I was glad my elder sister was around to keep my mother company at night. Knowing she was around put me at ease and allowed me to enjoy my trip.
My elder sister was in Kuching for a few days recently to look after my 83-year-old mother while I went travelling. She lives in Bintulu which is accessible from Kuching by air and by road. However, I only get to see her maybe once a year.
Getting her to come to Kuching was challenging. I called her handphone number but there was no reply. My niece later told me her mother had changed her number. When I called the new number, I was surprised to hear my niece’s voice at the other end. “Sorry, auntie, I accidentally brought mum’s phone when I went to the supermarket,” she told me.
I did not get to speak to my elder sister until the next day because I finished work late that day.
When I eventually got to speak to her, my sister told me that she could not come to Kuching immediately. She needed at least another day to settle some matters and pay any outstanding bill.
So I left for my trip to Lawas without meeting my elder sister. Nevertheless, I was glad she looked after my mother while I went travelling.
My mother, you see, has dementia and there are many things she is incapable of doing. For example, she does not know when to bathe and where her clothes are. She has forgotten how to cook rice and other things. She does not know where she lives. She has lived in many places and sometimes she thinks Kuching is Sibu or Johor Bharu.
Her grandchildren are all grown-up and yet she still thinks they are in primary school and need to be fetched home. One of my nieces is her favourite grandchild and not a day goes by without he asking me, “Where’s Ah Hong? Where is Ah Hong?” I tell her where the girl is and less than five minutes later, she would ask me the same question.
It has reached a point where I conveniently pretend not to hear her. Then she would complain, “Why are you silent when I ask you a question? Are you deaf?”
Ever since she suffered from dementia, my mother is also afraid of the dark. While I was travelling recently, my sister-in-law agreed to pop into the house in the afternoon to check on her.
I needed my elder sister to keep my mother company at night. The old lady slept in her own bed in her room while my sister slept on a sofa in the living room. Knowing my sister was around put me at ease and allowed me to enjoy my trip. If she was left alone in the house at night, my mother might get scared to death.
My sister later told me that it was quite easy for her to look after my mother.
“The old lady ate whatever I cooked. When I slept, she also slept. If she said she was hungry even after a full meal, I gave her more food,” she told me.
Oh yes, my mother is always hungry. After I bring her to a coffee shop for breakfast, she often complains she has not eaten. I have learnt to ignore such complaints. How can she be hungry after finishing a big bowl of “kolok mee”? One thing’s for sure, my mother nowadays eats more than I do.
I was surprised my elder sister got on so well with her. I have been taking care of the old lady for years and I do not get on very well with her. For instance, every morning, it is a hassle getting her to the bathroom. The old lady can be so stubborn!
“Come on, mum! You better bathe now. I will be late for work,” I try to persuade her.
Her reply? “I have taken my bath already” or “I am still sweating. How can I bathe when I am still sweating? You want me to fall sick?”
Many strangers think my mother is healthy because she looks well physically. Sometimes, she is very good in rebutting my statements.
“No, my mother is not well,” I often tell strangers.
If I let her bath alone, she would come out dry. So every day, I have to stand beside her in the bathroom, turn on the shower, put the shampoo on her and ask her to clean herself.
My mother has four daughters and two sons and a foster son. One son and the foster son have passed on earlier than her. How nice if my brother and sisters share with me the burden of looking after her not occasionally but every day.
My best friend, who is aware of the challenges I face alone, often consoles me.
“Call me if you feel depressed or want to let off steam,” she tells me.
Thank you, my friend. I need that sometimes.