When my mother  was younger, she was fierce about her independence. She always said she would never become dependent on anyone, that she would rather die.

Then, as she became older and her physical and mental abilities reduced, her definition of what was ‘dependent’ kept shifting, always remaining slightly beyond where she currently was.

In my mother’s case, her dementia compromised her ability to understand the progressive nature of her problem and the inevitable growth in her dependence; it is hurtful to see that a person who valued independence so much can do nothing about her state, and understand nothing.

But thinking of her earlier determination not to become dependent, I cannot help wondering why the idea of dependence is so unacceptable to most people.

I think it is easier to say you will never become dependent or inconvenience people in the phase of life when you are independent. When I think of it, I cannot remember even a single person who, while dependent, remembers and acts upon this need to ‘not depend’.

I also think this concept of ‘never being dependent’ is often more about ego and sounding correct. It is wrong to inconvenience others; so, saying you “would rather die” sounds correct and possibly a bit heroic.

Why do people say they do not want to become dependent? Is it out of consideration for the potential caregiver, or is it ego, or both? I think it is very difficult to accept help gracefully, and it may be easier to refuse help (or ignore the help you are getting) than to accept it in a way that is fulfilling to both the giver and the receiver. I often think of the book, Tuesdays with Morrie, as an example of how people can ask for help and receive it with dignity.

Here’s a thought: most of us, if we don’t die in accidents or of a heart-attack, will end up in a dependent state for at least some time. It makes sense to be emotionally ready to accept this gracefully when it does happen–though we may try our best not to reach that state.

Consider an old man, determined to remain independent, frustrated and angry at an illness that makes him bed-bound, always talking of how he hates this dependence, and trying to sabotage his recovery process by getting up to do things (against medical advice), because dependence is abhorrent to him. People around him are equally irritated, and everyone is always frowning. There are no thank-yous, no smiles, only one man proving he does not want to ‘inconvenience’ people, and others arguing with him to accept that he cannot do anything himself.

Contrast this to someone who accepts that her current state makes her dependent, is ready with smiles and kind words to her caregivers, and asks for help in a simple, direct way. People around her may be tired, but they feel valued for what they do, and often find themselves smiling back at the patient.

Which patient would you rather caregive for? And which patient would you rather be?

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India, and deeply concerned about dementia care in India. On this blog I share my own caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care in this set of pages:

2 Responses to dependence

  1. austere says:

    I thought about this a lot lot y’day.
    Thought also about ma, how she went from very vibrant sitarist to bitter human thing.
    No, I wouldn’t be able to ask for help either– some intrinsic human pride.

  2. swapnawrites says:

    Yes, I know. I think about this very often, too.

    But whether we like it or not, we are dependent in a zillion ways on others, it is just that we don’t see it.

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