National Grandparents' Day: 5 Life Lessons I've Learnt From Being Atuk's Caregiver
STORY: Farhan Shafie
22 November 2020
We all know someone who's living with a grandparent or taking care of one. Singapore is currently one of the most rapidly ageing societies in Asia, along with Japan. Residents aged 65 years and above make up 14.4 percent of the total resident population in Singapore, according to Statista, so it's a reality a lot of us face.
I've been taking care of my 92-year-old atuk (grandfather) this year ever since he had a fall which caused him to suffer a fractured pelvis. Can you imagine having to undergo an operation to insert a metal rod into your body at that age?! It's crazy man. So understandably, my atuk requires constant supervision at home as he recovers from his injury.
Even though I don't live at my parents' place where my grandfather is staying, we've made arrangements so that I can care for him while my parents work during the day, as I'm the only one in the family who is working from home. Ahhh, one of the great benefits of WFH.
But we have a saying in my community that dignity is a basic human right. It is therefore a social responsibility to respect and care for the elders in society. The blessings from it are bountiful. Not only has the ongoing experience opened my eyes to the unique challenges of caregiving but it has also served up some invaluable life lessons as well.
1. Patience.... LOTS of patience
Make no bones about it. Caregiving is an all-consuming job. You have to be on the ball and at high alert at all times. I'm lucky in the sense that I only have to assist my grandad when he wants to move from point to point, and be on standby behind him to make sure he doesn't slip.
It gets especially tricky when he needs to use the bathroom. Given the slippery surface, that is where I am needed the most. And that is not counting the preparation of food and medicine. My respect goes out to caregivers who have to care for even more dependent seniors who are bedridden or have dementia, for example.
2. The value of human interaction
We millenials may excel in technology but the unfortunate side effect is that we gradually get desensitised to human interaction. I myself am guilty of always being on the phone. But the time spent with my atuk has really forced me to go back to the basics of conversation, and it's something I've learned to value again.
Let's face it. Humans are social creatures by nature and we yearn for companionship, regardless of age or medium. For seniors, it could be something as simple as them asking us whether we've eaten. It might be small talk but, in a way, it's how they show affection.
It really makes me think about growing old and being alone one day if my future partner or children don't outlive me. It's morbid, I suppose, but a reality that many of our seniors face. Let's be kind to them while they're still around.
3. Appreciating the small things
Another little quirk about my atuk is that he loves tending to his plants. And I mean, he loves gardening. He dresses up as though he's going on a date, dress shirt and all, just to hobble outside and water his little corridor yard. At 5pm sharp. Every day. No broken hip is going to come between this man and his greenery.
I chuckle sometimes at the child-like enthusiasm he has for those 20 minutes a day that he gets to look after his plants. It might not mean much to me, but for him, it gives him a purpose to wake up every day. That's really made me reflect on the things I might be taking for granted in my life currently.
Is it any surprise that a human being who has spent nine decades on this earth might have more than a few stories to share? When I think about it, atuk has lived through World War 2, Singapore's independence and all the major events of the last century. He's practically a walking history textbook.
On the days when I get to sit with him and hear his experiences working for the British Army, life in a kampung and so much more, it definitely gives me a greater appreciation for the life he's experienced. And don't get me started on the relationship advice he's given me - unsolicited, mind you.
I believe this is the most important lesson of all. Sometimes, when we get too caught up in our pursuits of money and success, having a good talk with a senior citizen can bring us back down to earth.
I think there's a lot to learn from both the successes and failures of our elders. Conversations about mortality, regret, religion are all sobering and profound. I always go back home pondering on certain topics I've discussed with atuk.
One of the most powerful reminders he gave was that there’s no greater treasure we can work towards than the relationships we cultivate with our loved ones. And that most of the time, there are a lot of things in life that are out of our control, and it's important to be at peace with that.
Hey, I'm not expecting everyone to have a Tuesdays With Morrie-like relationship with their grandparents but next time you get the chance, try to engage them and be open to really listen.
You might be pleasantly surprised with what you can take away.