With the recent demise of my widowed Aunt, a septuagenarian, who never had children, a large wave of guilt and grief has been running through the family. What if siblings and nieces and nephews had asked her to move in with them, what if they were more patient with her idiosyncrasies, what if they contributed more to her rapidly depleting resources, what if they sponsored air tickets for trips here and there and so on and so forth. To this one forth-coming sibling quipped that we don’t live our daily lives and interact with people with the mind-frame that they will die in the future and it will be shameful to face the fact we were less kind, less accommodating and less understanding. When we go about the business of everyday living we do what our intellect and heart tells us to do. Our upbringing and sense of moral well-being has a bearing on our thoughts and posterity alone provides the comfort of judgement.
For the record, everyone in the family was helpful as they deemed “helpful” right. Some in the family kept her with them whenever she visited for medical check-ups, some helped her monetarily, some would call her regularly to keep in touch, some kept vigil in the hospital whenever she took ill and was admitted while some provided her, the vigilante and her litany of well meaning servants with food. But was it possible for anyone to stake claim and offer help like an off-spring? Was it possible for any sibling to show the exact affection to her as they show to their own children and for nieces and nephews to treat her at par with their own parents? Reality check is necessary for everyone, young and old, in order to lead a whole-some life.
What became the end of her, my Aunt, is not the loss of her husband or absence of children. It was the will to live. The will and need to fill her life with activities, hobbies and people that would circumvent the vacuum of having a full-fledged family in her sunset years. I agree that one's own children offers one with a deep sense of security and become a source of support in the face of crisis if not throughout one's old life. The lack of purpose and dependence on others to fill her life led her to become a recluse, and eventually led her to neglect her own health. Mental and physical inactivity led her to waste away. My own Granddad who lived till he was ninety one and my other Aunt, a few years older than the one who just expired, are a great example of people who lived their lives with a purpose. Authors like Dorris Lessing, Kushwant Singh, etc. are wonderful examples again of people with purpose in their lives. Providence has decided how long we shall live. But to fill that life with purpose and zest is our responsibility. Not only was her mind and time not occupied with social activities or hobbies but also any form of physical activity was grossly absent. To add to this woe was a gross negligence of property matters and retirement plans. She is perhaps as much to blame as her late husband. Having had no children, I wish both were a tad prudent to take care of these two very essential aspects while health and resources were in abundance, which in their case were. After all irrespective of having children or not, no one in the family can be expected to play the role of an old age ATM machine, practically and realistically speaking. One spouse is bound to outlive the other.
In the small town of Dhubri in Assam, my Uncle was a well respected attorney who ran a good practice and my Aunt always taught in a school till she retired 3 years ago. They made themselves a huge three level house and also had tenants thrown in. So money was never an issue. Far-sightedness was. A life spent with utter disregard of tomorrow is as dangerous as being neurotically cautious. As every wise man and every religion says “the balance” is necessary. When the going was good, a decadent lifestyle could have been moderated and a neat little sum could have been kept for the future. Well meaning advises from friends and family sometimes may turn out to be very beneficial if heeded to. Alas, no such advises of smart investments were heeded nor was the constant encouragement to stop wallowing in self pity was taken seriously by my Aunt.
Those of us grieving can but use all these rationales to feel less guilty, because almost everyone has the ability to make even a little difference. Perhaps we could have done more to make her feel less lonely. But the biggest difference we make in our lives are we ourselves. To me the biggest lesson her life taught is to be a little more rational, a little more cautious, to be independent, to be a support than to seek support and to profligate less.
That said my Aunt had some great traits. She was very warm, very affectionate, very stylish, very hospitable and very kind. All these traits did stand her in a good stead. She lived life king size till she lived. Her two trusted helps stayed with her till the end thus proving her kind and sweet ways. Her students, who left school eons ago still have great things to tell about her.
As they say none of us are perfect. Sadly her imperfections became a great source of insecurity for her. All I can say is that may she find peace and quiet in the new world that she has moved on to. I will miss her.