Yesterday, I spoke to a very dear friend of mine after nearly a year. We had met when we were neighbours, and despite a difference in age, we’d found in each other a kindred soul. Our friendship never required frequent meetings – whenever we met, we just took off from where we had left off last – so it is natural that after I moved to another city, we just lost touch with each other.
When I got over the initial pleasure of hearing her voice, I was pleasantly surprised to find us picking up the conversation exactly where we had left it off all those many months ago. After exhausting home, family, kids, and the general state of the world, I ventured to ask her how her mother was. Her mother had suffered a stroke that had left her paralysed waist down, but when I’d last heard, her iron will had been pulling her though and she had been responding well to treatment.
My friend’s answer came as a bit of a shock. “You do know that I lost my father in March, don’t you?”, she said.
I didn’t! Had I known I would definitely have called her up, I would have said, instead, I heard myself muttering banal words of condolence, before asking her how it had happened. Her answer sent a chill down my spine, “I think he just gave up on life”, she said. “He kept blaming himself for what happened to his wife, and just didn’t want to go on living. There was nothing wrong with him, and nobody knows why he died.”
“And what about your mother, how is she?”, I asked.
“Much the same,” she sighed. The benefits of the physiotherapy had plateaued out, and the debilitating effects of being bedridden had taken over. She was on adult diapers, unable to utter comprehensible words, barely able to move her hands, and totally dependent on her nurses for all her needs.
No worse fate can befall a strong and independent person than to be reduced to this condition. But it was worse, much worse – she’d lost her fit and active companion of many years, and had no channel for expressing her grief. What could be going on in her mind? Should she curse fate for taking her husband away, or for leaving her behind. Did she even want to go on in her current condition.
And what of the children? One parent taken away, the other present only in shadow form. How impotent they must be feeling about not being able to do anything. How guilty they must feel for praying for an end to the misery of their mother. And yet, what a vacuume would be left if they lost both parents.
At times like this, you do not know who to mourn for – do you mourn for the husband who just gave up on life, do you mourn for the wife who wishes she didn’t have to exist any more, or do you mourn for the children and everything they are going through?
All you can do is say what I did to my friend, “I wish I could say something to you. But all I can say is that I can’t imagine anything worse than what all of you are going through.”