Should you send your parents to nursing home/ old folks home?

Health

We have just passed Mother’s Day and Father’s Day would be approaching. Hidden within the fringe of society, many parents are spending these days in old folks or nursing homes.

In this era, grown children would not think twice to send off their parents permanently to go stay in an old folks home once their parents become an inconvenience to them. Or if the parent suffered an illness, disability or the spouse does not like, then off their aged parent goes.

It is like that they are being discarded and forgotten. Visits become less and less infrequent till it become none at all especially if the parent dared to as much complain or say anything negative. Most aged parent that get sent to an old folks home eventually deteriorate quickly…and die of a broken heart.

Actually, it is totally unthinkable in Asian culture as filial piety is valued above all else. Sadly, it is no longer the case as materialism has sipped into our culture.

Here are some real life examples:

1. A man have 7 children. When he suffered a stroke, he was left with paralysis on one side of his body. He still had mobility with some help and is not bedridden.

None of his 7 children were willing to take him in. He was admitted to the old folks home, a higher end one. No doubt the facility is good as it cost over RM10k a month but he was miserable.

The following stories were shared by my mom to me last time. These were experiences she had encountered as a nurse working in a busy third class ward in a hospital:

2. An old lady was admitted to hospital. The first class ward which was air conditioned were all fully occupied (they usually are). Her grown children came in and made a hu-ha in the ward, complaining and criticizing the staff and insisted that their mother be placed in the first class ward. Her bed area were filled with flowers baskets and gifts and her children came to visit her frequently and they usually threw drama when they came. Finally, there was a vacant bed in the first class ward and the lady was moved there.

Not long later, my mom came to work one day to find the old lady back at the third class ward. Puzzled, my mother asked her colleague what happened? What was she doing here?

It seemed that all the drama and nice treatment ended abruptly the moment the lady signed off her entire estate to her grown children. She was discarded and no one came to visit her after that. Her bed were empty. There were no longer any flowers or gifts.

She passed away not long later of a broken heart.

3. An old lady was sent to hospital. When it was time to discharge, my mom could not contact the family. After some effort, she was finally given an address. She arranged for an ambulance to send the lady home.

The address provided was a funeral parlor!

The caretaker of the parlor came out, shocked and said ‘we only accept dead bodies, not people who are still alive!’. The lady was brought back to hospital by the irritated ambulance driver. She also passed away not long later.

4. There was an old lady admitted to the hospital. A man often came to visit the old lady, buying some nyonya kuih as he said she liked nyonya kuih. When it was time for the old lady to be discharged, my mother approached the man to inform that it is time to get ready to discharge and bring her home.

The man was shocked and looked very scared. He said that lady was not his mother. She was a servant. But my mom felt very puzzled because the man’s looks bore a strong resemblance to the lady. He muttered something about his wife not liking her to be around so he could not take her home.

He never showed up again to visit the old lady.

Learning from others

From young, my mom told me that she had a strong admiration for the Malay community because they always took care of the elderly. If someone is sick, there would be no short of caregivers showing up to visit. And they would want to take them home as soon as possible to care for them because they understand that elderly people do not like to stay in hospital. Once, a young Malay man was demanding to discharge his auntie. This man was not even the old lady’s son but was her ‘anak saudara’ (nephew) and yet he showed such filial piety.

I witness the same thing in the Thai community as well. Even though most are not rich, the family would group together to care for the elderly. Kinda like take turns, example the daughter will care in the morning and then once her children get back from school, they would help to care for a while while their mother get some rest, cook dinner or run some errands. This instilled important values in the children from young.  It is a communal way of caring and sometimes it even involve relatives and extended families. When my mother was hospitalized in a Thai hospital, most of the patients there had a caregiver who slept on a straw mat next to the patient’s bed at night. Even though the patient was not in critical condition (eg could talk and was walking around to the bathroom without needing help), there was always someone to keep them company. Sometimes the grown children will take turns ie shifts. Note: Due to covid, there is a limit of only one caregiver that needs to be there the whole day and cannot rotate. I also saw there was no shortage of just one dedicated caregiver who stayed with the patient.

In many cultures, it is doable and can be practiced. It is only a matter of whether one wants to do it or not.

Please do not send your parents to nursing/ old folks home unless there is absolutely no other way

You may not have a good childhood. You may not feel that you were being treated well.

Maybe you are the least loved child, and get little or no cut from the inheritance. But when the parent could no longer care for themselves, none of your siblings who got a big cut of the money wanted to look after… And tried to shove the responsibility to you.

Before you decide it is not your problem, there is something I wish to share. Regardless of how our childhood or if our parents practiced favoritism, they still chose to raise us. We need to understand our parents are human too. Just like now, we feel that they are old and are getting in the way, and that by taking them in we would lose freedom, flexibility and sacrificing our financials, don’t you think they had never the same?

And yet, they never discarded us. They never took us to a garbage dump or religious place and just dump us there by the entrance right? Neither had they attempted to sell us off at high price to childless couples or worst still, brothels?

I have been a fulltime caregiver to my mom for more than 4 years now. I must admit at times it was not easy. I left my career at my peak. Just not long before I resigned, my big boss had offered me a promotion. I gave up financial security and most importantly to me, my freedom to be a full time caregiver. My mom have Alzheimer’s- that means at times it would not easy to care for her.

Then one evening, I was watching her eating her dinner, and was feeling a little miserable. Then suddenly, there was a vision that struck very clearly to me. That a long time ago, my mom had been tempted to leave the marriage. She had been tempted to want to live her life to the fullest and regain her freedom. And to do that she had to leave us. She looked at me, as a child, blissfully eating away and felt very torn.

She knew she could not do it.

So she stuck to it. At times she was unhappy so yeah she had some compulsive addiction. Nothing too serious but it was enough to make her not present a lot of times when we were growing up.

Hence the realization dawned on me that our parents really make a lot of sacrifice for us. They give up a lot in order to earn to raise us. If their behaviour had hurt us deeply, it is possible to trace back a sad story in their once young life that caused them to behave in that way. In fact, I had many deep sharing with friends who I know carried wounds from their childhood. When they trust me enough to open up to me and at the same time share their parents’ stories, I was often able to let them know how the way they have been raised had triggered the way they treated us.

Bear in mind 50 years or so, emphasis was never placed on mental and emotional health. People are just expected to put up and bear with it. Emotions are being suppressed. So many would develop maladaptive coping mechanism that would be passed down to the next generation.

Still, they often did their best with that they have. Many were stuck in unhappy and even abusive marriages or had mean in-laws but they could not leave because they had no financial backing. A lot of unhappiness, feeling of being tied down and sometimes unable to breathe (figuratively). Don’t you think they had never wished they could leave their crappy job and go travelling round the world, something that they may not have the chance to do as their parents had forced them to settle down and get married young?

If you have felt that you would understand how overwhelming it felt. Yet they never throw us to the garbage dump, orphanage or discard us. And now, when they are old and defenseless, we should never do the same to them.

In the next article, I would share on some possible alternatives rather than sending our aged parents to old folks home. In the section below, I would like to include on the spiritual or karmic consequences from Buddhist and Taoist perspective. You may find some of the things mentioned here hard to believe…. I would leave it up to you.

Spiritual / Karmic Consequences of Discarding One’s Parents

In most religion, caring for our parents is important and emphasized. I have many Muslim and Hindu friends who are very filial towards not only their parents, but elders. We have a lot to learn from their values.

In both Buddhism and Taoism, being filial is considered very important. The heavens would ‘mark’ a non filial person. This is because our parents had given birth to us and raise us up. We would not have been alive today had it not because of them hence the debt we owe them is enormous and cannot be paid.

No doubt, some did not grow up with good parents, and some suffered abuse. These are also due to our past karmic affinity with our parents. Our parents would have close karmic relationships with us spanning many lifetimes. If in the past, we have been unkind or bully our parents (who in past life may be our siblings, children, etc), in this life, the role would be reversed.

You may feel your parents love other siblings more and let me tell you, it is not due to anything wrong or inadequate in you. But is because your parent owe that sibling more in previous life hence they are coming back to ‘repay’ that sibling of yours. Most of the time, you may notice that when that sibling grow up, he/she would end up disappointing your parents because he/she had come to ‘collect karmic debt’. So, don’t hold it against your parents. This life if you treat them well, next life regardless of whether they are born as your parents, children, partner, etc, they would be very nice to you.

When a person discards their parent, they may enjoy good fortune as the result of their past kamma, but once the store of good merits are used up, their life will change- they either start to suffer from health issue, or their children would turn unfilial (even though when the kids were younger they were obedient). When they start to pray or ask the heavens for help, usually no blessings would be given because it is said in many texts and teachings of spiritual masters that the heavens strongly disapprove such behaviour.

On the other hand, there are people do not do much good in their life, for example they may have dishonest livelihood, bad temper or hurt other people. But the one thing they do good is they are filial and take care of their parents (they sure know how to pick the most important value and do it well). Then one day, their fortune change and their run into bad luck or ill health, and they realized their wrongdoing and sincerely repent and pray for help. Just by the fact they are filial, they would be ‘given a chance’ and see a turn in their life.

Hence, you may feel your parents are an ‘inconvenience’ to you and hence you want to ‘pack them away’. However, by doing this, you may just bring on ill luck to yourself which would likely ripen in your later years. Some people do a lot of charity and help others, but neglect their parents. If they do it, it will write-off all the good they have done. If one is smart, one would care for one’s parents- consider it as a ‘spiritual insurance’.

There is also another thing that I would wish to add. This is up to you to believe or not. When a parent is being mistreated by their children and die with a vengeance, upon their death, when they go down to meet the King of Underworld (Yama King), they may express their hurt and vengeance. If the case is seemed justifiable, they may be granted permission to come back up (in spirit form) to take revenge. They have ‘official permission’ hence they can attach themselves to that person and be able to enter holy places. Guardians or deities would not be able to stop them, for to stop them would be to go against the laws in the spiritual world.

I have seen in cases where people who chose to send away their parents to old folks home suffer the consequences in their end years. It is most scary because when one is old, one is weak, defenseless and need to rely on others. A lot comes in the form of incurable diseases. There is a blog post I have written on case studies of spirit of vengeful mother-in-law causing illness (in the form of paralysis) to daughter-in-laws who had mistreated them while they were alive.

There is a lot of things we cannot see in this world. What we cannot see does not mean that they are not real.

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