Wednesday February 27, 2013
Be kind to the aged
By JOYCE HEE
Be kind and gracious to the aged, for we will be in their shoes one day.
AS a child, I was taught not to laugh at a pimply teenager, lest I suffer the same ridicule when I grow older. Life’s experiences have taught me the principles of sowing and reaping. Sow the seeds of love and it will yield a bumper crop of eternal dividends; the reverse is true of hatred and discord.
On many occasions, I have observed that those who use and manipulate people will find themselves being outmanoeuvred one day. Among other things, it keeps me from making uncalled for remarks when I have nothing good to say.
I was less guarded when I was younger. Even innocuous careless remarks had a strange way of getting back at me, like a boomerang. I remember chaffing at an older colleague once for wearing a perpetual frown on her forehead. Now I see fine lines indelibly etched on my forehead, not unlike the frown of my ex-colleague.
I am reminded of a poignant story which reinforces this basic truth. As the story goes, a man willed his property to his only son as they were the only ones left in the family.
The son later married a woman who strongly believed that “two is company, three’s a crowd”. The scheming wife worked hard to convince her husband to send his father to an old folk’s home though the latter was still hale and hearty. The son was won over, and made plans to send his father away.
One day, he took his father for a long walk. The father enjoyed the stroll, blissfully unaware of his son’s intention. He woke up to the rude reality when they arrived at the gate of an old folk’s home, and the son told him that this was his new home henceforth.
Shaken, the father broke down in tears. Feeling guilty and sorry, the son gave a lengthy, well-thought-out explanation for his actions. Upon regaining his composure, the father said: “My tears are not for myself but for my father whom I sent down this street to the same home some 30 years ago.”
The father had never expected to reap what he had sown three decades earlier. It was a case of history repeating itself.
Is the above story relevant to our Asian society which prides itself on filial piety and respect for elders? With modernisation and the influence of western culture, old values and traditions are being gradually eroded. As such, the elderly may not be accorded the same respect and care like in the days of old.
During my father’s generation, it was unheard of to send old folks to a home unless there was no next-of-kin. According to the custom of the day, sending parents to a home was tantamount to abandonment and was thus considered a disgrace to the family. The way my father looked after his aged mother is testimony to this.
He had every reason to send Granny to a home: she was in her second childhood and had Alzheimer’s. Pa was fighting early stage prostate cancer.
Granny’s idiosyncrasies and forgetfulness added to Pa’s stress and exasperation.
Pa had to deal with frequent episodes of missing items which were later found in Granny’s locked drawer, the key of which was often misplaced. Granny even snipped off the buds of Ma’s prized orchids, to her horror!
Granny, a well-respected and successful businesswoman in her heyday, had sadly been reduced to a semi-senile state of indignity. But the option of sending her to an old folk’s home never arose. Granny passed away several years ahead of Pa, and during Pa’s last days, he once hinted with remorse that he wished he had taken better care of his mother.
My generation – the X-generation – is undergoing a transition of cultural norms and values. We are experiencing a paradigm shift, moving away from the rigidity of traditions and conventions towards practicality and expedience.
The stigma associated with a home has generally been erased from our mindsets.
Most of us have no qualms about sending our parents to a well-run home if we are in no position to look after them.
Of course, some of us may prefer to employ a good maid to help with home-care for our aged parents. Common sense and practicality, not traditions, shape our decisions and choices.
Unfortunately, many of our aged parents are still stuck in their old mindset. To them, the mere mention of a home – even the most sophisticated ones – is a dreaded word. They resist, with much trepidation, the idea of leaving the family to go to a home.
A friend of mine, who had been looking after her mother for years, was afflicted with cancer. She struggled with the moral decision of sending her mother to a good home.
Her mother cried and implored her daughter not to send her away. My friend finally had no choice but to do it. Her mother was so devastated that she deteriorated very rapidly soon after entering the home.
The present trend sets in motion forces that will gradually erode old taboos and traditions.
To expect the next generation to abide by the age-old stereotypes is naive, to say the least. In this fast-paced, digital, individualistic age, young parents today wonder what their future will hold when it is their turn to experience the rigours of old age.
With the emerging social ethos, people are becoming less religious and more secular. The growing personal quest for self-actualisation and worldly success overrides the importance of relationships and family.
Fortunately, for those of us in the X-generation, we are less dependent on our children, physically, emotionally and financially.
We are better prepared mentally to face the consequences of what aging and failing strength entail. As for me, I will not wince at the prospect of being in a good, comfortable home so as not to burden my children.
Having enjoyed a fair degree of independence and a good social life, the adjustment to a home will not be traumatic for me.
In the meantime, I am living life to the fullest and pursuing the path of spiritual enrichment. It is a sobering thought to reflect on life’s relentless cycle.
Today, we may pay tribute to one whose life is full of song and victory and, on another day, the shadows fall and one is forgotten. Like a flower, we can be fragrant today and wilted tomorrow.
It is wise, therefore, to be gracious and patient with the aged and weak, especially our parents, for one day, we will be in their shoes too.
My friend, Margaret, is a good example of one who has a heart for the aged.
Recently, in conjunction with the Chinese New Year celebrations, Margaret and her friends organised a day filled with fun and goodies for the residents of an old folk’s home.
A trained singer, she entertained them with Chinese opera songs. It lifted their spirits and filled them with nostalgia as they recalled the good old days.
Margaret was greatly encouraged by their response, and was inspired to do even more for them. The joy and deep sense of fulfilment that she felt, was reward enough for her.
What she has done is worthy of being emulated. Even if it was just for a day, the old and forsaken in that home, now have something memorable to take with them to the grave.
Old is gold is a platform for readers aged 55 and above to share their wealth of experience and take on life. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and phone number.