The young man in his thirties takes a deep breath. He is standing in the hallway of a bustling hospital, waiting for the elevator, where he has brought his mother for a doctor’s appointment. She is walking slowly with her limp, blocking the way of several young people who are hurrying to get into the waiting lines. Whenever his mother’s slow movement blocks passersby, their faces barely hide their impatience. Embarrassed, the young man looks down and avoids their eyes, while patiently bearing with his elderly mother.
Allah says: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And spread over them humbly the wings of tenderness, and say: ‘O my Sustainer! Bestow Your grace upon them, just as they cherished and reared me when I was a child’.” (Qur’an, 17:23-24)
Sometimes, people compare weak old age to human infancy. They make comparisons about how, when a person grows very old, they need to be helped to sit up, fed mashed, bland food, and cooed and cajoled to eat like babies. Some may need to wear adult diapers at night, if their incontinence reaches an advanced stage.
However, the comparison may not be correct. No matter how hard it is for a new mother to take care of her baby round the clock, with nights providing little sleep and being on-call to change diapers or breastfeed at inopportune times, she has hope that this difficult phase will pass soon and that one day she will see her baby all grown up. She looks forward to the time when her baby will start to walk, talk and play. She knows that her tough initial motherhood duties will eventually lighten up with her baby’s growth and independence.
With aging parents, the children do not feel this relief. Instead, as they watch their parent’s health deteriorate before their eyes, they look on helplessly in despair knowing that “the time to part” might arrive any day. Even though round-the-clock care of their elderly parents might take its toll on them physically and mentally, they dread the thought of losing them.
For true believers, Allah has promised them to reunite their beloved ones – their parents and families – in an eternal blissful life in Paradise. Yes, paradise, where there is no grief or worry, no affliction or death. Believers who live in this life as travelers, who constantly do good deeds in preparation for the Hereafter, have hope in Allah’s promise and are tranquil even during such times.
The role of one’s parents changes over time. In the beginning, they are indispensable, and we hover around them for support, advice, help and solace. They teach us to eat, drink, read, and write. They impart in us a gazillion of skills just by their company and setting an example before our eyes. Whenever we feel alone during childhood, they are there for us.
In early youth, some of us feel embarrassed of them when we go out in front of our friends – the glittery world that blinds us. We feel they are not really up to date with what’s happening anymore. Our friends become our world. However, this phase soon passes with our transit from teenage to young adulthood. This is when we need our parents again. This time it is for relationship, career advice, and marriage. We also need their support when our own little ones come into this world.
The thing with the parent-child relationship is that a child’s attachment to his parents is mostly need-based, whereas the love a parent feels for his or her child is selfless and innate – placed into the heart by Allah. It has no bounds.
That’s why parents make tremendous sacrifices for their children. Children in their young age do not even understand, realize, or remember the favors their parents bestow on them. The pains of pregnancy and childbirth, the sleepless nights during infancy, the financial struggles to provide food on the table, the frantic search for jobs with adequate healthcare, and the stress of school admissions and exam preparation – whatever the stress parents go through, children can never fully appreciate them.
However, when children grow up to become adults, they lose patience with their aging parents, who may gradually become weak, senile, and cranky.
It is for this reason that Allah ordered us to be kind with them at this age. We can never really know what they did for us. Everything that we are today, after Allah’s mercy, is because of their hard work and sacrifice. They are the ones who educated us. When we were burning with fever, they stayed up to tend to us. Our whimpers tore their hearts out with agony. But we do not remember all that today. Even if a parent did not do any of this, he or she is still entitled to kind treatment, simply because of the right they have over us as parents.
When our parents become old, we should submit to Allah’s command and never ever rebuke them. Even if our elderly mother knocks away the bowl of food we serve to her, we should not protest. We should think that we probably did that to her countless times as a child, but she cleaned up the mess herself without complaining because her only concern was that her baby was not eating.
As for the irritation we feel at their sometimes unfair behavior towards us, we should be patient and hope for Allah’s mighty reward. – SG