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Saturday April 19th 2014

Happy Mother’s Day to my 82-year-old mum – despite her stroke and mental condition

Mum at her best when she smiles alot

Happy Mother’s Day to my mum! Only if  she is able to read this blog…

My mum is already 82 years young and it seems like she is getting more cheerful as the days go by – despite her stroke and mental health condition.

She is always smiling when someone accidentally glances  at her and approaches small children as if they are her own grand children.

Sometimes, strangers  will simply stop by and chat with her as if they know her before - she just attracts this kind of rave attention!

However, she isn’t all this  popular back in the past…

Mum has schizophrenia for a very long time since I was a little boy and we only managed to convince her to see a doctor  15 years ago. For all the sufferings that we  went through with her together as a family, I regretted deeply  not seeking medical help for her earlier.

Neighbours shunned us and we house-hopped frequently whenever things got out of hand for mum. Once, I almost forgotten that we have already shifted and went back to the old house after school!

I also have problem remembering addresses when I have to fill up forms in school  as we shifted house too often.

Those days, mum would talk to herself alot and sometimes imagined neighbours are talking behind her back.

I counted the many  times police came up to our house on yet another complaint made against her and sometimes I even have to sit on those police patrol cars while they brought us to the police station for questioning!

It was a torrid childhood time for me  to say the least and dad had a tough time handling her. It was indeed amazing how they even managed to stay intact all this while.

Dad died young – when he was only 60 years old making mum a widow for almost 30 years.

Things got much better when I came out to work to support the family and of course everything went back to a new normal when she has access to medication. She still occasionally speaks to herself but it is alot softer and subdued now.

Mum later contracted a mild stroke five years ago and it rendered her almost immoble and home-bound.

Once used to travel independently by bus from my brother’s place to mine, she is now reduced to assistive walking and needed someone to be around her.

Nevertheless, my biggest fear is not her medical conditions as all these are almost synonymous with old age – it is her non-relationship with her grandchildren.

My 82-year-old mum spoke only Cantonese and Mandarin but my daughter hardly can converse well with both.

So they spoke to each other using a raw combination of Singlish, Contonese and Mandarin and you can imagine how intimate they can be if they can’t even properly communicate with one another.

Since when did you see a grand child here brings his grand parent out together for a walk or shop together? Hardly.

The task is usually performed by a domestic helper further hampering the relationship.

The chronic work culture here also means that we ourselves hardly have the time nor energy to do anything worthwhile after work for our ageing parents.

Mind you – we don’t even have time to speak with our own spouses and children!

We rather watch TV or laze around to relax after a hard day out at the workplace.

Our old parents are pretty much left alone the whole day at home with a domestic helper whom they can hardly communicate with.

Personally, I am fortunate as I am doing my own stuff and thus not restricted to a office 9-to-5 work schedule.

I have being bringing my stroke-stricken mum out for lunch once a week for the past ten years. This habit was ironically cultivated  when I was jobless for 18 months during 2001/02.

Mum digging into her favourite chicken rice

Seeing that I have alot of free time on my hand, I decided to ask my mum out once a week for lunch. I was planning my jobless weekly schedule then and bringing her out for lunch took out almost half a day of  available any week day.

My mum isn’t a fantastic talker or encourager but her quiet gentle care during that period pushed me on to live for another day, week and month.

She didn’t check whether I have any interview or not for that week or if I have sent out sufficient emails looking for jobs – she is just there for me period.

Looking back, my mum is probably my main source of support  when I experienced prolonged umeployment during that stormy dark  period.

I have heard from some clients how their mums terrorised them when they are out of job and  they have to leave the house to seek refuge in the library.

I was glad that my mum isn’t like that.

When mum  is healthy and more mobile back then, we used to move around alot for lunches – going to Tampines Mall, Century Square or even Orchard Road for the rare shopping trip during Christmas period.

It was a habit which is made slightly tougher by her stroke condition five  years ago as her mobility is slow and unsteady now.

We have to catch a cab to the nearby Whitesand shopping mall  even though it is a mere five minutes walk for the able-bodied. If we walk, it will take about 30 minutes and she will have to sit down every twenty steps or more.

Mum looks forward to such weekly lunch rendevous with me as it means a day out of the boring routine of simply sitting on her own in the 5-room flat of my brother’s – for many continuous hours.

Sometimes, whenever I visit  her, it bothered me alot  that no one is talking to her as she sits there staring blankly into space for hours.  She just moves when lunch or dinner is ready or needs to go to the bathroom.

However, she told me that she is used  to it and kind of  like it too as she is relaxed and resting! Though I can’t understand her philosophy, I have to take her word for it.

Mum enjoyed the usual chicken rice at Whitesand – located outside the mall even though it costs only $2.00. Its not the grand meal that she looks out for but the bonding that she cherishes with me – that is what I would like to think!

Mum eats almost double of my portion and she still looks amazingly slim. I always wonder where the food goes to…

We don’t talk alot during the few hours of mother-son bonding but it fulfills a great need in her to be loved and cared for.

Most eating stalls over there would know us by now as we have been eating there for the past few months almost on a weekly basis.

Of course, I enjoyed all the accolades of “Wah, you so filial, always bring your mum out for lunch!”

Nevertheless, some old people whom we bumped into and ate alone tend to gave us that envious look of “How I wish my son can do that!”

At the old age of 82 years old, any occurrence of a potential second stroke  may totally destroy mum so  every living day is a bonus for us all.

I don’t want to cry at the deathbed of my mum and regret that I didn’t spent enough time with her when she is still living – a reminder which is repeated very often by friends whose parents have passed away.

As Singapore over-depends on the services of domestic maids, let us be mindful that they will never be able to replace the relationship we have with our parents.

I see too many old people accompanied by their maids when they are out on their own and though there is nothing wrong with this, it is always good to take some time out to be with your own parents.

Our ageing parents rather spent one day a week with us than seven days a week with their domestic helpers.

It is high time that we take over the responsibility of caring for our parents – don’t throw them to the domestic helpers!

Happy Mother’s Day to all mums here and abroad!

Written by: Gilbert Goh

Editor’s Note: I won’t be bringing mum out today as it will be very crowded and meals are at least double that of normal prices. I will be of course bringing her out weekly as usual.

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2 Responses to “Happy Mother’s Day to my 82-year-old mum – despite her stroke and mental condition”

  1. J Y says:

    Wow!! You are such a filial son! You also have no qualms about letting people know that she has a mental illness. Not many people have the courage to tell others such things. They would usually try to hide the truth from the public except for close relatives and friends.

    It is true that many grandchildren cannot communicate with their grandparents. My paternal grandparents passed away when I was still in primary school and they were like strangers to us though we lived together. They spoke mostly dialect and we just could not understand each other. Anyway, my grandparents were then too old to even had the energy to play with us. They just spent most of their time watching TV.

    Well, my family don’t have the tradition of celebrating Mother’s Day. But I am the only one helping my mother with housework as and when I am free, whether I am employed or not. My siblings cannot be bothered with housework. I think actions speak louder than words. Once I took her to visit the physician when she was having a backache and couldn’t walk without aid.

  2. Anon says:

    An amazing and heartwarming story. Good job to you Gilbert! Your mum is really lucky to have a son like you. Hope your kids can appreciate and learn from your actions.

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