The final journey
As I reached the crowded hospital ward, I saw Uncle Paul lying on his bed semi-comatose, gasping and on nasal oxygen. He looked so thin and emaciated that I could hardly recognize him. I held his hand firmly and called him but there was no response whatsoever from him. Then all of a sudden he took a deep breath which was his last. Uncle Paul died peacefully in front of me. It was as though he had patiently waited for me since his admission for a serious lung infection 3 days earlier. I cursed myself for not going to see him earlier.
Uncle Paul was an elderly gentleman whom I had the privilege of being befriends over the last 2 years or so, having met him on a number of occasions recently. Uncle Paul had journeyed through life for the past 87years until his demise on 15 May 2009.His vast experiences in his life added further to the many lessons I have learnt in my own. I hope a brief description of this wonderful person will enrich your own experiences in dealing with those around you.
I always believe that every human is a marvelous creation of God, who is a chest of knowledge and experience waiting to be tapped. Uncle Paul is undeniably such a marvelous creation of His.
In a world that is so materialistic, so competitive and so advanced in technology, when we are so busy toiling to make ends meet we have very little time for old people like Paul who have nothing valuable to contribute to our advancements. We fail to realize that every human, regardless of race and religion, young or old, rich or poor is a chest of treasure and knowledge for us in life to be tapped for our own benefit and the benefit of those around us.
In fact many of us today do not have the time even for our own aged parents, who have made us what we are now. We find so many excuses to send them away somewhere hoping they would be happier there than being with us. We pass the responsibility to others who may even be strangers, hoping that they can provide better care and comfort than us in our own homes. One such place is the old folk’s homes that are mushrooming all over the country due to the tremendous increase in demand. We may have no choice so do they as all old people will never opt for such a place if only they had a choice to be taken care in their own homes.
Uncle Paul stayed in one such home and he appeared happy to be in the company of fellow inmates. Fortunately he still received his monthly pension to pay for his maintenance at the home. His basic needs were taken care of reasonably well and he was regularly visited by his children, relatives and friends. Some visit him out of duty others out of courtesy but it was encouraging that there were a number of them who did so out of love for him as a fellow human, bringing him food and gifts he liked and missed most. Like all parents, he never blamed his children for sending him there, but we knew that deep inside he missed their continuous company. He missed his home, not just the building but the company of his loved ones.
He lost his wife 20 years ago when she died after a short illness and till his last days he missed her so dearly. At the twilight of life, as his physical and mental faculties began to fail him to fail him one by one; he had no permanent companion to cling on for support, solace and reassurance. That was the time he wished so badly that his wife was around to share the pains of old age. His eyes used to swell with tears each time he talked about the darling in his life. He used to repeatedly say, “if only my wife was around, I will not be here.”
I learnt a lot about the past from my meetings with him, about life at the time of the British and the Japanese occupation, his family and all his experiences over the past 86 years. As I myself grow older, and my children leaving home one by one, I seem to appreciate his experiences much more as they are becoming increasingly more relevant in my own life. I look around and see that many more leading such solitude lives without a shoulder to lean on for solace. Are we heading for such lonely lives in the years to come? Only time will tell but is frightening to think we may be so.
Among some of the things that struck me first on meeting Uncle Paul was his neatly groomed appearance and his punctuality. Every time I make an appointment to meet him he is ready waiting for me, neatly dressed in slacks, long sleeved shirt and polished shoes. According to his caretaker he used to wake up and get ready hours earlier and sit in the porch eagerly waiting for my arrival. He never failed to greet me as soon as he sees me. I could sense the warmth in his voice and the grip of his handshake.Depite his failing memory he would remember the details of children and never once failed to enquire about them each time we met.
His punctuality puts many of us to shame as we have very little regards for time and people these days. Punctuality is an indication of our eagerness to meet someone and it reflects the place we accord him in our hearts. I understand if we value somebody’s company then we would never be late to meet him as our minds will always be preoccupied with thoughts of that person. These days very few people value the true company of others unless they have something to gain and that may be the reasons why we are always late for appointments. We tend to value a person by his material possession not by the contents of his heart. We seem to have lost the human touch in our dealings with fellow men.
Living steadfast to his father’s advice
Another interesting thing I learnt from Uncle Paul was his attitude towards his late parents that was reflected in his advice to the youngsters of today. He remembered and cherished what his father had advised him when he was working in the government service as a young man.
He recalled his father’s strong stand against corruption. He remembered what his late father had told him, “If you are in dire need of money, you may borrow or even beg for it but never accept bribes however desperate you may be”.
He adhered to his father’s advised so strictly that he could not afford to own his own house and lived in government quarters all his life. At the twilight years of his life he did not have a place to call home and had to settle for an old folk’s home as his abode. It was the price he had to pay for being steadfast in submitting to his father’s stand against corruption.
Advice to the young
When asked for his advice to the youngsters of today, who have little respect for the elderly, he said, “They should honor their father and mother and everything else will be fine”. Reflecting on what he said and recalling the experiences with many, I realized how right he was. He may be old and senile but he pushed forward a point about a very important issue in our lives, honoring our parents, which I agree determines to a great extent whether we attain the happiness we all strive for. If we miss this important lesson then all our efforts to seek that happiness will all be in vain.
To honor our parents is not just providing food and shelter, but to show great respect for them especially for their pride, honesty and the principles for which they stood steadfast. Do the actions in our own lives reflect this honor that is due to them? We must always do things that uphold their pride and honor; otherwise we would be failing them.
We make many major decisions in our lives, like choosing our life partners; change of career, travelling to distant land, caring for our children, major illnesses and so on. Do we consult them, at least as a mark of respect, regarding these major changes in our lives? They may not be in a position to give us the physical or monetary help but I am sure they can give us something that all the money in the world cannot buy - advice based on personal experience. Unfortunately this invaluable commodity is the least we value these days.
Giving what they like
Often we give our elderly parents what we think they like, not realizing their true likes and dislikes. As children we believe that we are giving them the best by sending them to the old folk’s home where they have the company and are well catered for their needs. It is pertinent to ask ourselves whether they are really happy to be there. Do they need the company of others who are strangers and physically infirm? Is this what they need most at that advanced age?
They may say that they are happy there because they do not want to burden us further which is the typical sense of magnanimity of all elderly parents towards their children; however negligent or even cruel the children may be to them the parents will always have a soft spot for them in their hearts.
Loneliness, the greatest fear
Uncle Paul’s greatest fear, like all elderly people, was loneliness. This was particularly profound after the demise of his wife 20 years ago. He had the feeling that he was all alone in this cruel world. It was pathetic to realize that at the age of 86, staying in a home for the aged and surrounded by unfamiliar faces, he had very little to hope for during the final months of his life except waiting to be united with his wife which the Lord finally did.
Uncle Paul may not be around anymore but his memories and the lessons from his experiences live on in the hearts of those who know him. He and many others like him give us the opportunity to provide them a little hope and cheer in their lives, if not every day, but least during special days like Father’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries and so on. It is not money, gifts or food that they need most. All they yearn for is the love of fellow humans like you and I, in particular his children and grandchildren, to unselfishly share a little bit of our time to be with them during these special days in their lives.
As Christians we spend many hours in prayer and worship but ignore those around us not realizing that God actually dwells in these people. People like Paul should remind us that Jesus indeed lives in them not in the majestic churches we visitto pray in and the rituals we perform in our worship.We must recall what Jesus himself taught us "In as much as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.”(Mathew 25:34-40)