>Mother, Any Distance*

>For the hundredth time, Nani has refused to move into my parent’s home. She’s 70-something, can’t walk after her paralytic attack more than a year ago, can’t even stand up without assistance but insists on living in her own house, aided by no one except a young maid. She lives in the same city as her four much-married-and-now-grandmothers-themselves daughters but she cannot imagine leaving her house to live with any of them.

Daughter No. 1, my mom, is at home by herself most of the day, her two daughters married and with Dad at work.
Daughter No. 2, an early widow, has two very busy kids who spent the whole day at work. So she stays alone most part of the day too.
Daughter No. 3, whose mother-in-law actually welcomes Nani’s company, is in much the same position: her two kids are settled in Delhi, while her husband prefers to keep himself busy with work and friends.
Daughter No. 4, also an early widow lives with a young daughter who spends most of her day either at the University or studying at home for her Law degree. She may soon have to leave the city too for her career’s sake.

But my Nani, being an independent woman all her life, cannot now imagine being a “burden” on anyone, not even her own daughters. When she suffered a paralytic stroke, she stayed at my mum’s place for some six months during which time she went into acute depression. And it wasn’t till she moved back into her house that she began to recover and became anything like the cheerful person we know her to be.

Considering that all these five women – Nani and her daughters – have lived for years together, it’s strange how none of them are ready to leave their own house to shift in with either their mother, daughter or sisters. For all practical purposes, it’s a viable option, but no one wants to give up their space – the place they call home – even if it means leading a safer life.

Well-wishers express their concern over the situation, say how unsafe it is for a woman my Nani’s age to be living by herself. It’s not that we don’t know it but we know what they don’t – how she sustains herself on her pride and independence. And to take that away from her would mean taking away her life!

My mother goes through serious guilt pangs if she hasn’t seen Nani in two days, but with a grandson of her own now who is often left in her charge, it isn’t always easy for her to drop everything and spend the entire day with her mother. It sounds strange, considering that we live in a city where distances are not a problem, conveyance is not a problem. The only problem seems to be time. Often, Nani resents the fact that her daughters don’t have time for her, but she also refuses to make it easier for them by moving in with one of them.

Having known the mother and daughters in question for so many years, and having known them well, I am unable to put the blame on any one person. But I am intrigued at an apparently simple situation having become so complicated. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s an attachment to the home they have created, the things they have acquired over the years, the purely worldly acquisitions. Or whether it is an assertion of their independence, their reluctance to start adjusting all over again after having created their own space.

My parents live by themselves in the same city as my sister and I. And till now, they’ve managed pretty well. But when I see my aging parents, I wonder if we will come to the same crossroad too as my mother and Nani have? My mother is no less independent than her own. Will she be able to make peace with a life in one of her daughters’ homes if the need ever arises? Will I be able to leave my own home to go and live with her and will she want me to do that?

It’s never easy to let go – of the place you’ve made for yourself in this world. But I hope that when the time comes (though I hope it never does), I can do it: I can give it up to be there for my parents, either one of them.


This post was lying as a Draft somewhere and was resurrected after I read about Piper’s dilemma as a daughter, her concern for her parents who live so far away from her.

Dear Piper, I want you to know that being so geographically close to my parents, I still worry about them and their safety. You talk of how it’s foolish to uproot your parents from their homeland and expect them to start afresh in another country. You’re right. My mother realises it’s foolish even to expect Nani to leave her house and come live with her.

If my mother calls in distress, will I be able to make it in time to help? I don’t know. Life will not wait for me to be with them when it decides to turn the wheels of change. And sometimes the only solace is to know that God will take care of his children.

* The title is taken from a poem by Simon Armitage, Mother, Any Distance

Mother, any distance greater than a single span
Requires a second pair of hands.
You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,
The acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors.

You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape, recording
Length, reporting metres, centimetres back to base, then leaving
Up the stairs, the line still feeding out, unreeling
Years between us. Anchor. Kite.

I space-walk through the empty bedrooms, climb
The ladder to the loft, to breaking point, where something
Has to give;
Two floors below your fingertips still pinch
The last one-hundredth of an inch…I reach
Towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky
To fall or fly.


24 responses »

  1. >As a person who uprooted her parents so that they could be closer to me to watch over, this post spoke to me.However, I must admit that I definitely had it easy, since I was ‘uprooting’ them from a city that was theirs only for 20 years and bringing them back to their place of origin. They are now near their daughter (me) and grandsons, their own brothers and sisters, a mother (my naani) and they are back to the place of their roots, culture and language.If I ever have to choose between work and parents, I won’t have to think for a second…my parents. The amount they sacrificed for me and my brother can not be put into words. If I can be of some comfort to them in their golden years…then willingli I will be.I don’t live with them, but a five-min walk away, and even then, I worry. But, then I thank my starts and remember that I have it easier than many.Piper’s post touched me too. I will blog about this too, soon.

  2. >This was such a touching post.. I worry about this the whole time too.. My parents are extremely independant too and insist that they will prefer to live by themselves and if need be would like to go an old age home – rather than be a ‘burden’ on anybody.. It breaks my heart to hear that and really really donot know how to convince them otherwise… Your post touched a chord..

  3. >Your post is so true!!! We’ve always lived in Dubai. My parents moved to Bangalore with my brother.. when he was in Uni!! Once he was ready to move out of home… they were so extremely loney!! I asked if they’d like to stay with me… coz it was far too much of stress worrying about them all the time. Luckily.. they said.. yes!! and they are with me today!!My brother is now in Sydney.. and he keeps worrying about them all the time. Hence I sooooo relate to this post.I cant imagine life anyother way!! But I always wonder.. that if I do get a distress call.. when I am at work.. or at a meeting.. and dont answer my call.. Will I ever get there on time.. I guess somethings are best left unsaid !! Somethings… we just have to leave it upto HIM!!

  4. >@M4: I think I have it easy too – living 15 minutes away from my parents home. But I worry incessantly about them. So I understand how tough it must be for children staying oceans apart from their parents.@Smitha: Parents can be stubborn. But they need to know they never are a burden. My Nani needs to understand that!@Patricia: When we were going for a 20-day vacation to Australia, I was scared stiff thinking if things would be the same when I came back. I cried before leaving. What if something went wrong while I was away – I wouldn’t be able to come back! But life’s like that, ain’t it?

  5. >Have I told you I LOVE how you express yourself? That really spoke to me, it did. Having said that… you know what they say about people you love? You can try all you want to protect them but they still have to go through what they have to, live as they have to, make mistakes, get hurt… all that. You can’t actually live their life for them… what you can do, is stand by and be there whenever they need you. Or as it was put by someone a little less tactful, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”If any part of that was offensive, sorry, it was not intended to be! 🙂

  6. >Very well said…My parents live in Calcutta while my sister in Delhi and me whereever my husband's job takes us…But I can understand your nani's point of view…She is used to living in her own house and had her own life…Not only will she have to leave these things behind but will also have to adhere to your parents' household rules etc. …My nani lived alone in Delhi…My has been in the US for the last 30 years and my parents & I were also in the US when she died…She died in the bathroom sometime during the night and was found by her servants in the morning…It was a very sad and lonely death but she like your nani refused to move in with us or take any help…

  7. >Very thought provoking post D. & then there is the other aspect of it being acceptable to live in a son's home rather than a daughter's. The fact that my parents are far away from me & that my mom is injured & recovering makes this post so emotional for me.

  8. >@dewdropdream: I know what you mean. The feeling we have for aging parents is exactly the same that we have for young children.@Bones: We live in fear of losing our grandmother like that. It’s a scary thought. And I know it comes with a lot of guilt.@Monika, Ansh: Yes, there is that aspect of not living in your daughter’s house. But it doesn’t always apply. Times are changing and hopefully so will mindsets about this.

  9. >Ohh D, I`m so, so touched by this! I know exactly what you`re talking about. I was there with my parents until Dec 2007. But not for a moment did I stop worrying about them. When I was working in Kolkata,on my insistence my parents would stay with me.And they would in fact love it. This was when I continued to work, after marriage.But the marriage wasnt working out, D. I needed to be with The G. I needed to make the move. I quit my job and moved, because I wanted to be with my husband. Not because I was getting better career options. God knows, I`ve started feeling terribly guilty about this too! :(Anyway, Thank you so much for this gesture.I`m so touched! 🙂

  10. >well D ur story is EXACTLY the same as mine…me ,my mom n my nani….n d problem of givin up one’s own space and time n the guilt pangs that take over….but at the end of the day its all left to God…coz that is the only way that seems to be the easiest!!mean n selfish of us but true i guess…..:(i just wonder if my nani wud hav the same problems if she had to move in with his son….coz at times it strikes me that living in one’s daughters house is not acceptable by the elders n the so called culture n stuff….

  11. >But I hope that when the time comes (though I hope it never does), I can do it: I can give it up to be there for my parents, either one of them.DThanks for your wisdom, sense of duty and above all and most importantly your love for the right things in life. And yes the courage and ability to express it so beautifully. I was panicking …about what we are turning into and wondering ..are very few left who know the differnce between right and wrong , good and evil…..so glad to have chanced upon your post …dont feel so alone now 🙂

  12. >@Piper: Life makes it seem like we’re making choices but we don’t really are. I mean, if you had to choose between your marriage and your parents, is that a choice? Would you not want both? I hate how life gets us to feel guilty about choices that it already made for us.@state of mind: I don’t think leaving things upto God is done because it’s easiest. It’s done because such situations make us realise that there are so many things that are not in our hand. I did not mention in the post, but my Nani also has a son who lives in the same city. Nani would never, never move in with him! @Chrysalis: I really hope I can be in a position to keep my word to myself.

  13. >there are so many reasons why parents dont want to live with their married kids anymore. they love their independence, they love their lifestyle, they love their own space and their emotional attachment with the house they build is well-known. its not only happening for parents with daughters..its happening with parents with sons as well. your post is extremely thoughtful and well put.

  14. >I can empathize with what you’ve said. My mom lives alone and she hates asking anyone of help. even hen she visits me, she gets restless after a month because she misses the independent life she’s been used to for so long.

  15. >@Nisha: I agree. But sometimes I do wonder at the irony of living with my husband’s parents because he needs to take care of them, while my parents seem independent enough to manage by themselves!@Mystic: I wonder what we’d be like when we are our parents’ age!

  16. >石門搬家,三芝搬家,八里搬家,林口搬家,五股搬家,蘆洲搬家,,泰山搬家,新莊搬家,鶯歌搬家,樹林搬家,板橋搬家,土城搬家,三峽搬家,烏來搬家,石碇搬家,深坑搬家,汐止搬家,萬里搬家,金山搬家,平溪搬家,雙溪搬家,貢寮搬家,桃園搬家,新屋搬家,淡水搬家,中和搬家,永和搬家,三重搬家,新店搬家

  17. >i think we cant help but worry. Both M and me dont have our parents close to us and right now i dont think there is gonna be any change in the status.but when the time comes, i hope I will know the right thing to do! :)beautiful post D!hugsabhaps: will be in lucknow next month! would love to catch up if you ready to reveal your name! 😀

  18. >My mom also refused to move in with us-and we do not force her. She is a fiercely independent writer and lives in another city. Guess it is all about one’s own space.

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