Sunday, February 21, 2016

Much support needed for widowed caregivers who take on multiple roles: An open letter to The Singapore Government

There are many caregivers who take on dual roles in the exhausting caregiving journey as correctly pointed out by the Dr Kalyani Mehta, Chairman of Silver Caregivers Cooperative in her letter to the press (“Caregivers need training, societal recognition”; The Straits Times Forum page, Friday 20th February 2016).

There are many caregivers who  are caring for more than one relative who have psychological issues.  And I am glad that Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Health, Dr Amy Khor finally recognises the need for caregivers to be trained for preparation in psychological issues in their elderly charges. 

Even though efforts are being made to provide support for caregivers, those who are challenged by psychological issues could well do with more speedy assistance, whether it is financial or proper recognition on a national level.

I am relating a personal experience so that others who are a similar predicament or who come after me will not have to go through severe hardships until they are pushed to the brink of insanity .  When my late wife passed away suddenly in April 2014, my whole world came crashing down as I experienced unconditional love from her for 40 years, despite having to struggle in caring for her schizophrenia and severe arthritis chronic illnesses.  Her loss devastated me.  Overnight, love that she unselfishly gave me for four decades vanished, leaving me to struggle with insomnia for one whole year.  Getting support as I cried myself to sleep every night was very difficult. 

Dr Mehta mentioned in her press letter that there are several organisations that cater to caregivers such as AWWA Centre for Caregivers, Caregivers Association of the Mentally Ill and Icare.  But my question is where were all these organisations when I was trying so hard to cope with grief and insomnia for one whole year.   And it is not as if the press – English and Chinese didn’t report my wife’s passing?  Surely there must be a system in place when agencies who read of such losses respond swiftly rather than my having to write an endless stream of letters and several phone calls pleading for support. I am educated and computer literate, but what about elderly caregivers who are not?

If support groups cannot understand what people like us go through, as we try to rebuild our lives, then who can?

Having been my wife’s sole caregiver for 40 years, I now also have to provide some caregiving support to my 92- year-old aged mother who resides in a nursing home by visiting her twice a week, and also to my twin brother who has depression. 

Caregiving if it is shared equally among ALL siblings will help relieve the tremendous stress I am going through.  I am physically and mentally drained.

It is coming to 2 years now and I still feel my wife’ s loss, because grieving takes time; it  comes and goes , more so when I have to lend support to my mom who has Parkinson’s Disease  and my twin brother who has depression. And it can be overwhelming!  

My daily routine everyday for the past 2 years is to pray to my wife at the church where her ashes are laid, as it gives me satisfaction to stay connected to her.  This is what unconditional love is all about.

Therefore, my caregiving task is to some extent is three times over.  With having to do all the housework by myself, these multiple tasks can mentally and physically drain me out.  Even though I was trying to cope with gastric flu this week with medicine, I had no choice but to mop my whole house on 20th February 2016.  I had to stop a few times as I was feeling giddy.  With NTUC Fairprice now securing more volunteers, it will help if they or volunteers from other companies or agencies step forward to help, rather than expect me to pay for this and that.

With the lack of support for people like myself, the only way I can come out of this difficult scenario is to find love again, and I am trying so hard to do it.  Who says that if you are a widow, you cannot get married again?  In the USA, it is very common for those who have lost their loved ones to get married again.   History has proven that loneliness and isolation can do a lot of damage, sometimes leading to suicide.

To this end, it would help if the Government can facilitate activities that allow widowers and widows to find the right partner – whether they are locals or foreigners.  If we have the Social Development Unit for the young, then why can’t we have clubs that support the elderly lonely for such an imitative?

At the end of the day, the community, the Government and the press must be willing to accept feedback and act on reports, stepping forward to help so that the vulnerable in our society can lead better  and more fruitful lives.

When I proposed that NCMPs be mentored by MPs so that the experience gained can benefit all our citizens, no one bothered to reply.  It is futile to give suggestions and feedback which the Government constantly seeks, but it gets ignored.



No comments: