I met a hundred-and-two-year old Chinese-Singaporean elderly with his son in his late sixties. They live together in a small studio-type unit. The old man was diagnosed with a rectal tumor, which causes him to feel the urge every now and then (and I mean more than 20 times a day). And as I can see it, Uncle, the son, needed someone to talk to so I started of by asking simple questions. I asked how many siblings does he have. I never expected a story from that one question. Here it goes:
He lived all his life with the old man. He has one brother and two sisters, him being the youngest. Thirty or more years ago, Ah kong (meaning grandpa) stopped working from a barbershop and so unclr was obliged to take responsibility of everything: bills, food, needs, and the old man himself. Unfortunately, he has no permanent work, his was just an on-call service which I didn’t asked what it is because I don’t want to interrupt. He can’t speak good english but just enough for me to understand so I’ll narrate it the way I understood it:
“They [siblings] should’ve been the one taking care of him because they have permanent work and money and big flats. But they left him to me. They would give me a mere S$300.00 [total shared amount] per month, do you think it would be enough? The bills, the food, how am I going to budget that small amount? One bottle of medicine would cost me S$80.00 already, and there are other more. In Singapore, if you don’t have work, no money, you die. And believe me, you will never see one of them, even his grandchildren and great grandchildren, they never come and visit. They don’t care. Even if I want to take care of him, how would I do that? I have to work. He’ll be left here alone, he can open the door, he can go to the market alone but at what cost? He goes to the toilet frequently, he forgets some things now, he’s too old to be left alone, he might get lost, he might fall, break a bone, and get hospitalized again. Nursing homes don’t want to accept him because they say he can still walk and he’s still strong. The doctor don’t want to perform an operation because he might die. So what will I do now?”
I nodded. I feel him. I understand what he’s going through. But all I can do is to agree with him and listen to him. He never raised his voice to his father, he remained cheerful inspite of all problems he’s facing alone. He cooks for him, cleans his father’s mess and the house, do the laundry. He makes his father happy even though sometimes Ah kong forgets who he was. I know he gets hurt at that but he understood. He has extended his patience long enough. Unfotunately, he has to make a decision.
“On Monday, I will bring him to the hospital and tell the doctor to perform an operation. It doesn’t matter if he die after that, the longer he lives, the harder it will get for him. Today he’s strong. What happens if soon he becomes bedridden? It will be difficult for both of us since no one among my siblings is willing to help. It’s hard for me too. But I have to decide now.”
My personal thoughts:
Our elders, our parents, our grandparents… I grew up in a culture wherein old people lives with the family, jobless, but can sustain life through planting crops and pasturing animals. They can also survive alone even without a job. They were never a problem unless they get sick because most elders don’t have health insurances, so everything is paid by the children in cash, but that’s it. They were cherished until their deaths. They either die in the hospital because of illnesses or in the house, not in nursing homes or Home For The Aged institutions as we call it. Learning how the elders were treated here, I don’t intend to generalize though, by their family and relatives, it breaks my heart. After all they’ve done to give everything the children needed in order to survive in a high-cost-of-living country, they abandon the old people just like that. I already met several elderly people having the same situation and it pains me to see them feeling lost because they don’t know where to go when they are under their very own roof. Hearing them wishing they would rather die instead makes me want to take them away from their children who don’t care about them. But what can I do? All I can do is to pray for them. Okay, I get it. People here must work because that’s the only way they can survive. But sadly, the elders are the one being sacrificed. Is it because they’ll die soon? Is it because they are the one who needs to be fed now and they will be a waste of money and time? Is it because they are useless and jobless now? I am deeply hurt when their own children turn them down. This is not the life they wanted after all the efforts they put in providing for the family they built. They must not be treated this way first of all because they are our own blood. Secondly, they gave us the world. Finally, they forget themselves just to see us living an easy life.
I suppress the tears and the pain as I remember the century old man I loved (since my grandfathers died early)… Ah kong, who was so sweet and jolly… who gives me two thumbs up and claps for me everytime he hears me sing… who laughs and dances with me to a song he doesn’t understand… who thanks me for the very little things I do for him like pulling his seat… I’ll always remember his happy eyes looking at me when I go out to buy him food… the glow in his eyes when I come and greet him every morning… I’ll never forget the way he waves his hand eagerly when I say goodbye like he knows I’ll be coming the next day… Why does a very kind old man like him be abandoned? What has he done to deserve such treatment? I can’t understand. But that’s the way it is here. I can never change that. I look highly at uncle because no matter what happens, he tries to give everything Ah kong needs. He loves his father so much. And I hope, there would be a lot more people like him… who didn’t think about themselves just because they have a responsibility they have to carry. He’s selfless. I salute him.
I don’t know what happened to Ah kong now. I don’t wanna know. But whatever happens, I pray that Uncle made the right decision.