The rituals were elaborate since the evening the mother of seven passed away. The next 21 days, as expected, followed with funeral rituals presided by the highest lama available. The memorial rites will continue until the 49th day.
The Angay (grandmother) to 17 grandchildren lived a successful life. Change in lifestyle, as her village became a town and rental income replaced farming, as the source of livelihood, affected her health. In her twilight years, she became not only sick, but lonely even with all her siblings living around her.
Discussions after rituals, sometimes would throw up awkward, but relevant questions. Will our children be able to carry on the traditions, as elaborate as this? Will our children do this or even understand the reasons?
As we observe the International Day of Older Persons and dedicate the whole of October to elderly people, it is a good time to pause and look if our elderly people, including our “Drenchen gi pham” are getting the attention, the care and love they deserve.
The health ministry’s initiatives like the service package for older people is a welcome move. We need to have priority services for elderly people. As individuals and as a society, it is also a reminder to relook into how we treat our elderlies. Not to generalize, but we can surmise that many elderlies are not as happy as they should be or want to be.
The obvious cause is the change that we and our parents are forced to embrace. The problem is both in the villages and urban areas. In the villages, as the young leave in search of better opportunities, it is the elders, mostly parents or grandparents, who are left behind. Not many can make frequent trips to the villages, as priorities – jobs, business and children – take up a lot of time. Many make the yearly trip only for the annual lochoe or during emergencies. Some regret not doing that.
The other option is worse. In not trying to abandon them in the villages, they are brought along to the towns where the children work. Some are persuaded to babysit their grandchildren, separating them in their autumn years. Talk to any older people you meet on the streets of Thimphu and you will hear how they yearn to return to their villages, live and die peacefully.
In the towns, they cannot adjust to the dramatic cultural and social changes. Living in rented apartment is a silent torture even if they are not complaining. Village norms like visiting a neighbour as and when they want is absent when they live in rented apartments. There are more neighbours, but fewer faces to interact with. If there is one, the parent or grandparents are advised not to do so, as the busy office-going officer is worried about intrusion or of theft and burglary.
For some, it is difficult to stay indoors babysitting or praying for eight hours. All their lives, they had spent most of their time outdoors working or enjoying. It is a different set up. No amount of pampering could substitute spending the last few months, weeks or days in their villages. Some even beg to let them go back.
Old age care homes, that many criticise as inhuman, it seems, will be a good solution for many of us. The reality is that times and priorities are changing. Taking care of older people, parents or grandparents could slip down the priority list.