Carers of the elderly are the real heroes

My granny's hand in mine [2010]
AFTER talking to a relative on the phone recently, I pondered over how many more elderly people with children who live abroad are now coping with aging problems and hospital visits. 

My relative was asking about my father's recent medical procedures as she was trying to help an uncle come to a decision on his medical condition. His children were living abroad, with the other in Singapore being even too busy to meet the doctor in Johor Baru.

She was in a dilemma because this uncle needed urgent medical attention and she was ferrying him and his wife around and meeting the doctors on behalf of their children.  After I shared more details of my dad's experience, she had a clearer idea of what to do.  I was glad I could give her the support she needed because it was a serious matter meeting doctors and making medical decisions.

It's rather sad that the parents who sent their children to study abroad some 30 years ago would not have them around when they are needed the most.  At that time, it was a trend to send children for studies abroad but after they graduated, many decided to settle there.  While these children may visit their parents frequently and the parents reciprocated with holidays in their adopted country, many aging parents are no longer able to travel much any longer.

Judy Lim Ghek Huay [Left] introduced herself
and bought me a drink!
Last month, I went on a media tour and as our group relaxed in the lounge after dinner, I was pleasantly surprised when a woman approached me and asked after the health of my parents and grandmother. 

She introduced herself as a former Convent School student and someone who could identify with my family stories in the Your Johor page.  She had 10 other siblings but she felt it was her privilege to be able to care for their mother. 

In fact, she found my stories encouraging, especially as she had cared for her mother until her death recently at the age of 94.  I was both humbled and encouraged by this encounter.

Last week I was further encouraged by an email from a cousin in Australia.
He wrote: "Sorry to hear of your mum & dad's continued ailments -- I guess that is part and parcel of growing old. They are fortunate to have an ultra considerate daughter to care for them. Thinking back, all those years ago when you were deemed the most 'extroverted' in your family -- one would never have imagined you been tasked with such responsibility. Please pass on my best regards to your mum & dad."

My granny and I [2010]
I know of others who share this commitment and who have planned their lives around their parents' medical needs at this stage of their lives. 

As parents grow older, they pose new and difficult challenges to their children and being there for them in the twilight years of their lives is the least the children can do.  There are even children who have made major changes in their own lives to be with their widowed parents with medical problems.

For example, a friend of mine who held the number two position in a state department decided to quit her job so as to spend more time with her mum, who is suffering from various ailments.  Every now and then, she may miss the prestigious position and daily work challenges but for now, there's no other place she would rather be than by her mum's side.

Likewise, another friend left his exciting life in New York to be home with his dad in Johor Baru.  In between hospital visits and weekly trips to the market, he submits his work with the help of modern communication technology.  These filial children and others who care for the elderly who are not even their parents are real heroes of our time.  I salute them for finding fulfillment in everything they do to make the lives of the elderly, especially those with long and debilitating illnesses, more comfortable.

Researchers say that people over age 80 are the fastest growing population group in the developed world and we don't have to look far to see that we've been hit by the silver tsunami! 

Each family will eventually experience aging issues and it's a comfort for full-time carers to find support among each other.  There's no denying that people will grow older but many live longer now. Therefore, it's up to us to ensure that our elderly don't grow old alone.  After all, this tsunami is just a huge wave and it's an opportunity for us to ride the crest with them.

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 24 August 2010

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