Toil of age
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