Toil of age

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRIS AN­THONY

AS I reacHed the crowded hos­pi­tal ward, I saw Un­cle Sam ly­ing in his bed, semi­con­scious, gasp­ing while on oxy­gen. I held his thin, wasted hand firmly and called his name. But there was no re­sponse.

Then, all of a sud­den, he took a deep breath ... which was his last. Un­cle Sam died peace­fully right in front of me. I cursed my­self for not go­ing to see him ear­lier.

Un­cle Sam was an el­derly gen­tle­man whom I had the priv­i­lege of know­ing in the fi­nal few years of his life. He had jour­neyed through life for 86 years. His vast ex­pe­ri­ences added to the many lessons in my life and I hope a brief nar­ra­tion of this won­der­ful per­son will en­rich your ex­pe­ri­ences in deal­ing with those around you.

ev­ery per­son is a mar­vel­lous cre­ation of God, a trea­sure trove of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ences wait­ing to be tapped. Un­cle Sam was un­de­ni­ably such a per­son.

many of us to­day don’t even have time for our own aged par­ents. We find so many ex­cuses to send them away some­where hop­ing they would be hap­pier there than be­ing with us. We pass the re­spon­si­bil­ity on to oth­ers who are to­tal strangers, hop­ing they can pro­vide bet­ter care and com­fort to them than we can in our own homes.

This ex­plains the mush­room­ing of old folks’ homes all over the coun­try.

Un­cle Sam stayed in such a home and he ap­peared happy to be in the com­pany of fel­low res­i­dents. For­tu­nately, he still re­ceived his monthly pen­sion which was suf­fi­cient to pay for his main­te­nance at the home. His ba­sic needs were taken care of rea­son­ably well, and his chil­dren, rel­a­tives and friends reg­u­larly vis­ited him. Like all par­ents, he never blamed his chil­dren for send­ing him there, but deep in­side, he longed for his home and the com­pany of his loved ones.

He lost his wife 20 years ago when she died af­ter a short ill­ness and up till his last days he missed her dearly. In the twi­light of his life, as his phys­i­cal and men­tal fac­ul­ties be­gan to fail him one by one, he had no con­sis­tent com­pan­ion to cling on to for sup­port, so­lace and re­as­sur­ance. That was the time he wished so badly that his wife was around to share the pains of old age with him.

His eyes would fill with tears each time he talked about her. He used to re­peat­edly say, “If only my wife was around, I will not be here.”

I learnt a lot about his past from my meet­ings with him, es­pe­cially about life dur­ing the Bri­tish and Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tions, his fam­ily and all his ex­pe­ri­ences over the years.

as I grow older and my chil­dren leave home one by one, I ap­pre­ci­ate his ex­pe­ri­ences more and more. I look around and no­tice that so many se­nior cit­i­zens are lead­ing soli­tary lives with­out a shoul­der to lean on. are we head­ing for such lonely lives in the years to come? Only time will tell but it is fright­en­ing to think so.

Some of the things that im­pressed me about him were his sense of punc­tu­al­ity, his loy­alty to his late fa­ther and his fear of lone­li­ness.

For in­stance, ev­ery time I made an ap­point­ment to meet him, he would be ready and wait­ing for me, all neatly dressed in slacks, long sleeve shirt and pol­ished shoes. ac­cord­ing to his care­giver, he would wake up and get ready hours be­fore, and sit on the porch ea­gerly to wait for me. His punc­tu­al­ity would put many of us to shame as we have very lit­tle re­gard for time and peo­ple th­ese days.

He used to say that punc­tu­al­ity is an in­di­ca­tion of our ea­ger­ness to meet some­one and it re­flects the place we ac­cord the per­son in our hearts. If we value some­body’s com­pany then we should never be late to meet him or her as our minds will al­ways be pre­oc­cu­pied with thoughts of that per­son.

Un­cle Sam re­mem­bered the words of his late fa­ther clearly: “If you are in dire need of money, you may bor­row or even beg for it, but never ac­cept bribes how­ever des­per­ate you may be.”

as a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cer, he ad­hered to his fa­ther’s ad­vice so strictly that he could not save enough to buy his own house and lived in gov­ern­ment quar­ters all his life. dur­ing his fi­nal years he did not have a place to call home and had to set­tle for an old folks’ home as his abode. This was the price he had to pay for be­ing stead­fast to his fa­ther’s words.

He did not re­gret hold­ing on to his fa­ther’s ad­vice and of­fered th­ese words to the youth of to­day: “They should hon­our their fa­ther and mother, and ev­ery­thing else will be fine.”

ac­cord­ing to him, hon­our­ing our par­ents determines to a great ex­tent whether we at­tain the hap­pi­ness we all strive for in life. This is not just about pro­vid­ing food and shel­ter, but show­ing re­spect for them, es­pe­cially for their pride, hon­esty and prin­ci­ples which they stood for.

Lone­li­ness was by far Un­cle Sam’s great­est fear. This was par­tic­u­larly pro­found af­ter the demise of his wife. He was fear­ful about be­ing all alone in this “cruel” world. It was painful to re­alise that at the age of 86, stay­ing in a home for the aged and sur­rounded by un­fa­mil­iar faces, he had very lit­tle to hope for dur­ing the fi­nal days of his life ex­cept to be re­united with his wife.

Un­cle Sam may not be around any­more, but his mem­o­ries and lessons from his ex­pe­ri­ences live on in the hearts of those who know him.

His only hope, and that of many oth­ers like him, was that we will be able to spare them a lit­tle of our pre­cious time when­ever we can.

This page is for sto­ries that are heart-warm­ing or thought-pro­vok­ing. If you have an orig­i­nal one to share, e-mail it to star2.heart@the star.com. my.

Illustration by FCHWaN

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