Mdm Chin (not her real name), 59 years old, tries her best to be a dutiful wife but caring for her husband is becoming an almost impossible mission.
Like many others, Mdm Chin is a typical traditional housewife from the heartlands of Singapore. Although she did not have much education, she is an honest, sincere and hardworking person. She upholds the virtues that a woman must abide by her husband after marriage and take good care of the family. Alas, her husband had not been responsible in providing sufficiently for the family. Mdm Chin scrimped and saved to make ends meet.
Throughout her years of marriage, she was often left alone to fend for herself and to manage her two daughters. This coupled with tight finances resulted in her often feeling stressed and even depressed at times. Despite all these, she seldom questioned whatever her husband told her and did her best to keep the house clean and tidy and to bring up the children well.
Unfortunately, her husband had a stroke two years ago and became bedbound. He needed help in bathing and toileting and Mdm Chin was not able to provide care for him round the clock due to his big frame. He had to be admitted to a Nursing Home. and he was not happy about it. He took to calling and texting her all day, even in the middle of the night to demand her to take him home. However, taking care of him is quite literally a backbreaking task for petite Mdm Chin who visits him every day at the nursing home. Two to three persons are needed to move his huge immobile body. It is impossible for Mdm Chin to care for her husband on her own at home.
When she could not accede to his requests, he began texting their daughters, relatives and her church friends so that they can exert pressure upon her. His messages were vulgar and abusive, and accused her of having affairs with other men. Mdm Chin felt so embarrassed with these baseless accusations that she avoided her church friends and could no longer attend church, where she had once found solace.
Also unknown to her, her husband had also accumulated hefty credit card bills before his sickness, and the debts fell upon her and her daughters. Mdm Chin became even more distraught as they did not have much savings. Fortunately, with the good advice from some friends, Mdm Chin and her daughters could resolve their financial crisis by applying for bankruptcy status for her husband.
As her husband continue to demand to return home, Mdm Chin became insomniac and startled easily at every ringtone even though it was not her phone. Living in fear and anxiety all day, she became so stricken with guilt that whenever people looked at her, she perceived that they were judging her for not bringing her husband home. Advice from well-meaning relatives and friends were often unhelpful and accentuated her self-remorse. By the time Mdm Chin was referred to O’Joy for caregiver stress, she was quite a nervous wreck.
During her first session with O’Joy’s clinical director Puay Leng, Mdm Chin spoke non-stop for two hours. It was as if she needed to pour out all the grief and frustration she had suffered throughout the years, that nobody had bothered to listen.
Puay Leng had to give Mdm Chin a lot of reassurance and affirm her that she was not abandoning her husband. Mdm Chin took a long while to accept herself and to believe that she has been doing the right thing.
It is important for Mdm Chin to set healthy boundaries with her husband. Puay Leng taught her to first block his number – something that Mdm Chin was totally unaware of. This allowed her to have some good uninterrupted sleep at night. She also gradually cut down her daily visits to the nursing home to four times a week, and then twice weekly. This reduced her exposure to the demands from her husband and help her to slowly revert to a calmer state of mind. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the implementation of the Circuit Breaker last year allowed her to have a break and have some time and space to focus on her self-care and do some deep reflection of her life. Throughout this period, Puay Leng continues to work with her via the online platform, to facilitate her reflection, to validate her and to teach skills of self-affirmation.
Over the course of a year of working with Puay Leng, Mdm Chin very slowly strengthened her sense of self, although she swung back and forth a lot between self-doubt and self-confidence. Her guilt started to alleviate when she finally accepted that the best care for her husband is in the nursing home and that she did not abandon him. Gradually she learnt to stand firm against his untrue accusations. Her children, after a while, could empathize with her plight and no longer pressurize her. Hurtful remarks from relatives and friends still affect her but she formulated ways to manage such inappropriate comments.
Mdm Chin used the metaphor that she felt she had been in a dream all her life and only recently just woken up and sees things as they are.
She said in the past she had just gone along and accepted whatever her husband said to her as the reality. Having gone through this crisis she now treasures what she has and wants to use her remaining years to do the things she likes. She is keen to attend courses to learn new skills. She hopes to be able to find a job so that she does not have to burden her daughters who are already paying for her husband’s medical and nursing home expenses. She enjoys the freedom she now has and wants to carry on living purposefully, treasuring life and appreciating what she has.
* The names and photo have been changed to protect the confidentiality and privacy of the client and volunteer.
Mdm Chin is an example of the senior clients who receive counselling under O’Joy’s elderly services. This is our gerontology counselling program that provides counselling and case management services to seniors aged 50 and above. Our elderly services are currently supported partially by government grants and partially by donations from the public. Hence we are able to provide counselling to our senior clients at a highly subsidised rate or free of charge.
Our client in this story – Mdm Chin, even in all her hardship, would drop a small note in our donation box after each session to express her gratitude for our services and to help the next person in need.
Would you allow us to help more caregivers like Mdm Chin turn their lives around on positive note?