I walked past the old building of Orange Grove Nursing Home off Loyang Avenue amidst a darkening sky that threatened to rain.
I went there with a heavy heart as I knew that mum does not like us to place her in a nursing home – even if its for a couple of weeks for respite as my brother is away for holiday with the family during year end.
The maid is also away during this period and as I don’t have a house yet, the only next best option is to place her in the nursing home.
However, I must add that the Changi branch is far more peaceful than the one we placed mum two years ago at Simei.
It is surrounded by many tall trees and one can even hear the rustle of winds against the branches during daytime.
I walked past the automated gate and seeked assistance from the small tidy office.
The foreign worker manning the office offered me a box of tissues for my perspiring face – immediately I felt love here.
Most of the workers there are predominantly from Sri Lanka or Philippines and could hardly speak Mandarin and this unfortunately hinders their interaction with the mainly Chinese speaking elderly folks there.
Along the way, I saw some young volunteers helping a group of eldely blowing balloons in their multi function room but most of the inmates kept to themselves in their hospital-styled beds.
I have never agree to place mum in a nursing home on a permanent basis as I found it a cruel way to treat your own parents who toiled very hard to bring us up.
I also realised sadly that not many of the old folks there get any visitors from their loved ones.
I tried to visit mum daily whenever she is placed there for temporary respite care and was glad that at least mum saw a familiar face on a daily basis in a foreign place full of strangers.
A few inmates there were even abandoned by their own children and never to be seen again due to various reasons.
How cruel can people get?
Whenever I visit mum, her eyes will sparkle as if she is anticipating my visit for the whole day.
When I start to leave after about two hours later, she will show me a face that wants me to stay on for a while more.
I only left her when she is dozing off in her bed next to the window promsing her that I will return the next day.
Anyway back to the Orange Grove Nursing Home visit, I was face to face with my mum who seats with a group of five others round a table – all silent and half dozing.
The ceiling fan was whirling round and round and time seems to stand still for this group of old folks.
All of them seemed to be engrossed in their own world of memories and recollection.
I shuddered to think that some day when I am much older I may be joining them silently round the wooden table facing each other in silence.
I brought my dozing mum to another empty table and began to talk to her.
Mum is not one who initiates conversation and it takes alot of effort to make her talk.
I have being bringing her out for weekly lunch for the past ten years and except for my brief overseas trips, I have not fail to do that on a regular basis.
Being a father myself, I began to realsie that it is not easy to be a parent and decides to spend more time with mum as she is also advanced in age – she turns 82 recently.
Moreover, mum has schizophrenia for as long as I knew and she also suffers from a stroke five years ago.
I remembered having to move house several times as a small boy as our neighbours often complained to the authorities about her eccentric habits.
She only became better when we managed to persuade her to see a mental health practitioner ten years ago and became better with medication.
She has worked her way to help support the family till she is 60 and became a widow when dad died almost 30 years ago.
Mum is a sweet old thing and often smiles alot at strangers when I brought her out to Whitesand for our weekly lunch date.
Its not easy to dislike mum as she is rather cheerful in disposition and smiles alot even when all her teeth have fall out many years ago and is easy to handle as ABC.
She is very feeble these days though due to the loss of bone mass and I suspect that a strong gist of wind can blow her off her feet any time if I don’t hold on to her tightly!
I also remembered af ew years ago our Health Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan asking us to go to nearby Johore Bahru to house our aging parents in nursing homes there.
His statement probably reflects what some Singaporeans are thinking of – just pass the buck of caring for our aged parents to the nursing homes.
I can vounch that not a single inmate in the nursing home is happy and many long for their children to bring them home – even if they are dying.
The last person they want to see before they die is not some strangers who feed and change their diaper while they live out their last days but a familiar face whom they have brought and raised in this world.
As one in five Singaporeans will be age 65 years old and above by 2030, we are still light years away from developing a comprehensive retirement village like those in Australia or the US.
I have visited solid well-managed retirement villages in Sydney before and the facilities are all modern and there is nothing to suggest that it is a place for dying – like our own nursing homes.
Retirees there all live happily in community style and look healthy.
People there pay for the retirement apartment in market rates with all it’s healthcare amenities and there are lots of community programmes available for the elderly to stay busy the whole year round.
Seriously, the authorities should look into building viable retirement homes here so that our retirees don’t have to look overseas while they grow old.
Written by: Gilbert Goh