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Sunset on the mind Print E-mail

The lack of an extended family will make facing old age an impossible task if one does not plan for the future.

DEATH, old age and retirement have been on my mind of late. That’s not surprising because the last weekend was filled with such realities – my mother being hospitalised, my classmates celebrating their 50th birthday, and the sudden death of a colleague on Sunday.

Nothing reminds you of your mortality like someone younger than you suddenly dying.

My good friend Dharmender Singh collapsed at home of a heart attack on Sunday. He died within 30 minutes.

His death came just seven months after my own heart attack, my second, and many friends have reminded me that I have been very lucky to survive both.

My first was a decade ago today while I was serving in Hong Kong.

Then, I kept myself conscious for six hours despite the severe chest pains as I was all alone, and it was the height of the SARS outbreak.

My second was on Aug 24, last year when I was at home. My wife managed to rush me to the hospital within 10 minutes.

The two myocardial infarctions (as heart attacks are known in medical terminology) could not have occurred under more different circumstances.

In Hong Kong, I had to face it all alone. The one seven months ago seemed like a breeze in contrast, as I was surrounded by family and friends every day through my convalescence.

For those who want to know, a heart attack feels like a group of guys kicking you repeatedly in the chest.

Not only have I had two attacks, but I used to be the goalkeeper of my college team and had been kicked ever so often in my attempts to keep the ball out.

So when friends like Dharmender die so suddenly, I have come to realise that my heart attacks were more than just warnings – I now know I am mortal.

But my lesson in mortality has been tempered by the hospitalisation of my 84-year-old mother last Friday.

I have never seen her so frail as the doctors struggled to find out why her hands were swollen.

She was discharged on Monday but she is still not feeling well.

Her fragility only serves to remind me about my own needs.

All of us have moved to the big city while she continues to live in our hometown of Seremban with my sister.

Unfortunately, my sister has her own medical problems and is not able to look after our mother on her own.

Travelling every morning to Seremban that weekend to look after my mother while she was in hospital not only exhausted me but also frightened the socks off me.

My mother has five children, yet we struggle to meet her need to be cared for because we live 80km away.

She has refused to move up to live with us because she enjoys her own little world.

Therefore, what about us as we get older? I have only two kids and one of them is already studying overseas and I do not know if he is ever coming back to settle down here.

Baby boomers like us are now beginning to face the issue of growing old and, for the first time in an Asian society, mostly without support from the extended family.

Uncles, aunties, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws were how we Asians sorted out elderly needs in the past.

But the wealth we have gathered in the past 30 years has alienated our extended families.

When we leave our hometowns and kampung, we seldom keep in touch with the relatives back home except during the annual festivities.

Even those trips are divided between the husband’s and wife’s families, thus further reducing contact.

Thus these ties are stretched and can no longer be relied upon as the social crutch that our forefathers depended on in their old age.

For many years, I have been telling my children that there is a big world out there and that they should be global workers and not even think of where they want to settle down.

Now when I look at my mother, I am beginning to selfishly wish I never gave them that global worker speech.

Who is going to look after us when we grow old like my mother?

This is why we must now look at Singapore and Japan, to see how the baby boomers are dealing with this problem.

This is also why our neighbours in the south are keen to invest in Iskandar to set up retirement housing schemes.

Residents in such projects will find all the facilities suitable for the aged – ranging from medical care to toilets designed for those in advancing years.

The aging Japanese had invested in similar projects in Thailand and some of them are thinking of setting up several here under the Malaysia My Second Home scheme.

Local developers seeking to find new development projects should look at this as eight million baby boomer Malaysians get older.

On top of those two warnings I have had, I find that I had to wish a classmate – someone you have always considered one of the prettiest girls you knew in school – Happy 50th Birthday.

The only consolation I can take from this is that people are now saying that the 50s is the new 40s, which means I have a whole 10 years to party again.

They say that the baby boomers in their 50s will set a new trend as they still have the biggest purchasing power.

But seriously, after Dharmender, my two infarctions and my frail mother, growing old needs proper planning and not partying.

Now let’s relook at the EPF account.

The Star executive editor Wong Sai Wan expresses his deepest condolences to Dharmender’s wife Brenda Fernandez and their three sons, Rajveenjit, Ashveen, and Yashveen. Guys, look after your mother always.

Source: http://thestar.com.my/columnists/story.asp?col=whynot&file=/2011/4/1/columnists/whynot/8375948&sec=Why%20Not



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