From The Outside Looking In
Siti, our helper, told me today, our contractor who built our house on Thomson Hill, someone who knows me for over a decade, spoke unkindly about the way I live with my mother. Last year, we had to put a wire mesh around my mother’s bed. The wire mesh has to be locked.
“How can Daniel treat his mother this way? This is for the dog. Not for his mother. He can well afford something proper for his mother” Lester, our contractor proclaimed.
Like the wheelchair, it took me some time to decide to put the wire mesh around her bed. It took some getting use to. I wondered if my mother felt like a prisoner in her own bed. I wondered if she felt we no longer trusted her. We couldn’t trust her to remember calling for assistance when she needed to get out of bed. A fall at her age would be critical. It would be the fall that could paralyse or kill her.
The wire mesh was admittedly bought to keep our dog out but we didn’t use it. At that moment last year, it was the most suitable for the task at hand – to keep my mother from leaving her bed alone. I was concerned how it looked but after a while, I thought it was indeed the most appropriate.
In the last ten years, I have progressively lived my life around my mother. As she aged, as she became more frail, and as she needed more and more attention, my life changed year by year. I never thought I would have a maid. Now Siti has taken care of her for over 7 years. There was never a need to hesitate leaving town for work or vacation. Now before a work trip, I had to look into every aspect of her needs. If her medication would last my trip. If she would worry unduly when she couldn’t see me for more than two days and would forget I was overseas. If my sisters and brother were in town and if they would visit her more while I was away.
I have forgotten the last time I was on a vacation abroad. When I need to travel for work, I would wonder how to rush home if she was suddenly taken ill, or god forbid, she should fall or suffer any other mishap. Nothing can be taken for granted. We take it one day at a time. I am grateful for each day well spent with her.
The real value of taking care of my mother are the time spent, the attention and care given to the details of everyday living. There are also very real costs. Her medical needs are more costly with new complications. I am very thankful my sister and brother are around to help.
How can anyone outside a household comment without an inside understanding? I am reminded of the movie ‘A Time To Live, A Time To Die’. The grandmother in the movie is found, days after her death. Neighbours were judgemental of the grandchildren. But one of them, the protagonist in the movie says – people may think we are unfilial. But for me, I will just remember the times we spent with our grandmother. Times which are some of the best moments of my life’. The scenes of the children and their grandmother are also some of the best in the movie.
Today, after a meeting, I saw a miss call from Siti. I called her immediately. She said my mother had a nap in the late afternoon and woke up asking for lunch. When Siti told her she had lunch with me, my mother said she couldn’t remember and demanded to see the rice cooker as proof she had cooked lunch for her. Siti had to slowly trace the chain of events for her to remember. She finally did and laughed heartily.
Life with my mother is not easy. With time, I no longer find it difficult. I no longer ask why I am the one in the family staying with her and taking care of her. I become more patient, more understanding, more aware of an older person’s needs and wants. I have also become more practical. I want to make her days happy. Yet I know there are limits. With the wheelchair, we can now go to parks, shopping centres and other places of interest to her. But I also know she is self-conscious of being in a wheelchair. And I have to balance my work, my life and her life. This is the only way this life with her can be sustainable and happy for us.
I am not hurt by Lester’s comments. He doesn’t know better. Most importantly he has my mother’s interest at heart. This should remind me not to judge anyone from the outside looking in. Living with my mother is a present. Living in the present, enjoying her presence, enjoying the moments of happiness.
“I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts and of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.” – Meryl Streep in The Hours