Caregiver's life revolved around sister for over 60 years
Next Saturday, an event will be held to honour caregivers, and recognise their unstinting care for their loved ones. TNP speaks to caregivers about their struggles and sacrifices
For more than 60 years, her whole life revolved around one person - her sister.
No one else was more important to Madam Leong Suet Ching, who turns 89 this year.
Not even herself.
Said Madam Leong: "I chose not to get married or chase my dreams.
"I could not. Not with my sister like that."
Madam Leong's sister, Madam Leong Suet Ying, 77, suffers from a host of diseases, including a developmental disease that affects her mental health. She is now in a home.
Madam Leong said that when her sister was around 13,she started showing difficulty in performing daily tasks.
Simple acts like eating, going to the toilet or putting clothes on would take her a long time, and eventually she could not do them herself.
Madam Leong said their father died when they were young and their mother was hardly around, so she had to be the one to care for her sister.
"We were so poor, who could take care of her?" Madam Leong said.
Her sister's condition deteriorated further.
She started showing signs of schizophrenia, and attempted to leave their three-room Housing Board flat on her own despite not being able to put her clothes on.
Although she was in a dancing school in her late 20s, Madam Leong shelved her dream of becoming a famous dancer to look after her sister.
Blinking back tears, she said: "I love her so much, it was the easiest decision to make. My sister needed me and I wanted to be the person she could depend on."
Although men were interested in her, Madam Leong rejected their advances because she needed time to care for her sister.
STEEP LEARNING CURVE
But providing care was not all smooth sailing. Though she says she had no trouble bathing her sister, cleaning up after her or feeding her, Madam Leong remembered the steep learning curve she faced when it came to medication.
It took Madam Leong a while before she could become the "full-time nurse" she needed to be. In spite of it all, she was happy.
She worked from home as a seamstress so she could earn money while keeping an eye on her sister.
Madam Leong said she used to look forward to 8pm daily, when she would boil sweet potatoes, which her sister loves. They would eat them while watching television.
"At least I could take care of her and we had each other," said Madam Leong as she flashed a brief smile.
But all that changed in June last year.
That night, while Madam Leong was cooking, she noticed the house had gone quiet.
When she checked on her sister in their bedroom, Madam Leong got the shock of her life. Her sister was lying on the floor. Madam Leong Suet Ying had fallen and was barely conscious.
In a fit of panic, Madam Leong attempted to lift her sister up. The strain proved too much and her back gave way, causing her to fall on the floor as well.
She managed to phone her relatives, who called for an ambulance.
The incident left Madam Leong in a wheelchair. Since she was no longer fit to care for her sister, Madam Leong had to make the difficult decision to leave her at the Tai Pei Old Folks' Home.
She said: "It was the hardest thing for me to do, but I knew it was the best thing for her."
Now, Madam Leong gets to see her sister only once a week, because of the distance and she needs someone to take her there.
Usually, relatives or volunteers accompany Madam Leong to these hourly visits, in what she describes as the "highlight of her week".
But Madam Leong's heart yearns every day to live with her sister again.
"I am more than 80 years old, but this is the first time I am living alone," she said.
Most of Madam Leong's time is now spent completing her daily routines of cooking and cleaning. She also spends her free time listening to the music she used to dance to.
Sometimes, while watching television, she forgets that her sister is not there and starts talking about the show, only to stop herself mid-sentence.
"I miss those times, but I know that this is all is for the best.
As she cradles a photograph of the both of them together, she said: "Still, I do wish I could see my sister more often."
"I Love her so much, it was the easiest decision to make. My sister needed me and I wanted to be the person she could depend on."
— Madam Leong Suet Ching, on giving up her dreams for her younger sister
Singaporeans not sharing the care
A new survey has shown that many Singaporeans do not offer helpto family caregivers of people with special needs.
Of the 383 people surveyed, only two in 10 said they had asked to help. Major barriers for offering support include lack of time and awareness. About seven in 10 said they did not know how to help.
The survey, whose respondents were between 18 and 62 years old, was conducted by Share the Care SG, an initiative to educate people on how to help family caregivers.
Share the Care SG was started by four final-year students from Nanyang Technological University.
The campaign is organising the inaugural Make A Caregiver's Day 2016 - a carnival for people to celebrate the role of family caregiving.
The event will be held next Saturday from 3pm to 6pm at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru, near Redhill Road.