Never assume that they are helpless……
It’s the second day of the Lunar New Year. I decided to tag along with my sister-in-law, Terry who does regular visitations to the homes of elderly people who live alone.
I brought along some oranges, a red packet, and some biscuits and crackers. It was my first time meeting Mdm Tan and I wanted to find out more about her story.
Mdm Bio is 93 years of age and lives in a rented flat, heavily subsidized by the government in the eastern part of Singapore.
(The Singapore Govt has devised a very supportive plan for those who have no other housing options but met the criteria to apply for rental flats. The flats are leased at a very cheap price in many parts of the island, some going for as low as $26 a month.)
Mdm Tan strikes me as very upbeat, sprightly, and receptive. She was watching a television program when we arrived, immediately welcomed us warmly into her house, and offered us New Year snacks.
It was not what I had imagined. I had thought that she would be a very depressed, lonely elderly woman, living within the confines of her own flat with no one to talk to and passing her time with much difficulty.
She was very engaging in our chat. She has kept herself relatively healthy eating mostly vegetarian food which she cooked herself. At 93, she still has most of her teeth (sans the lower molars) and she ate with gusto.
Mdm Tan had one son and a nephew and both have their own families and commitments. She had stayed with them before but chose the path of freedom where she could have her own space, do her own thing, and be free from responsibilities and any fuss over her. She is extremely happy in her current situation.
It is indeed remarkable for a lady this age to be so independent. She has kept her house spick and span. The $50 a month rental flat is a good size for a single person with a roomy living room, kitchen, and bedroom. This is more than any person can ask for if you were to compare to similar housing in countries like Hong Kong or Japan.
In the kitchen, her utensils hanging neatly, aligned along a long bar which she installed herself. She still prefers to cook with a gas stove though many elderly now use conduction or electric stove. Judging from the layout, she must enjoy food which is probably the highlight of her activities.
Mdm Tan had many interesting stories to share with us and she brought her albums out to show some old pictures. She was a pretty little lady, slightly plump in her younger days in pretty clothes.
Her mum was also a pretty lady, of Peranakan descent. I deduced that she is so healthy from being an active and proactive person. She had worked for more than forty years and regaled us with the story of being a domestic help for a British expatriate whom she said was strict and no-nonsense.
She has lots of fire in her belly as she complained about tough times in the old days. Having a fire in her system is good, I felt. It gives her energy which she uses to care for her plants outside her flat along the balcony.
She proudly showed off her array of plants and it was clear that she has green fingers. Her favorite thing to do is to go to the market and look for bargains. Even though she lives alone and there are occasional visitors, she does not want to join her neighbors for chitchat sessions, seeing it as a platform for gossip.
Nonetheless, the witty lady still knows what is going on in her immediate neighbors’ homes.
We were very happy to see that Mdm Tan is living the life that she wants. On this floor which is unblocked, it is quiet and overlooks a serene view of distant housing blocks, greenery, and blue sky. We can see why she is happy.
Mdm Tan has everything going for her as she savors each day. As the cool breeze rustled the plants on the balcony and refreshed our bodies, we bade her farewell and left feeling inspired to be as cheerful and independent as her if we ever get to that age. Happiness is what you make of it and she is a prime example.