Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Help from Above

I was sitting on the floor of my parents’ pooja room opening the draws of the cupboard to clean it out. It was 16 days 7 hours and 20 minutes since my mother passed away. I know because I keep counting every hour on the hour. Mainly because it came as a total surprise and an absolute shock. My mother had been in good health and so not for a moment had I ever even entertained this thought.
The same cannot be said of my appa, who was now taking a nap. Two years back when I brought my daughters to visit my parents, my mother and appa had come to the airport much against my instructions not to do so. My children were overjoyed to see their grandparents and had run to hug them as we exited the airport.
It did not miss my notice that my appa did not hug my children as much as my mother did. Infact he remained aloof even through the ride back home. Being so late at night, all of us were tired and so went to sleep. I thought I will bring this subject up in the morning.
The kids were still sleeping when I got up and went to the kitchen where my mother was making hot coffee and engaged in a discussion with my appa. It appeared they had some disagreement. They stopped talking when I appeared. I sat at the dining table where my appa was sitting and waited for my mother to join me with the coffee mugs.
“So what were you both discussing “? I asked mother. My dad intervened “I will tell you what Viji. I don’t understand why your mother lets strange girls sleep over at our house.” “which strange girls? : I asked totally baffled. “Oh the girls who came with you yesterday “. He said casually,getting up to go to the bathroom.
That I was struck by lightning could have been an understatement. My eyes opened wide with shock , my heart beat faster, and I opened and closed my mouth gaping at my mom. She held my hand in hers and said with a very calm voice “He has Alzheimer’s”. My heart beat became normal and my mouth closed shut but my eyes literally opened up and drenched my mother’s hand. She did not join me in my tears.
Later she told me how she first found out and how it had been progressing and why she had asked me to come with the children so he could see them maybe for the last time. She also said she was trying to break the news gently but felt sad I had heard it the hard way. Either way my heart had numbed , a chillness had crept in permanently and settled in much to my discomfort and displeasure.
Our holidays came to an end and we had to go back. That my heart broke when I said goodbye to my appa was an understatement. Through out the holidays we had managed to spend every waking moment with my appa and never left him alone. I had tried to remind him of my daughters and though he did not remember he had settled into a quiet acceptance.
We also managed to forget my mother in all the focus I made on my appa. My amma being her usual quiet self went about everything in a very matteroffact way. She had to be on her toes every single minute my appa was awake. He was becoming like a small child again. If my amma was’nt around to open the door to their housemaid, my appa would refuse to open claiming she had come to rob them. The maid Lakshmi had been with us since I was growing up and treated him as her appa too. But for her support I would have felt even more terrible about leaving my parents alone.
They also refused to relocate with me their only child. I understood as my amma atleast needed the comfort of the familiar surroundings to cope with her world being turned upside down by my appa.
When I returned home after my holidays, I was on the phone every day trying to make up for not being near them. It totally was eating me up and I turned to be very irritable and with more mood swings that my husband decided to intervene. He managed to convince me that he could take care of the girls and I had to agree. They were grown up and going to college too. So he booked me a round trip ticket to my parents place and insisted I stay there as long as I wanted to. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband who understood that I also had a responsibility to my parents and really wanted to spend time with them one when one of them clearly had a foot in the grave.
I was only wrong about which one!. Shortly after I arrived, it happened one morning. My amma who always slept lightly was always the one to wake up first. So that morning I woke up to a lot of yelling and fighting going on between my appa and Lakshmi. I got up and went to see what the commotion was all about. 
My appa claimed that Lakshmi was there to rob him and advised me to get rid of her quickly. Lakshmi by now used to my appas ways was trying to head inside the house to start cleaning. All of a sudden I asked “Where is amma?” to which my appa started another tirade. “I have been trying to wake her up because I am so hungry. She always wants to sleep”, so saying he went and sat down in the easy chair.
Since it was apparent to me that this was very unusual of my amma, I rushed to their bedroom with Lakshmi beside me. As soon as we saw her we knew she had left us and was with us no more. Lakshmi started to call the doctor and our other relatives while I went and sat beside my amma and raised her head from the pillow and kept it on my lap.
I don’t even remember how everything else went through. That my husband was there and took total incharge was a blessing. Appa meanwhile continued to be unaware of all of this or maybe just unaware of his partners and beloved wife’s death and the impact that was going to have on his life.
When my husband and children left, he assured me again that he would take care of everything back home and emphasized the need of my presence with my appa. Not that I would argue with that. Appa was now more of a child than before and tagged me every minute.
Now after 16 days 7 hours and 24 minutes, I sat at the pooja room trying to clean all the papers and clear up the clutter.
The future had never ever seemed so bleak to me. I knew I could not take my appa back with me and to leave him behind…. I could only pray to God and to my amma to help me. I realized as I prayed I had no one but God to turn to. So I stopped all my cleaning and gave up on trying to sort through the papers and started praying.
It was then that I heard the calling bell ring. I got up and went to the front door. Lakshmi was standing there with another lady of middle age and slender built. Unlike Lakshmi who had a round face and little on the plump side this lady had a straight face and lean build. She was wearing a cotton saree which looked as if starched and pressed neatly.
I opened the door and let them in. Lakshmi looking at my swollen face said she will make tea for all of us and we went inside to sit in the Hall.
I sat beside the new lady silently observing her while Lakshmi brought us our tea and sat beside us. “This is Subbamma, Viji.” She started by way of introduction. “I have known her for a long time but Subbamma had moved to the city to help her daughters and now she is back to stay in town. I told her about your plight and she has agreed to help. “ and Lakshmi paused here.
I was gulping my tea so as not to have to talk and my eyes were busy observing Subbamma who had nodded her head to everything lakshmi had said. Subbamma appeared to be the most calm person I had met and had a somewhat similar appearance to my mother. “Why don’t you both talk to each other while I go check on your father “ said Lakshmi getting up.
We continued to sit quietly for some time. “I can talk to you tomorrow after I talk to my husband tonight “, I said. I really did not want to talk about this and face the prospect of handing my father over to some stranger. But I also had to think clearly and be more practical of my situation. I knew I could not stay here forever and this arrangement might just work. Subbamma said it was fine by her and I melted in the gentleness of her look and her choice of words.
My husband helped me see the reality of the situation and I locked my heart inside the big almirah before I started to make decisions where my appa was concerned.
The arrangement was for Subbamma to live at my parents home and thereby keep an eye on my father at all times. Lakshmi would come everyday to do household chores and help Subbamma if need be.
The rates were all fixed for Subbamma’s service and her meals and other holidays were also discussed. Since Subbamma had no one close in her family living in the same town, this arrangement suited her as much as it did for me.
I left to my home shortly thereafter and like a coward I left when my father was sleeping. These days he tended to sleep more and had taken to Subbamma like a fish to water. Maybe it was her kind look or gentle manners or maybe she did look somewhat like my amma.. but whatever the reason it worked.
I called many times a day and slowly my calls dwindled to once a day once I was reassured everything was okay. My husband and I took turns in visiting appa and never realized he would rush to join my amma as quickly as he did. 
Still I knew I owed more than a lot to Subbamma. Where my prayers answered or does God really take care of his own.? Did my mother knew what was going on and sent help? I could never answer my questions but I knew better than to give up on my prayers and to be grateful every day for the help that came from Above.

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