to die young with date of departure looming in front of us!
One day, a few senior citizens (men and women) in one of our senior living communities got into a conversation with me. One of them asked, “do you pray Colonel?” I said, “sometimes.” “What do you pray for?” was the next question. I said, “I pray to God to send me to hell when I die.” One of them said, “this is a strange wish?” I replied, “I see many of you singing Bhajans, praying, writing God’s name thousands of times, chant, visit temple and converse nothing but about God, Shlokas, Vedas, Bible, Koran and visit maximum religious places as if you are racing for time. Obviously, you are all wishing that God would be pleased, and the Gates of Heaven would open for your soul to unite with Paramattma and live thereafter happily and not worried about rebirth.” They nodded their heads and said, “what is wrong with that?” I said, “Nothing wrong, but after caring all of you for over 20 years, I do not want to live with you in heaven. I also need happiness!”
I thought that I was smart. One of them said, “Oh! If that is your wish, then half a dozen of us will go to hell and wait for you!” I have now started praying for my soul to rest between heaven and hell! You can never win a senior citizen because they have answers for everything! Experience – you said!
By Colonel Achal Sridharan, VSM