And to unexpectedly find one is truly a blessing.
MY maid has gone home for Raya. It should be no big deal, because she has gone back to Indonesia many times in the 10 years she’s worked for me.
What makes it different this time are the changed circumstances in my house. I cannot do without a maid because there is someone in the family who needs constant care: my mother.
In my early years of marriage, it was the children who required looking after and I was able to take leave for up to a month to stay home with them.
Now they are all grown up and the vulnerable person is my mum.
Unfortunately, taking leave is no longer the solution. Wiji is taking an extra long break and will only return two months from now; maybe even later, she said, if she can’t finish renovating her house in time.
My mum has been living with me for the past eight years. When she moved in with Dad, they were both reasonably mobile and able to care for themselves.
So when Wiji took home leave, Mum could still potter around, do light chores and get the meals ready for herself and Dad.
But over the years, Mum has slowed down a lot. She cannot stand or walk for long. She is prone to dizzy spells and has fallen several times. The worst fall left her with a fractured vertebrae and she had to be bedridden for months.
Dad also declined in health and was bedridden in the last 16 months of his life.
We were very fortunate to have two capable male nurses to care for him until his passing in August last year.
So the last time Wiji went home, Mum still had Dad and the nurses to keep an eye on her and help out with her meals and needs.
Now it’s all changed. My kind-hearted maid became her primary caregiver and companion in the house.
So when Wiji announced her plans to go home for Hari Raya early in the year, I started worrying about Mum’s well-being.
I contacted my sisters who live overseas and we Skyped to discuss options.
Initially, we thought we would take turns to go on leave and care for Mum. I would start first with two weeks, then eldest sister would fly in from Sydney for three weeks and youngest sister from Singapore would take over for a fortnight or so.
That would take care of June and most of July but what about August? I could apply for leave again but work has become very hectic and I have projects to manage. My sisters also have their own commitments.
My working daughters offered to take leave as well but they can’t cook and would probably drive Mum up the wall.
My sisters and I considered looking for a temporary nurse or maid. But that raised reliability and safety issues that come with opening one’s home to an unknown outsider.
With Mum’s extremely suspicious and fussy nature, she would be stressed out watching the stranger in the house like a hawk, rather than the stranger watching over her.
Mum, aware of her daughters’ search for a solution, heard about a great nursing home somewhere in the nearby township of Subang Jaya and suggested a stay there for two months.
We decided to explore this option and I Googled for nursing homes to check out.
Before we could do that, my Singapore sister and her husband took Mum for a holiday in Hong Kong. She had a great time but it was extremely stressful and tiring for my sister, as Mum had many demands and requirements.
From that experience, we realised Mum might not do well in an outside environment when she is so used to being pampered and ordering people around.
Mum also changed her mind about leaving home for another home. She worried about missing her bed, disliking the food and, most importantly, whether she could watch her Astro channels as she liked.
Just as we were resigned to taking turns to look after her as our only workable option, it was Mum who saved the day. She found her own caregiver, her cousin; Aunty Susan, as I call her.
My sisters and I were delighted as she had the right experience, having managed an old folks home for 10 years.
She and her family would visit Mum almost every Chinese New Year and they got along well.
Still, I was nervous because visiting a cranky cousin for a few hours is nothing like staying with her 24/7 for two months.
Mum can be charming and funny but she can also be very overbearing and will never admit she’s in the wrong. I feared she might behave like that to her cousin, who is 15 years younger, and end up ruining family ties.
But Aunty Susan, bless her heart, upon learning our predicament, was happy to help.
To get her familiar with Mum’s routine, she spent almost a day in my house. She also came two days before Wiji’s departure – the Thursday before Hari Raya – to settle in.
She’s proven to be a gem. She is cheerful, patient and willing to do a lot of Wiji’s house chores even though all I want is for her to take care of Mum.
Aunty Susan will stay in my house from Monday to Friday and take a break on the weekends.
She keeps assuring me she can handle Mum and that she will stay the course.
But I am still on tenterhooks because I know my mother’s ornery personality too well.
These are indeed difficult years for her. She’s largely house-bound and lonely without Dad. She has to deal with constant discomfort and pain from her illnesses and back injury. All this makes her even more prickly and difficult.
But still, she’s pretty lucky. She had a wonderful husband who took care of her every need and she’s got filial kids – my sisters and I will take a small bow here – who continue to care for her in her twilight years.
Looking ahead, I wonder what my old age will be like. I don’t want to burden my children because life will be even costlier and hiring maids might be a thing of the past.
I can only try my best to stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.
After that, I hope I will have enough saved up for my own personal robot caregiver.
> Aunty wants to give a shout-out to all caregivers for their devotion to their loved ones, and wishes Muslims Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.