At a wedding, I saw a former cabinet minister leading his elderly mother to a reserved seat. I was so taken by his attentive behavior that I wanted to snap a photo of mother and son. He was beaming; she was, too. The glow on her face matched the pride in his stride.
In contrast, a priest was asked to bless a magnificent house. The gilded gate was monitored by uniformed guards with K9 assault dogs. Beveled French doors opened to two long-winding staircases, a private elevator, fifteen bedrooms with plush interior by the House of Versace, a casino, a home theater, a beauty parlor, a Frank Sinatra caboose converted to a barber shop, two Olympic-size swimming pools, and three industrial kitchens, including a wood-fired oven for home-made pizza. Clearly, it rivaled those found in luxury hotels and restaurants.
The priest blessed each room including a small, window-less cubicle next to the walk-in pantry. This one was atypical, just a folding bed, a closet, a desk and a stepping stool with a tiny, curtain-less shower and bath.
“Who stays here?” he asked. “My mother,” replied the owner. “She’s incontinent. I keep her close to the garage so it’s easier to take her outside. It also blocks the stench she makes.” As if that wasn’t sickening enough, she broke into a loud, silly laugh and exclaimed, “Father, joke only.”
It wasn’t funny.
The honor and respect toward aging parents have grown cold.
“My daughter never talked with me,” confessed the 80-year old woman. “She only screams and shouts because she claims, I am hard of hearing. Anything I say is always contested, if not considered downright ridiculous.”
How could you forget that this woman was the all-heart, all-mamon (cupcake) woman who loved you unconditionally?
When you wobbled and staggered in your first attempt to walk, she waited patiently, cheering and opening her arms to prop you up. She screeched with excitement, recording this first of many firsts to etch it in her heart and in her mind. She did not pressure you, didn’t sneer but simply coaxed you to try again until walking became a physical function as common as breathing.
What about your fears? From your first stumble to your first day in school? Her gentle voice, ice drops and neon-colored bandtapes relieved and kissed the ayays away. She cooked food to indulge you, to break the fever and get you swinging back with renewed zest.
When you reached the no way-and-why years, she gave you full attention, never growing weary of repeating her answers, never getting crossed or exasperated. She even found it charming that you were curious as a cat and makulit (importunate, persistent to the point of annoyance).
When you stood before a party of strangers, you saw her standing behind like a sentry, raising her thumb to assure you that you were doing great and would shine even more.
So where did your apathy sprout from?
When my mother passed away at the age of 82, I found her Bible on her night table. She had turned it into a personal journal with written notes, dog-eared pages and beautiful verses highlighted with a luminous pen. Interestingly, there was a thick bundle of dollar notes in the last page of her Bible. What baffled me was that she didn’t spend a single note. She merely kept the bills in a linen envelope marked, from my children, my real wealth. She was not dazzled by her possessions. Her heart burst with songs of gratefulness, her favorite being I Believe (I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows) and she continuously talked about those who loved her without end, God, at the top.
My father was the same. He easily blushed whenever he heard us respond, “Basta kayo, Itay, nanginginig pa!” (Anything for you, Dad, thrilled beyond pleasure).
Treat the elderly with respect and kindness. Revive their youth. Read with them, make them laugh, take them out, and include them in your decisions and choices. Stay accessible like an in-house 911.
If they turn extremely makulit, count until 20, and don’t take offense. Divert their attention to something more pleasant like playing their favorite kundiman or love songs and classic movies. Nurse them and keep them impeccably groomed, smelling minty fresh like that dashing caballero and the dulcinea of your dreams who gave you life. Hold them tight when nostalgia hits, especially when they break down and cry.
Experience the joy in giving back love. It satisfies any longing of the heart that success, fame or fortune cannot fulfill.
If you are still unmoved, as cold as stone, remember: Tatanda ka rin. You, too, will grow old.
Don’t end up in a little cubicle living a déjà vu.