By Bharti Mehta:
“She has Parkinson’s Disease,” announced our doctor. “She has… what?” we asked in disbelief. How could it be possible that my fiercely strong mother-in-law had a disease that was slowly making her lose control over her body? We were shocked. We felt helpless as we read about symptoms online, and she underwent few more tests. It took us a year to accept it, to know that Parkinson’s had almost become a living, breathing entity in the household.
My mother-in-law’s willpower, however, was intense – she refused to accept the defeat. She smiled through the times she lost her balance, through the times she started losing control over the most natural of bodily functions. But the first time she wet her bed, she couldn’t sleep the whole night. It was at that time I found out about how common incontinence is among Parkinson’s patients. But the damage had been done – she couldn’t get over how she had lost control over her own bladder, and understandably so.
A few days later, the unimaginable happened. We were in her favourite temple, when she urinated right there, standing. As I quickly bent down to clean up, and frantically started pacifying her, I knew something in her had broken. She cried outside the temple and said, “I can’t forgive myself for what I have done.” The guilt didn’t leave her for days. The bed-wetting increased too, and we started using plastic sheets, so as to not soil the mattress. I was discussing this one day with our family gynaecologist, when she asked me, “Have you ever tried adult diapers?” My mother-in-law in diapers? It was a sight I couldn’t even dream of, as she had rejected their use strongly, even when my children were born. But I knew it was probably the right thing to do. And so, I mustered up the courage to bring it up.
“Am I like a child? How can old people like me wear diapers?” This was her first reaction. She cried a little more that day, exclaiming how her body was betraying her. She blamed herself for the amount of money we’d have to keep spending on diapers, and refused to wear them. But something that her physiotherapist said that week made all the difference. “If your food is bland, won’t it be better to just add some table salt to it? Think of it like that – it’s an addition, an accessory to make life easier. Think of it like a kneecap you’d wear if your knee was swollen.” That was the first night my mother-in-law wore an adult diaper, and after weeks, she slept soundlessly.
Over the next year, she started wearing it outside too, getting over the shame. When friends came to visit her, and asked every few minutes, “Won’t you feel better if you visit the washroom?”, she’d smile and say: “I got myself covered.” On her birthday, she asked to be taken to an old-age home in our city. After spending two hours laughing and joking with the residents there, for the first time, she openly spoke about wearing adult diapers. There was no judgement in the room, and no shame. There was only understanding, with some people even nodding and sharing their experiences. It had been a long journey, but finally, my mother-in-law had accepted her condition as normal, as natural.
When she was 76, my courageous mother-in-law – who was an idol to many – passed away leaving a big vacuum in my heart. Even today, I think of just how far she’d come in dealing with her illness, and everything that came along with it. It takes a great amount of courage to break free from the perceptions we hold so firmly – of what’s acceptable, what’s shameful, and what’s not. Years have passed, but it still baffles me how we attach stigma (for no reason at all) to natural bodily conditions like these. How is it that we’d rather hold on to the stigma rather than ensure a good life for those who’re suffering?
But family members can do a lot in helping elders especially break free from these notions and live easier, healthier lives. And as I learned from experience, they won’t be the only ones who’ll feel better. You’ll feel better too – like you’ve finally embraced something that will help shape your view of many other situations. Trust me, this will make a big difference!