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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Relying on an interdependent society

Rika Kayama

My mother lives in the city of Otaru in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, with a population of less than 120,000. Approximately 40% of the residents there are aged at least 65. My mother, in her late 80s, is one of them. Though she somehow manages to live on her own, she also receives medical and welfare care services.

Medical and welfare professionals who currently support health care services in Otaru include my former classmates and seniors. Such people in their 50s and 60s are considered part of the "younger generations" among the older population and are actively trying to create a livable community for the elderly.

When I have the chance to meet such people, I can't help but feel a bit ashamed for working in Tokyo, away from my hometown. Sometimes I come across news of a friend from junior high school or other people I know from Otaru, such as, "You know, that person came back from Kansai in western Japan and is looking after their parents while working very hard." Such updates make me feel pangs of guilt and I question myself over whether I should also be doing my best for the community.

Professionals who provide care for my mom, however, say that I don't need to worry so much. "That's not true. Your mother is proud to have a daughter who is working hard in Tokyo. All you need to do is to come back home from time to time like this," one of them said as they cheered me up with a smile. "We'll take care of the rest."

For an individual who has to take care of another family member, there's nothing more reassuring than to hear that I can "leave the rest" to an expert. And on each such occasion, I wonder if I -- also a medical professional -- sound reassuring to my patients' families in the same way.

The kin of patients who come to my examination room usually blame themselves for their loved ones' condition. "If only I had paid closer attention to my son and noticed that he was being bullied, he wouldn't have shut himself inside his room," a parent once told me. In such cases, I always tell them, "That's not true. You must have been doing the best you could."

Nonetheless, it's hard to go as far as to say, "You can leave the rest of the treatment to us." All we can usually say is, "We'll do the best we can." But from next time, I am thinking about more strongly urging the families of patients to take better care of their own lives and to leave the rest to us.

I rely on other professionals to take care of my mother to some extent. Other people can depend on me to treat their family members who need care. I believe our society is based on such interdependency.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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