‘Not unfilial to send aged parents to homes’

Rebecca: It is unfortunate that many in our society are quick to make judgements, leading to affected family members feeling shamed for their decisions which could benefit all parties involved.

FILIAL piety is a virtue that is greatly emphasised in most Asian families. It encourages children to repay the sacrifices of their elders by caring for them in their old age.

While this sounds fair enough, what happens when children can’t do so for their ailing parents due to the stresses of their daily lives and the medical complications brought on by ageing?

In 2017, the mobility of my maternal grandfather, who has Parkinson’s disease, began to worsen. He often had falls which left him bruised and even bleeding. His deteriorating mobility was not the only cause for concern. Once, my mother received an upsetting phone call from my grandmother, who woke up from her nap to find my grandfather missing.

The police had to be called in for the search. Thankfully, my grandfather returned shortly after that. This was one of many “adventures” he embarked on.

As his primary caregiver, my grandmother became snappy, anxious and depressed. When old age caught up with her too, she was no longer fit to take care of herself, let alone be a caregiver.

When my mother informed relatives and close friends that her parents were in a retirement home, she drew comments such as: “Aiyo, so pitiful!” and “Why did you send them there?”

Not just that, my sisters and I felt a pang of guilt whenever Moral Education teachers criticised children for abandoning their parents in retirement homes.

It is unfortunate that many in our society are quick to make such judgements, leading to affected family members feeling ashamed of their decisions which could benefit all parties involved.

Although it took a week or two for my grandparents to get used to their new surroundings, we noticed a 180-degree change in my grandmother thereafter.

She was in high spirits whenever we visited and was very pleased to tell us that their bed sheets were changed daily.

It comforted my family that my grandparents had immediate access to help from trained caregivers, and that they were served nutritious meals on time, hence ensuring their overall quality of life.

While I understand why the stigma surrounding retirement homes exists, this needs to stop for various reasons.

Firstly, it prevents the elderly from enjoying their golden years. Just because they live in their own homes or with their families does not guarantee that they would be having proper care, especially when their children and grandchildren have work and school commitments.

On the contrary, those living in retirement homes have the option of chatting with their fellow residents and take part in activities organised by the management team.

Secondly, life could be overwhelming for the sandwich generation. This generation is responsible for caring for their ageing parents while looking after their children, in addition to contributing to the family income.

Eventually, the performance of sandwich generation workers would be affected due to caregiver fatigue and emotional exhaustion.

Lastly, the tensions between parents and grandparents could give rise to a turbulent home life. Children would have to bear the brunt when their guardians could no longer give them the patience, love and attention they need to develop and grow.

Whenever my mother received bad news about her parents, I felt like I had to walk on eggshells as a slight mistake would agitate her.

While she would apologise for her sudden outbursts, I felt hurt being at the receiving end.

That said, I understand that although care facilities can reduce the trickling effect of caregiver burnout in our society, problems lie within these setups too. In all honesty, my family had come across many centres which fit the negative stereotype of a retirement home.

Dingy houses in dire need of a fresh coat of paint, the unpleasant whiff of urine from soiled diapers, and the unpalatable food served to the elderly were nightmarish indeed.

Worse, the fees for services at these centres were rather pricey. I’m sure we can all agree that we definitely wouldn’t want to spend money to live in such conditions. It is to be remembered that the challenges experienced by the sandwich generation are going to worsen as time goes by.

Thus, the government needs to play an active role in setting standards for these care centres such as the design of the facilities, and the food and activities offered, and ensuring that these standards are met.

All lives are to be cherished. And what better way to thank our taxpayers for their contributions to the country than to provide them with a safe abode and ensure their welfare in their later years?

As we work towards becoming an accepting and inclusive society, demonising retirement homes should become a thing of the past.

With collective effort and support, I’m confident that this can be achieved.

Rebecca, 17, a student in Selangor, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1. Based on the article written by Rebecca, draw up a table listing the pros and cons of sending aged parents to retirement homes. Do this with an activity partner. When you are done, discuss other pros and cons that you can add to the table. Do the pros outweigh the cons? 2. Do you agree with Rebecca’s opinion that sending aged parents to retirement homes is not an unfilial act? Explain your stance, using the points you have listed in the activity above. Do you think your parents would agree with your stance? 3. What would you consider filial and unfilial behaviour? List at least three examples for each. How similar or different are your lists compared to your activity partner’s?

4. On a scale from one (not at all) to 10 (very much), how would you rate yourself as a filial child? Do you think you would score the same if your parents were to give the rating?

5. What do you think are some activities that the elderly such as your grandparents can take part in to improve their overall quality of life? Look in today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper for an activity you would recommend. Then, have your activity partner rate the practicality of your recommendation.

Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has supported English language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE is continuing its role of promoting the use of English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. In addition, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates at facebook.com/niebrats. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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Star-NIE , BRATs , elders , children , Asian families


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