Death, whenever it comes, always seems to be a surprise, even if you had seen it coming for a long time. And the death of a loved one is one of the most traumatic events, but a fact of life that one has to face.
Losing a spouse to death is tough and, probably, more so in old age when one has spent a good part of life sharing all the ups and downs, the smiles and tears, and has given birth to and natured many more relationships.
The death of a spouse can make a person become disoriented for a while because the person with whom everything was shared is no more, and picking up the threads of life can seem difficult. The other side of the bed is now empty and so is the chair besides you at the dinning table. The dear departed one’s things have to be put or given away – from the bathroom, dresser, cupboard and bedroom.
Many feel that an aged widower finds life very difficult without the person who has been folding his clothes for years, making food just the way he liked, putting up with his eccentricities and giving him unconditional support.
In old age when the kids have grown up, gotten married and many have left the family home to set up their own, an elderly couple relies more than ever on each other. Having hit the retirement age means that there is no career to consume one’s time and energy, and health issues, or simply age, restricts them from doing the activities that commonly kept them occupied in youth. Most couples have only each other for company or care, and when one spouse dies, the other one is left without support at a time when one is in most need of support.
Some may argue that being a widow in our culture is very tough, while a widower doesn’t have to deal with the social stigma because of his gender. But many feel that an aged widower finds life very difficult without the person who has been folding his clothes for years, making food just the way he liked, putting up with his eccentricities and giving him unconditional support. Now he has to depend on others, who may be too busy to notice the missing button on his shirt or cook the diet food that he should be taking.
Sabir Kureshi is one such widower who lost his wife of 56 years a couple of years back. He is much withdrawn and grumpy, complaining about his daughter-in-law to anyone who would listen. The daughter-in-law, taking care of three children and the house, can hardly be blamed for not being mindful of all his everyday needs the way his late wife was.
Kureshi now spends a lot of time sitting with the other oldies of the neighbourhood in the compound of the apartment complex he lives in, because the one who kept him company at home is gone.
What is more startling is the fact that he recently asked one of his friends to look for a proposal, or rishta, for him! At 80 and with several grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, Kureshi explained that he would like to get married to a widow so that he has someone to take care of him.
Some may argue that being a widow in our culture is very tough, while a widower doesn’t have to deal with the social stigma because of his gender
Javed Aziz, another octogenarian, was totally devastated when his wife passed away a year ago after a long illness. While he had seen it coming, he had blocked out the possibility that she could leave him. They had a very happy married life and one would hardly see them get into silly arguments. For months one found him crying often, but he refused to leave the house he had been living in for decades and where the couple lived alone for 14 years after their youngest daughter got married.
Even now, much to his children’s dismay who are more than willing to have him live with them, he prefers to live alone, with one or the other children and grandchildren dropping in or staying over as often as they can and a maid coming in to do the cooking and housework. Arthritis doesn’t allow him to go out much and he prefers staying in the surroundings that bring back memories of the good old times. Though withdrawn and depressed, Aziz doesn’t like being shown too much sympathy and attention, despite the fact that he needs both.
The loss of companionship hits older women hard too when they are widowed. Having always been ‘Mrs Somebody’, a woman faces an identity crisis. Most feel insecure and thus depressed, drowning themselves in self-pity for months that can lead to physical and emotional problems. However, having always looked after herself, the husband and family, she is not hit so hard by not having the spouse around to provide physical care as a widower is.
How one deals with grief varies from person to person, but it is generally observed that women tend to display grief to others, and reach out or even clinging to one or more persons around them. When Mumtaz Hashmi’s husband passed away three years back, she was shocked, as were the rest of the family, for it happened suddenly.
The loss of companionship hits older women hard too when they are widowed. Having always been ‘Mrs Somebody’, a woman faces an identity crisis. Most feel insure and thus depressed, drowning themselves in self-pity for months that can lead to physical and emotional problems
While openly displaying her grief, she still kept her self involved with everything so as to know what her children were doing about the various financial issues that came up because her husband was still working as a top brass in a multinational when he passed away. She has made sure that she didn’t lose hold on the family’s financial assets and even diplomatically found a way out of handing over some things that a son hinted he wanted.
She feels she needs to have control over her part of the husband’s assets and finances so that she is not dependent on her children, and they remain dutiful to her. She lives with her favourite son, the youngest; as they did before this tragedy and makes sure that he gives time to her and takes care of her needs. It’s no wonder that while earlier the son mostly went out with his wife on their own, now Mumtaz makes sure she tags along sometimes too.
A complete opposite case is with Jamila Khan, now a widow for five years. Having always been a submissive and docile soul, she never made a demand from her husband and can’t think of asking the same from her five children. Literary homeless because the small family home was sold as soon as the patriarch passed away, and the money was divided between the children, with the eldest taking the mother’s share because he was going to keep her. However, on one pretext or the other, he keeps sending her off to his other siblings’ homes to live for months. And poor Jamila tries to serve as an unpaid maid wherever she goes in the hope that she would be given a warm welcome. She suffers from high blood pressure and frequent ill-health, and wishes to see the end of her days soon.
In old age, a couple share a sense of companionship that is far deeper than in their younger days. The comfort level attained after years of living together makes them seek out each other’s company more than ever. Losing this bond, at such a fragile stage in life, is devastating.