When my mother-in-law passed away a few years ago, the primary feeling, as we drove towards the town in Andhra where she'd lived the last few years of her life, was one of helplessness. My husband, not very communicative, has never expressed his true feelings upon the demise of amma but I do know, the feeling of not having spent enough time with her, of not having had the chance to say goodbye...these feelings were predominant in his mind.
About two years ago, a very dear friend lost his father to cancer.... He was due to visit his father just the day before the demise and suddenly, it was too late. He felt a deep sense of regret and remorse, for not "being" there...
For those of us, who live away from our parents and loved ones, in other cities, or other parts of the world, the 'fear' of losing a parent, of not being able to say goodbye, is a real one. It multiplies over time, as we watch our once formidable parents, age little by little...losing the "My Daddy/Mommy Strongest" title, and turning into frail beings.
Calling them "elderly" was the first step I took towards the recognition that my parents were ageing.
And so we do what little we can, in their twilight years - not just for them, but more I feel, for ourselves.
We spend more time flying home to them to tend to them when they fall ill. There was a time when we HAD to move - to another town, another city, another country, as our dreams awaited us. They were young and capable of looking after themselves, and it was they, after all, who taught us to chase our goals!
We spend more time talking to them over the phone; some calls are just periods of silence, yet we don't hang up. There was a time when we would not even call once a week - "Too busy, too much work, too tied up, too bored (what will we talk about?/we talk the same stuff every time!)"
We now spend more time discussing their health, trips to the doctor, medication advices etc. There was a time when their concern for our health would irritate us; "Yes maa I will eat on time...don't worry.... You don't know HOW much I have to study!"
We never miss a festival; we fly home and make sure the whole "family" (our siblings and their spouses and children) gets together. There was a time when making a trip 'home' for a festival meant taking leave from work, and having to compromise on a holiday with the spouse and kids; then, the choice had been easy.
It isn't so today.
Some days when I hear my mother's exhausted voice on the other end of the line, I know its not enough. It breaks my heart, because my choices in life and many other circumstances took me away from 'home' since I turned 16.
But I also know that we can never make up for lost time. We can only reach out and do as much as we can today.
And hope as hell that we can live with that knowledge long after they're gone.