Why I Admire My Friend, Pam - Elderly Care in the 21st Century
Humankind has walked in space and solved myriad of problems but still grapples with giving our aging parents the dignified end they deserve.
She doesn't work nine to five like most of us, often seen sipping lattes while staring at papers full of figures. She travels in style and dines in fine restaurants. She lives like a ‘tai tai’, terminology denoting the lifestyle of idle wives of rich men in Hong Kong.
My friend Pam is a financial planner. It wasn't a career of her choice. Prior to her days of serving the real ‘tai tais’, she was a workaholic enjoying a high-flying marketing career, only to be derailed by her devotion to her ailing mother. Her hospital visits were becoming more frequent, so much so that Pam has to resign to attend to her medical emergencies. She probably didn’t see this coming but did not hesitate.
According to the World Health Organisation, it’s estimated that people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children under 5 years by 2020.
Sunset of Their Lives
Humankind has solved myriads of problems but we’re nowhere near when it comes to dealing with our aging planet; according to the World Health Organisation, it’s estimated that people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children under 5 years by 2020. Of the various elderly care arrangements ranging from nursing homes to human-powered avatars keeping watch over housebound elderlies, growing old in their own homes is still the method of choice but not everyone is able to, or is as fortunate as Pam’s mum.
In her late forties with short-cropped chestnut-coloured hair, Pam favours body-hugging tops and mini skirts. With her tanned complexion and playful manner, she makes it clear she doesn’t want to be put in a box. Her take on fashion is, ‘better wear it while I can!’ Hence her selfless act was totally out of character.
When her mum’s illness took a serious turn, Pam unwittingly became the main caretaker. Being single and the most financially successful of her six siblings, this role fell naturally to her. Not that she minded. As her mum’s emergencies mounted and her ensuing hospital visits became more frequent, Pam took to the tasks of managing her medical needs with gusto.
Elderly care arrangements ranging from nursing homes to human-powered avatars keeping watch over housebound elderlies,
It was in between rushing to and from doctor’s visits that a decision was made. She knew she couldn't keep up with her job and care for her mum at the same time. She would resign and her mum would live with her. ’I can’t keep applying for leave and disappearing from the office every so often,’ she once told me.
I Want to Stay At Home
So began a gradual takeover of Pam's apartment, given her mum’s domineering personality (she was the family disciplinarian and they weren't close). She was often cranky and they fought frequently. Pam became the usual target for her frustrations. She took her mum’s outbursts in her stride, making light of her situation; it was never an option to send her to an elderly home.
As time went on, mother and daughter settled into a comfortable routine. Although well-cared for, her mum grew weaker while Pam explored a new career which could allow her to work flexible hours. From a contentious relationship, their interaction grew into one where they would chat every evening about one another’s day.
From a contentious relationship, their interaction grew into one where they would chat every evening about one another’s day.
A year before her mum passed away, she became blind. This alarmed Pam; surely her frustrations would ratchet up her aggression. To her amazement, her mum became calmer, even pleasant. She's always had a temper but this trait seemed to vanish overnight.
Pam noticed that being blind sharpened her mum’s sense of hearing and got her a transistor radio. It became her lifeline; the radio was her eyes to the world. She listened to everything from music to religious programmes. She appeared to have undergone a personality change which led Pam to depict her as ‘sweet’.
Her friends described her as someone who was chronically late, with little consideration for others who might have been fuming at the dinner table. They were taken aback, in a good way; it was not like her to do something so selfless.
‘I still miss my mum’, she mused when I met her recently. ‘When I return to my apartment, I can see her in her usual spot in her wheelchair, her head bent towards the little radio on her lap’.
Growing old in their own homes is still the method of choice for most elderlies.
A Fitting End
There're now robots and avatars looking after the needs of the elderly. In a world that values convenience, Pam has put her life on hold so that her mum could live her twilight years in the comfort of her home. She had to work doubly hard to change her career to one which suited the new arrangement. In so doing, she has also gained much in return, transforming a contentious mother-daughter relationship to one she could cherish for the rest of her life. That is why I admire my friend, Pam.
© 2019 CC Leau