In a previous post, I alluded to my apprehension of an impending move. And now, it’s finally here! In less than two weeks time, my 84-year old mom will be moving in to live with us.
My mom was diagnosed a couple of years ago with dementia. Over the course of that time, we’ve watched this tiny-framed but feisty old lady grow mellower and more subdued. She used to talk non-stop, usually to complain on anything and everything! Being generally a pessimistic person, in part because of the hard life she had when she was orphaned and growing up during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore, it’s understandable that she’s more ornery than most elder folks.
But since developing dementia, she’s been less sure of herself and quieter than before. And this sea change in her was for me what stood out the most as I watched her age these recent years. While I can’t say that I miss her then disagreeable personality, to see her lose her spark now is akin to watching the browning of grasses everywhere in Singapore of late, thanks to the absence of rain.
To help her spend her waking hours fitfully while with us, I found an elder care centre near my home. There, she could socialize with other elder folks and keep busy with different elder-friendly and dementia-assisting programmes. Today, I accompanied her there to help process her admission and to familiarize her with the place. There we were met by different care-givers, ranging from in-house nurses, to medical social workers, to physiotherapists.
While these nice folks took turns over the course of an hour to examine and chat with mom, I found myself also being ‘interviewed’ about her medical history and family background. In fact, my interrogation lasted two hours (mom spent the second hour in their daily karaoke session – lucky her)!
Not being her primary caregiver all these years (that was the unenviable job of my two spinster sisters), I found myself having to dig deep and hard to pull out information to help the nice folks form as accurate as possible a picture of my mom. All to help them know her better and render the care she needs later when she joins the centre.
As mom and I were being interviewed simultaneously, I often paused to listen to how my mom responded to the questions, and the questioner. It was important to see that she was comfortable in this new environment and that she didn’t appear to dislike anyone. Seeing her respond well to questions of her past (especially the early years of raising five kids) brought back memories of my mom when she was still strong and sturdy, and looking after us as a full-time homemaker.
I listened to them ask her questions, let her try simple tasks like folding and buttoning shirts (to test her dexterity), and then heard her describe her past with mounting enthusiasm. And it struck me afresh: memories really are important to everyone, especially as we age. More so for someone like my mom who’s suffering from dementia. Being able to recall happy moments from her past clearly helped to lift up her spirits. I’ve not seen her smile so much in the space of two hours as I did this morning (no doubt the karaoke session helped too!).
I saw how her eyes lit up as she reminisced about the old house we used to live in back in Serangoon during the 70s, when I was still a young tod. Back then we lived in one of those poor, dilapidated single-storey houses located smack at the corner of a traffic junction. Mom shared memories of the potted plants my green-fingered dad single-handedly nurtured in our backyard til they were as tall as young trees. So tall in fact that they were able to peek over the walls and surprise many a passerby. Mom claimed several even came with cameras to take pictures of the foliage!
Now that I never knew.
As the session progressed, I began to realise that this move might actually be good for her after all! You see, I’m not her favourite son (even though most think the youngest would be). I’ve argued and told her off on many occasions in these past two to three decades. Not saying I’m proud of it, but it did make this move one I had deep reservations about. I just wasn’t sure if she would be happy living with such an unlovable offspring as me.
But in the end, my always-filial and far wiser wife made it clear that mom was family, and we never abandon family in their hour of need. For my wife, this move was also important for another reason. It gave our young and still-impressionable sons an opportunity to care for their grandma, and to nurture in them a caring heart for family and those who can’t care for themselves.
And for me, perhaps a gradual softening of my heart and disposition towards one who must surely be counted by many as the closest relative a man can ever have (aside from one’s wife of course).
So despite my reservations (still), I can’t deny the look on my mom’s face as we bid goodbye after the visit to the centre. She looked happy and eager to return soon. That in itself was reason enough for the reluctant me to bring her home to live with us.
And to present me with a new role to add to my current role as a stay home dad: that of a stay-home son!