I am back in Penang again. I live in Singapore now but I come back to Penang once a month for two reasons. One, I am guiding a spiritual friendship group consisting of folks from my home church, Georgetown Baptist Church. These folks have become dear to me and I am often frustrated that I can’t give them more time. And I am back in Penang once a month to see my mother.
Mum is 86 this year and showing signs of early dementia. One of the main signs of this is deteriorating short-term memory. She will often ask me the same question repeatedly. She is a very determined person and has a robust faith in God. These traits served her well when she came to Malaysia after World War 2 and bravely made a life for herself against overwhelming odds. That same independent spirit now means she finds it hard to be so dependent and unable to do many of the things she used to do. Convincing her to stop driving was a major battle. She grieved over that loss long and hard.
She is also very hard of hearing but refuses to wear a hearing aid. Whenever we bring up the question she would say that it would be a waste of money because she might die soon. She has been saying this for many years now and she doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. But her inability to hear means she is increasingly less engaged with the world. Her main input for news is the newspaper, and TV shows with subtitles.
I have taken her to see a geriatric doctor. There are so few in Penang. Mum is on various meds and seems to be holding her own physically and emotionally. She struggles with loneliness, though. She bemoans the fact that she has only one daughter who lives in Kuala Lumpur, and only one son, who lives in Singapore. Her two grandsons are even further away, in Australia and Canada. Bernice and I would love to have her come stay with us in Singapore but she doesn’t want to relocate and understandably so. She has lived in her present house for almost 40 years now and familiarity is important at this stage of her life.
She has a live-in help that has been with us since dad passed away. It’s just the two of them. Mum has friends and she does go out with them once in awhile. But she is less active now and sleeps more. I have often asked the Lord if He wants me to relocate to Penang but have yet to hear a clear yes. I also have people who need care in Singapore and, for now, the Lord has given me key ministries there. Maybe I will have to come back more often or stay longer during my monthly visits.
It would be great if mum could visit some day care centres for the elderly on a regular basis. But there are so few in Penang. We visited one yesterday called “Friends for Seniors” (link). It looks good. But will mum agree to go? We will get mum to visit the place during our next visit and see what happens. Appreciate your prayers.
Bernice is back in Penang with me. She joins me on my monthly visits whenever she can. As in so many things in my life, she is a real blessing and brings life to mum and to me as I struggle to care for mum. I have mixed feelings whenever I come. I grieve because I remember mum at the peak of her powers. I am full of joy when I see her smile. But I am irritable and stressed when there are lapses of logic in her responses and when I have to answer the same question again and again. I am particularly frustrated when mum doesn’t cooperate in her own care. Poor mum doesn’t understand why Ah Chye is angry. It doesn’t help that I often have to talk loudly because she can’t hear what I am saying. I sometimes write down some of my responses so that she can read them. But she quickly forgets and asks me again.
I am not complaining. I think it is a key human and Christian calling to care for one’s parents.
“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NIV)
I love my mum. But it is challenging. My friends will know of my impatience and my quick temper. Caring for mum is another challenge for me to grow up. I remember one of the last things dad said to me. He said, “Take care of your mum and your sister.” I am sorry, dad. I don’t think I am doing a very good job. With God’s help I want to do better.