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If you are in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, you are most likely dealing with elderly parents.
I know I am.
A few of my friends moved in with their elderly parents, so they could take better care of them. I have friends who traveled every weekend to New York City from another city to be home with their parents and make sure all was well. I have friends who flew down to India every six months to help the seniors. In a nutshell, I have amazing friends who have shown me how I can be present for my father and parents-in-law.
I used to think that depending on your relationship with your parents, you respond to their needs and age. But do you think biology and blood beats everything? I was watching the TV series “SWAT” the other night where one character (a SWAT Officer) donated a part of his liver to his mom who had abandoned him, almost cost him his job, was a drug addict, and was sent to prison for some big crime. When his coworkers asked why he was risking his life for a woman who has only caused him pain, he replied, “Because she is my mom. You don’t turn your back on your family.”
No one said dealing with the elderly is easy. It’s hard for caregivers, like us, to witness this journey of seeing our own parents transform into little kids who seem unreachable on some days. In the classical Ayurveda texts, we learn about three stages of life that are deeply influenced by each of the three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha. Childhood can be governed by kapha dosha. The second stage—from puberty until menopause or age 50—is governed by pitta dosha. The third stage of life is the vata stage, which is from age 50 until we die. Our parents are in the Vata stage of life.
Vata’s elemental makeup consists of air and ether. The common translation of vata is “that which moves things.” Basically, vata is responsible for all the movements of the body and mind, sensory impulses and motor regulation, breath, removal of waste, speech, and the pumping of the heart. Vata dosha is light, dry, mobile, cold, hard, rough, sharp, subtle, flowing, and clear. This means the seniors might exhibit some vata qualities and/or imbalances: anxiety, sleeplessness, constipation, dryness in words, rough responses, nervousness, twitching of muscles or eyes, and so on. They look like adults but act like kids.
Don’t think that just because they are in Vata age that their primary Ayurvedic doshas can be ignored. Depending on prakruti (constitution) and vikruti (imbalances), they might lash out or be grumpy or feel low and bottle up feelings. The mood swings, the tantrums, the self-absorption, the irritability, the lashing out, the getting emotional…can all feel unsettling. But remember, no one will be around forever.
We are all busy, I get that. Don’t always pick convenience. We all have a million commitments with work, kids, hobbies, businesses, school, and much more. Every family is different. Every family is broken and healed in its own, unique way. We have all hurt others, and we have all been hurt…even if unintentionally. But (unless you have a history of abuse, violence, and other traumas), can you make room for the people who brought you into this world and shaped who you are? Time might be running out.
I recently visited India and saw how frail both my dad and in-laws look. These are people who have communities and connections. It’s hard for them to accept help or the reality about their bodies and minds slowing down. The seniors might not share much (because they don’t want their kids to worry), but they have aged considerably in these past two years. Between the lockdowns, isolation, and seeing their peers die, the Coronavirus has broken them.
Most of our parents did the best they could for us…even if it came across as dysfunctional. We can crib and squabble, but that’s the truth. We might not agree with their upbringing or their values. Or have expectations that weren’t met. But they were there for us when we were babies or soiled our clothes or saw a nightmare and cried into their arms or talked about our first heartbreak. Roles are reversed now and they need us. In the end, nothing is more important in the world than relationships. The friends or family members I have spoken with, the ones who didn’t make time for important relationships (for a myriad of reasons) and then suddenly lost a parent, they have their entire life to battle guilt. Focus on what matters most. It’s the easiest way to lower stress.
Let’s all vow to take better care of ourselves and those we care about starting this Stress Awareness Month. It’s important to love oneself and own who we are. It’s equally important to be cognizant of the health risks of not making time for social connections, what brings us joy, and human interactions.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia