Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for October, 2021 is Navigating Complex Emotions. The pandemic has interrupted our emotions in many ways, and added to the complexities of our mental well being. FII invites submissions on coping with these complicated feelings, throughout this month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
During the month of September 2020, my father was diagnosed with Covid-19. It started off as a normal enough evening at home. The world outside that had then just started getting a taste of the pandemic burst with tales of sickness, apathy loss and grief. But selfishly enough, inside the four walls of my house, all was as it should be, until it suddenly wasn’t.
One minute I was in my room, my parents in the TV room as was the routine, and the next minute, my mother’s panicky voice rang outside my door. My father had to travel to Himachal for work and had gotten tested for the same. None of us were expecting the test to come out positive. But then again, life has a way of defying one’s expectations.
I starkly remember the panicked look on my mother’s face when she told me the news. I recall taking a deep breath and pacing myself before going over to the TV room where my father had quickly isolated himself. The first 20 minutes passed in a blur. Between making arrangements in terms of medicines and rallying everyone in the house, my mother and I could barely process the gravity of the situation at hand. My father was now also running a temperature.
This situation playing out was all of my worst nightmares combined in one. Covid-19 so far had affected me but only from afar, my bubbled privilege keeping me safe and sound, until then. That bubble was ripped apart and shredded into pieces. My father being my father, the leader of the house and the leader of the pack, kept a strong, brave face, maintaining his usual sense of humor. He almost brushed it off like it was nothing.
But it wasn’t nothing, it was everything. He knew that and we knew that too. My mother being my mother, quietly panicking, asked me to look around for hospitals in case of the ‘worst case scenario’ taking place.
Those words coming out of her mouth were all it took – suddenly, fireworks exploded in my brain. It is one thing to come to the realisation that your parents are getting older, especially being an only child and it is another to be faced with the prospect of their mortality. Of course, my privilege plays a huge role here. Being able to successfully isolate, not having to worry about food and medicine, being surrounded by family and people who are always there to help, make things more navigable. Still, in that moment, things felt very tense.
The 14-day quarantine period had now begun. My father, mother, my cousin sister who was living with us and our help Savena were now thrown into this complex situation and we had to weather it together. This was the kind of ‘staycation’ none of us had asked for, but then again there we were.
I have perhaps never appreciated my parents or their resilience in the face of all odds more than I did during this rather strange period. Strange, for the lack of a better word or emotion. My father was running a temperature among other symptoms for most part of the quarantine period. Yet, he made sure to keep a brave, strong face for himself. Whether he did it for himself or for all of us, I cannot tell, but it seemed to work for him.
He kept himself mentally busy and occupied for the most part, with us having to remind him from time to time that he was indeed sick and needed rest. My mother had kicked into overdrive at this point, juggling a gazillion things all at once. Things were okay for the first two days, until suddenly everyone else in the house fell sick.
Truly the saying, ‘When it rains it pours’ could not be truer than it was in this situation. Our help Savena, who was my mother’s right-hand, fell first. Then it was my cousin, then me. Suddenly, there were four sick people in the house. No one was allowed to enter and no one was allowed to exit. My mother was truly the last woman standing.
She was on her feet all day from morning till night, catering now to her sick husband, daughter, niece and Savena. Her own health and safety took a backseat and she carried all of us through like only a super human could. My father, when he would feel particularly unwell in those oh so rare moments, would let his vulnerability come through in the form of jokes to the effect of, “I am dying.” Even in those moments he made sure to elicit a cautious laugh out of all of us and kept the humor alive.
Between all of us trying to understand just what a Covid-19 diagnosis meant and what permanent effects the same would have in the long run, it was a bonding experience like no other.
Parenting is a rather funny thing. Especially for me as an adult living with my parents, when I look back at my own journey with them there have been so many different phases. The rebellious teenage phase where no one understands you and you understand no one, let alone your parents. The phase where your parents are your sworn mortal enemies. The phase where you start to grow up and look at your parents not just as your parents but as individuals, people with their own histories, hopes, dreams, desires, people with their own childhood trauma and experiences that have shaped them to be who they are. You understand them a little better and a little more, and in the process, perhaps you understand yourself a little better too.
A lot of friends my age, crib about having to live at home with their parents, expressing the natural desire and need for their own space. I too have had those moments, but in all honesty, I pretty much lucked out in the parental department. In a lot of ways, I am extremely similar to my parents. You cannot outrun your DNA and genetics beyond a certain point, but in more ways, I am also completely different. My parents have accepted me for who I am, begrudgingly at times but they have, and most importantly they let me be.
Whether it be supporting me through my journey of therapy or working with me to manage my depression to the best of their ability, despite their own feelings about the entire topic of mental health, they have been accepting and respectful of my boundaries. Most importantly, they have given me the freedom to make and learn from my own mistakes and always supported me and had my back, no matter what.
Our parents are obviously from a different generation and generation gap is a very real phenomena, especially in Indian families. But I see my parents trying to understand and bridge the gap to the best they can, and I truly appreciate it. For a lot of us, parents and family can be a very tricky and sadly enough, toxic space. For the lucky ones, parents can be the main source of strength, support and true unconditional love.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the Covid-19 experience was when I was truly hit with the realisation that my parents are not invincible beings who will always be around, no matter what. It is in times like these when the unknown, uncertainty of life hits you in the face, that you realise who are the people who will ride into the storm with you, making sure you are okay.
As my parents get older and so do I, I appreciate now more than ever who they are and all they’ve done for me and continue to do for me. How lucky are some of us to experience such pure, unconditional, unbridled love and how much of a better human being does that make us!
Shrutika Shridhar is an entrepreneur, lawyer and writer based out of New Delhi. She lives to travel, eat and read. Music is her religion and she is constantly questioning her own biases and trying to unlearn and relearn everything she has ever been taught. She is also a huge advocate for Mental Health. You may find her on Instagram and Facebook
Featured Image: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India