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Protect our parents from elder abuse

All's well that ends well. At least that was how Harian Metro, the number one Malay tabloid in Malaysia, portrayed it.

Amir Mohd Omar, who abandoned his paralysed mother to the care of strangers at a budget hotel at Jalan Raja Muda Musa, Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, has accepted a job offer from an entrepreneur and Malaysians have high expectations regarding his filial duty.

Would he be able to hold it together this time and not crack under the strain of managing his day-to-day life which includes looking after his aging mother?

I would like to think that he would do the right thing now.

Anti-Amir sentiment ran high when the public read that he had walked away from his physically incapacitated mother, Faridah Maulud, 66,  after checking her into the hotel.

His distraught mother was discovered by hotel staff a few days later when they found out that he didn't pay the hotel bill. Her gut-wrenching photo on the front page of the tabloid touched many readers of the newspaper including this writer.

The reasons for his action are unclear but the then jobless 27 year-old reportedly said that it was an act of sheer desperation: he was worried about his health and financial difficulties.

He reunited with his mother -- thanks to Harian Metro which went to town on the story -- ten days after abdicating his responsibility. Congratulations Harian Metro!

"I knew he did not mean to desert me. I want to stay with him because he is the only family that I have. Thank you all for bringing him back to me," said Faridah at the reunion.

That is a good example of unconditional love. Amir! How could you? That was my initial reaction and I am certain that was how others felt too. There's no excuse for such behaviour.

Islam is strict about elder abuse and mandates that adult children take good care of their parents. The reality is that Amir's case represents only the tip of the iceberg, since headlines suggest that people discard their parents at hospitals, nursing homes and on the streets.

There are other cases which go unreported including the one involving an acquaintance who was kicked out of the family home several years ago when he objected to his youngest daughter's choice of marriage partner.

The fact that the young woman's suitor has a criminal record and was staying illegally in Malaysia at the time seemed irrelevant to his wife and two daughters who were adamant that the couple should get married. 

The situation overseas is just as tragic. As the New York Times (When the ties that bind unravel, Mar 3, 2010) puts it: "While there are no official tallies of parents whose adult children have cut them off, there is no shortage of headlines."

Here's one: Angelina Jolie mends her eight year rift with father Jon Voight after Brad Pitt plays peacemaker

The New York Times continues: "A number of Web sites and online chat rooms are devoted to the issue, with heartbreaking tales of children who refuse their parents' phone calls and e-mail and won't let them see grandchildren. Some parents seek grief counselling, while others fall into depression and even contemplate suicide."

A wide range of emotionally stressful events may trigger parental estrangement: "conflict over money, a boyfriend, or built-up resentments about a parent's divorce or remarriage".

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, an expert on parental estrangement and author of "When Parents Hurt", notes that "we live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible".

"But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It's about parents who were good parents, who made mistakes that were certainly within normal limits." According to Coleman, parental estrangement is a "silent epidemic" because many parents are ashamed to admit they've lost contact with their children.


My question to Amir is: what did your mother do to you to deserve abandonment? I imagine it's a terrible experience and I wouldn't wish something like that on my worst enemy.

Your mother needs lots of tender loving care to feel safe again. Please remember that, Amir.


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