When her daughter suffered a stroke more than 20 years ago, Madam Tan Ah Hiang became her main caregiver and helped raise her grandson. Now 78, she still takes care of her daughter and two great grandchildren.
But two years ago, the sprightly senior, who lives alone in a three-room flat, fell into a rut when pain in her knees affected her mobility and her vision blurred because of cataracts. Struggling to cope as a caregiver, she distanced herself from friends, neighbours and relatives.
She says in Mandarin: "Some of my friends asked me why my life was so depressing. Some said I should give up taking care of my daughter and her family.
"Their words demoralised me, so I decided to avoid chatting with anyone."
She kept to herself and her immediate family for almost six months until Madam Wong Yoke Hun and Madam Ng Geok Thuay paid her a visit in late October 2016.
The two women, both 64, are volunteers with the Community Befriending Programme run by the Presbyterian Community Services in their Haig Road neighbourhood.
A concerned neighbour had alerted the programme coordinator to Madam Tan's plight.
At first, Madam Tan felt awkward around the volunteers, but she gradually warmed up to them.
She says: "They were so kind and ready to listen to my problems without passing judgment or pitying me.
"They told me to relax and not be overly anxious."
The volunteers are scheduled to visit her twice a month, but she often urges them to pop by more often when they have time.
Madam Wong says in Mandarin: "I feel very touched by how aunty Ah Hiang welcomes us and tells us how happy she is when we visit her.
"We cannot solve her problems, but I am glad we can help ease her stress by letting her express herself freely."
The two volunteers signed up for the Community Befriending Programme in October 2016. It was Madam Ng who encouraged Madam Wong to be a volunteer.
The two met through a karaoke singing group back in 2009, but only got to know each other better in 2013 when Madam Wong took up Madam Ng's suggestion to participate in activities organised by Friends of the Third Age, an eldercare initiative which provides care and activities for elderly residents in the Haig Road area.
Through activities such as visiting old folks' homes, Madam Wong developed an interest in volunteer work. Interacting with older seniors has trained her to be more attentive, patient and to speak gently.
"I have better control over my temper and grumble less. Even my husband and sons noticed the change in me. They told me not to stop my volunteer work," she says with a smile.
For Madam Ng, volunteering eases her regrets over not spending more time with her late mother.
She says in Mandarin: "My mother lived next door to me, but I didn't have much quality time with her as I was always busy with work or household chores.
"Thinking about how lonely my mother must have felt makes me sad. But it also drives me to do something for these seniors that I was not able to do for her, which is simply to spend time with them."
To sign up as a volunteer befriender, go to bit.ly/befriendasenior or call the Singapore Silver Line on 1800-650-6060 for more details.
• This series is an initiative under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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