OLDER people are advised to plan for their retirement and to do financial planning for the years without earning. B ut should we also plan where we want to live in our old age or during the last days of our lives? This issue comes to my mind because a question my mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, asks me everyday is “When are we going home?” Looking after her is challenging and painful. I know of other friends who are also looking after their loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.Like me, they are also experiencing high levels of stress.
Besides “When are we going home?”, another question my mother asks many, many times a day is “Where is Ah Hong?” Ah Hong is my younger sister’s daughter and her favourite granddaughter. Even when Ah Hong is asleep in the room that she shares with my mother, my mother will come out of the room and ask me “Where is Ah Hong?” That is how serious her dementia is. One of my nephews who visits us regularly describes my mother’s condition as a “record that is stuck”. It keeps playing the same track again and again. In my mother’s case, she asks the same questions every two minutes.
When I ask my mother:“Where is your home?”, she replies: “Don’t know.” I am tired of hearing these questions everyday. Some friends have advised me to be patient with my mother. There are many days when I am not patient with her. Looking after my mother has made me realise that maybe there is a need for older people to plan where they want to live when they suffer from ill-health and during the last days of their lives.
When my mother asks me “When are we going home?”, I try to explain to her that I am not going anywhere with her. “This is my house and I have bought this house because I want to stay put in Kuching. If you want to go away, you can go. I will not go with you. But where is your home?” But talking to an Alzheimer patient is useless.
I don’t think she understands what I am saying at all. It is like talking to a blank wall. She will ask me the same question again and again. My hometown is Sibu and I lived there until I was 22 years, This excluded the two years I spent in Kuching as a Form Six student.
My parents were so poor that we never owned a family home in Sibu; instead, my father rented a room and we used to move from one place to another. I have been living in Kuching since 1980 and my mother has been living here since 2000.
My mother now asks me everyday “When are we going home?” It appears to me that Kuching is not home to her. Instead, it is Sibu. Her memories are stuck in Sibu. I’d be happy to send the old lady back to Sibu if we had a family home and someone to look after her there. But there is no family home there On the days when I am not patient and angry, I tell her that she should have encouraged my father to save and buy a house when we were young.
Then, she would have a place to go back to when she grew old. If she had remained in Sibu, would she still ask “When are we going home?” What about the other people who have migrated to other cities or countries when they were young? Do they keep on asking their caregivers “When are we going home?” when they suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease? What about the explorers and adventurers who moved to other places and continents in ancient times like our forefathers? Did they miss their homes and yearn for their homelands when they were in ill-health and in the arms of death? My best friend’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for about eight long years before she died.
Before she totally lost her memory, the old lady tried to “go home” as well even though she had lived in Sibu for decades. Since she migrated from China, was it China that she yearned for in ill-health? A few years ago, before my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, I saw an old man walking at Jalan Sekama in Kuching while carrying bundles of clothes on a stick.
I wondered who he was and why he was still walking around with a heavy load even though it was almost midnight. I did not about Alzheimer’s Disease then. Now, I wonder whether he could have been an Alzheimer patient. Could he have walked out of his home while his caregiver/caregivers was/were asleep? Last time, before my mother became an Alzheimer patient, I was not tolerant of children who sent their parents to nursing homes or old folks’ homes.
Now, I understand why some children had to send their parents to such homes. Looking after parents who are senile is no easy task. It is a stressful job and I lose my temper everyday. Please don’t be quick to judge me and call me names. You just need to put yourself in my shoes and then you will know how I feel.