I wasn’t looking forward to the next few moments because it was a hot and sticky day and I was going to a dirty, stuffy, clammy house, which had been locked up for a few months. It’s my parents’ place. I get it cleaned and look after it when they are not here.
I don’t like going when they are not there as it reminds me of them. An empty house is lifeless; it’s as if it has no soul. The chatter, the chaos, and the hustle and bustle of daily life are missing. It’s too quiet, and to add to it, it’s filthy. This is a constant reminder of their absence.
Although they are not there, they are everywhere. They are present in each corner of the house, in all of their possessions.
I unlock the rooms and pull the curtains to let the light in. I feel bad for not cleaning it earlier. But I know that this was the earliest it could have been due to the pandemic.
The bathrooms are a mess and one of them smells damp. I think about how my parents, who are particular about hygiene and cleanliness, would be shocked to find the house like this.
I remove the paper from the worktop in the kitchen to reveal the black marble shining beneath it. The gap between the papers has betrayed me and there is a line of dust from top to bottom. I should have been more careful to overlap the paper properly.
The crockery and cutlery look clean inside the cupboard, but they, too, need to be scrubbed before use. There’s a rim of brown-black grease around the burners. My mum would have been really disturbed to see this. She maintained her kitchen like jewels, and I learned everything from her.
I go to the bedroom and pick up the papers from the bed and chest of drawers. The cupboards have expired bottles of shampoo, hair dye, hand wash, and soap, amongst other cosmetics. I start putting the toxic stuff in a bag because I don’t want her to use any of it when she comes home. My mother, who used to dress in the finest clothes and wear the most beautiful makeup (and taught me how to use it), doesn’t really wear makeup anymore. That phase of her life has passed. Now, I will have to encourage her, or rather put it on her myself.
I move to the next cupboard. I open a book that has the name of a medical brand on it. It’s a dictionary. On the first page, I see my father’s name and his work address. It hits me, then, that at one time, he used to go there every day. We used to see this address under his name on his prescriptions, books, and correspondence. Every morning we used to see him hurry downstairs in his crisp, clean shirt and his suit and tie, rush through his breakfast, gulp down his orange juice, and go to work. Rain, hail, snow, sunshine, wind, he used to go all year no matter what.
Before that phase, he used to do locum work. He would go to the locum agency after regular work twice a week and work until one o’clock the next morning. Then get up and go to work, as usual, the next day. This must have continued for three to four years until life was a little more comfortable for us. My father is a self-made man, and he has worked hard all his life to make his and his family’s life comfortable. As we started to fend for ourselves, he weaned off helping us and made a good life for himself and my mum.
As we are growing up and watch our parents, we don’t realise that they are making a life for us as well as for themselves. We don’t even think about why they should do this, just because they have given birth to us. Why should they buy a house in which I can have my own bedroom when I am comfortable sharing with my sibling? Why should they buy me a better quality pair of shoes when cheap ones will suffice? Why should they take me to the orthodontists when my teeth were about to stick out and I would end up looking goofy?
Parents don’t have to do everything. They can compromise, do the minimum, and still love us—can’t they?
Time doesn’t stand still. It flies. Now, it’s my time to help them in whatever way I can. It won’t be enough and nowhere near what they have done for me, but I think I owe my parents that.
We owe our parents that.
Here is a list of some things which we can do to help our parents:
1. Keep in touch (the bare minimum). Just a phone call or a message every day, or every other day, or even twice a week, so that they know that we care and won’t hesitate to ask us for help. This also eliminates their fear and insecurities, which parents develop at a certain age.
2. Assist with their household chores, or even grocery shopping, depending on where you live.
3. Spend time with them. This is a big one. Spending time with them is priceless and makes them happy. We get to gain some of their wisdom, and they become younger whilst spending time with us.
4. Attend to their medical needs when and if they would like us to do so.
5. Take them out for a film, a coffee, or just for a stroll around the park. A change in their daily schedule will be refreshing for them.
6. Visit. Depending on where you live, make regular weekend, monthly, or annual visits.
7. Teach your children to respect, visit, and take care of their grandparents. It’s important that our children do not take their grandparents for granted. We should tell our children stories about our parents so that they may be able to relate to them better and bond more easily. Visiting their grandparents’ house is something all children should look forward to. It may not have all the toys which they have at home, but it holds many memories which will last a lifetime.
Looking around, I realise that there is too much to do at my parents’ place. I start to feel a little uncomfortable and lonely, so I decide to call and coordinate with a cleaner who can help me on another day. I also make up my mind to come here more often and not cover up the place with paper because I don’t like to see it all locked up. I will try to get it cleaned on a more regular basis and will start using it from time to time, so it remains like a lively, lived-in house.
After dusting a photograph in a frame, I put it away, back inside the drawer. I then decide to put all the photos up on display after the cleaning is over.
I get my keys to lock up once again and close the door behind me. I need time to process all the emotions I have felt in the last few moments. I need time to heal. I go back home, and my daughter greets me happily; that is all I need to bring me back to the present.
I appreciate that no matter what, life goes on.