Parental Pairing

It was a balmy April afternoon three summers ago. My mother-in-law went for a routine health check-up, brimming with life.

She returned home 3 hours later. In a coffin. Lifeless.

My father-in-law was devastated. The shock was enormous, the loss monumental.

A companionship of 55 years had been axed asudden, without a caveat.

For over five decades, the couple had been inseparable.

Going for long romantic drives, playing rummy, or just sitting together in the parked car, listening to music for hours…oblivious to the outside world. 

Every evening, he drove her to the city club where she played cards with her friends. He didn’t play because he never won. Unlucky in cards, lucky in love…he quipped.

Their relationship radiated a glow of camaraderie and affection. The whole house hummed a happy tune of harmony, nurtured by mutual respect and a loving partnership.

Then suddenly, one partner broke the deal and embarked upon a journey into another world.

A household buzzing with activity now languished in solitude. Its walls, reverberating with laughter till yesterday, switched to ashen tunes and haunting melodies.

A shadow, that was once human, meandered around the dark empty abyss of isolation.

It spoke no more. It smiled no more.  The demons of nostalgia peeped from every nook of the house, every crevice of the soul.

Those club drives, those card sessions, those music soirees …over! Those grocery lists, those dinner menus, those electricity bills..irrelevant!  An entire household got uprooted…in one single swoosh.

Just a year earlier, my family had experienced a similar situation when my father succumbed to a heart ailment and moved godwards.

My mom — we called her 80-20. Eighty percent of the times she was a lovable bundle of energy — an unguided missile darting in multiple directions — ‘unputdownable’ in every sense of the word.

Twenty percent of the time, she appeared a tad low surrounded by a mist of vulnerability. Bipolar disorder said the doctor. We took his declaration with a pinch of nonchalance because Mom’s occasional bouts of depression were completely overshadowed by her ‘happy hours’.

After my father’s demise, I expected mom to bounce back quickly and resume her hyperactive lifestyle.

Unfortunately, what happened was just the opposite. Her 80:20 became 20:80. She became reticent and depressed… immersed in silent grief.
She was like a flower that wilts for lack of oxygen — the oxygen of a spouse’s love and companionship.

As my mother-in-law’s last rites were being performed, the anguish-laden look on my father-in-law’s face seemed uncannily familiar. I recollected having seen it on mom’s face at dad’s funeral. My heart went out for the odd parental pair left behind.

And then my thoughts wandered into an untrodden territory: “Two lonely souls… wrapped in grief in the sunset years of their lives…once pillars of strength to their respective spouses… could one explore the possibility of bringing them together to provide the same strength to each other? ..could we help them share a symbiotic relationship, not as soul mates perhaps, but at least as companions?

Empirical evidence has it that birds of a feather flock together… we all yearn to communicate with people our age … like-minded individuals with interests in-sync and a common mental platform.

In most traditional Indian families, if a man loses his wife, it is common practice to ask the sister-in-law to marry him…  So why can’t two old parents, leading lonely lives in two separate cities, be brought together under one roof to share their lives? …Won’t their interaction heal the scars of loneliness faster…?”

The thought-flow was bold. A trifle scary, perhaps. Sweeping it under the carpet of corroded convention, I reprimanded myself for launching emotional trajectories at inopportune times.

The feeling ebbed into the recesses of my mind as I got busy with various arrangements.

Our family’s foremost concern was to help my father-in-law cope with his tragic loss. We brought him to Delhi to live with us…tried keeping him busy by getting him club memberships and taking him for movies and holidays.

He feigned happiness but we could tell that the demons of loneliness were getting their grip on him.

All our endeavors to give him company and keep him busy were a  poor substitute for the wholesomeness of the relation that he once enjoyed with his spouse.

Six months flew by. And one day my mom, who was coping with depression in another city, came to visit us on her doctor’s advice. A change of environs would do her good, he felt.

Miraculously, within just one week of being with us, mom’s health improved for the better.  And my father-in-law had a huge role to play in it.

He spoke, she listened. She complained, he empathized. Their animated tete-a-tetes saw hours fly and healing happen.

As I saw him hold her arm and encourage her to stroll in the garden, the thought that I had relegated to the bottom-most crevices of my heart, surfaced once again.

It seemed like happy days were round the corner.

That night, I went to bed excited about talking to my husband about what I had in mind.

The next morning I woke up to discover that my mom had passed away in her sleep.