We all know that the day is likely to arrive when we will have to be involved in the decision as to where our parents will live and be taken care of as they become unable to do the everyday tasks themselves.
‘If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature: Will they not then understand?’ (Ya’sin:68)
This an emotive topic that can have us traversing the whole range of feelings available to the human race, but the primary one we are likely to encounter is guilt: Am I doing what’s right? Am I doing enough? Have I let them down? Not too dissimilar to what we may meet with regards to our own children’s upbringing. With the help of some Facebook friends, I attempt to explore this delicate predicament we might find ourselves in some day.
Kerri* defined the difficulty well when she stated that ‘ … caring for own family isn’t always an option for most people due to many reasons such as financial constraints e.g. most people cannot give up work, most people do not have the money for making adaptations to their home etc. or the space required for an extra person or the time to give somebody an enjoyable last few years of their life or dignified end of life care.’
I believe that this poignantly encapsulates what we may face when making a decision of what to do with parents that might need ‘taking care’ of. In the busy lives led by most, predominantly in the West, the question of placing a parent or two in a nursing home, sheltered care or another similar abode arises but how do we make that decision? Is it not our Islamic duty to personally take care of them in their old age?
Khalid* in response to this topic posed some useful questions that might be worth considering when contemplating what to do:
‘ … What does Islam say about rights of the person in question? What are the reasons? Does the person in question want this to happen? Is it affordable? … Is this option being used to avoid responsibilities? …’
The last question in particular may be difficult one to ask ourselves but it needs to be faced in order to ensure that what we are doing is for the ‘right reasons’. We can of course kid ourselves into thinking that what we are doing is the best for all concerned but is it really? And who are we ultimately harming if this is not the case?
Khadijah* who looked after her elderly father-in-law before he passed away shares her views on the matter, ‘….care homes should be a last resort or first choice if that is what the elderly person wants.’
So it seems, from the discussion that it should be the elderly person’s choice whether they live with their children or move into residential care. ‘Money isn’t an excuse to not look after the elderly unless you need to have a room and bathroom installed downstairs. The council installs help aids into homes’ argues Khadijah* who recognises that in the UK, the elderly have much more choice available to them.
But what if for whatever reason they need to be in residential care, how then do we go about choosing where to send them? Kerri* who works in a care home says, ‘I guess I’d consider ideally the choice of the person, their wishes and try to match that as closely as possibly taking into account practicalities. There are many types of care home available, if that is the preferred option; it just means looking around and picking one that fits the person’s list of wants.’
Whilst for Khadijah* ‘Choice of care home would be based on the quality of care and distance from home so that regular visits can be made.’
Rafia* who agrees with Khadijah’s* points, provides an alternative to parents being sent to care homes or moving in with the children:
‘I live with my granddad … just me and him, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My grandparents pretty much brought me and my older brother up as Mum and Dad had to work, and so they’ve been a huge part of our lives … I get that my granddad is getting old and losing the plot mentally as you do with age but I think as he is my grandfather and not my father, we (grandkids) tolerate his La-La-ness better than say his sons or daughters. If my dad said half the things my granddad does I would be in a care home myself. He is pretty much independent and that makes our situation a little bit easier than others … With me and him it just works’
So it seems that sometimes we are fortunate to have choice available to us. Not everyone has the option and not everyone has the support services available to them so that they can take a break if necessary. As Khadijah* admits ‘To be honest, looking after the elderly isn’t easy’
However she also recognises the benefits ‘ …. but there is something special about having a grandparent living in the same home as the grandchildren. The children have more respect for the elderly and understand more about pains, illnesses and about caring for others’
As a final note I would just like to share and clarify a list of issues that might need to be considered in the decision making process:
1. What does my parent(s) want?
2. What do I want?
3. Why am I doing this? Clarify intention and purpose.
4. What am I capable of (emotionally, physically, financially etc)?
5. What am I giving up (emotionally, islamically, as a family etc) by placing them in a home?
6. What is there available in terms of residential care that fulfills my parent(s)’ needs and wishes?
7. What, if any, are the possible alternatives?
8. How far is it? What are the visiting times and options?
It is a balancing act but if we can achieve or at least attempt to do the right thing by our parents, we will have gone some way towards fulfilling our obligations to them. But I know that these choices and decisions are not made just to be dutiful, they are also made out of love and a wish to do right by our elderly and perhaps frail parents.
Finally, I would recommend performing isthi’khara and encouraging all others involved in the decision making to also do so. Allah (SWT) knows best.
Below are a few organisations and agencies that might be of aid in the search and journey to taking care of elderly parents:
(*Some names and /or details have been altered in order to provide and maintain anonymity)
Khalida Haque is a qualified Integrative Counsellor/Psychotherapist with an independent practice, is founder of Khair and is a Counselling Services Manager. She has varied clinical experience that includes working with elders, and feels honoured and privileged to be doing the work she does. Alhamdulillah.