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Amid the festive revelry, empty nests and vacant hearts


Loneliness stresses the elderly, more so during festivities

Carrie, an elderly cancer patient living alone at Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., posted an ad on Craigslist on December 11: “Anybody need a grandma for Christmas?”

She had no relatives and no place to go to for the holidays. If invited, she offered to bring food and gifts for the children.

Unfortunately, her ad elicited rude and hurtful responses laced with cynical comments, making her withdraw it the same evening.

Kathleen Keyes, 62, lives alone in Bray, Ireland, grieving the loss of all her three children. She listlessly watched people rushing to buy things for loved ones for Christmas.

Loneliness can be stressful for the elderly with no family or relatives, more so during festivities.

For someone like me brought up in Punjab in the 1950s, Christmas was bade dinon ki chhuttiyan, the winter vacation of some 10 days. It was customary those days for children to spend vacations with grandparents.

My cousins and I looked forward to spending the holidays at my maternal grandmother’s house in a small village, about 40 km away. The trip offered many thrills, mainly the walk under a tree-lined path for the last 4 km.

We urban children were excited about visiting the village, though it had no electricity — a small price to pay for staying in untouched natural ambience. To relive those nostalgic moments, I took my daughter and granddaughter there four years ago. The house was still there, though dilapidated with the roof fallen partially. I peeped through a window, bringing back a flood of memories, including the way grandma, a well-to-do woman, pampered us and her neighbours indulged us.

Now, scores of Indian grandparents visit their children in the U.S. for a few months, just to support their grandchildren.

My landlady in Paris, a Vietnamese, had an old aunt living with her, who reminded me of an Indian grandma. My French collaborator, Corinne Dejous, a professor in electrical engineering at the University of Bordeaux, drives her two teenage children every weekend to visit her mother at her ancestral village, Les Billaux, 50 km away. They get the feel of a joint family and keep alive the tradition of visiting grandparents.

Barely surviving

The Indian joint family system survives, though barely so. An old colleague, now 80, lives alone with a caregiver in an old-age home because her son lives in the U.S. The joy of living with grandchildren has been a privilege for me and my wife for about 15 years now. My wife does the chores with the swag of a perfect grandma — cooking for her grandchildren and receiving them at 3 p.m. when the school bus arrives. It keeps her agile and happy, even as she takes her insulin shots.

Digital distractions

I do not think she had fussed over her own children as much as she does over her grandchildren, which makes me tease her sometimes. It remains to be seen if the grandchildren will lose interest soon in living with her as social media and e-commerce offer seductive appeals.

Everything that grandma does is available digitally. But the screen cannot provide her caring touch or cook dosa and aloo-paratha as she does.

Grand old ladies like Carrie and Kathleen have to look at an empty house during the Christmas vacation. But not for people like Richard Sands, 68, and his wife, Jennifer Sands, living in opulence in Florida.

The couple recently bought a second large condo, so that they can spend the Christmas vacation together with their five children and eight grandchildren when they join them each year.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 7:58:30 AM |

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