By Kay del Rosario
Andrew Lim is someone who could be considered a serial caregiver.
Through the years, the 63-year-old security officer has cared for several family members with various health conditions.
His brother had numerous ailments like heart failure and diabetes. When the brother passed away in 2011, Andrew took over caring for his wife, who had a mental illness. He tended to his sister-in-law for 10 years until her death.
Around the same time his brother was sick, Andrew’s mother became ill with breast cancer. He cared for her until she passed on a year after his brother did.
And today, for almost a decade now, he and his wife have been caregivers to his mother-in-law, who was struck by dementia in 2014. ‘Stressful’ doesn’t even begin to describe the experience of caring for someone severely ill.
“Now my mother-in-law can’t even move. She’s not mobile. She is completely dependent on us. It’s very tough,” Andrew said.
Despite the difficulties, Andrew has accepted his lot in life and tries to be the best caregiver he can be.
When his mother-in-law was first diagnosed with dementia, Andrew did not know what the disease was.
“We think that dementia is forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, and so forth. But it is more than that,” he said.
Being naturally curious, Andrew started researching and learning about dementia on the internet.
He shared: “Almost every day I watched videos, I read articles about dementia… then I understood better. Not that I’m an expert now, but it’s good to be aware and to be well informed.
“With this, I will be able to help my mother-in-law better.”
The mindset was the same one he adopted during his previous caregiving responsibilities. He attended a mental illness training course to equip himself to deal with his sister-in-law. In addition, he joined a cancer support group to appreciate what his mother was going through in her cancer battle.
He did all this work on top of his actual job.
Working is Caring
Andrew was a civil servant for more than 25 years. But, instead of retiring, he continued working as a security officer because of his family commitments.
“I will say that in caregiving, one of the major concerns is finance. There are many things to consider – you have to get medical supplies like a hospital bed. You need physical help, like getting a maid. You need food and diapers.
“Luckily for us, we have family members who help too. If we were on our own, it would be worse,” he said.
Andrew wishes that his employer could also help lighten his burdens by providing adequate time off for people like himself who have special needs.
“My previous organisation had this family care leave, they had more annual leave, unpaid leave… but now I don’t have all these. So I only have seven days of annual leave.
“It is very hard to care for a loved one when you also have to work,” Andrew said.
Sharing is Caring
There are many more challenges that workers who are caregivers like Andrew face. Recently, NTUC organised a focus group discussion for people with caregiving needs to learn more about them.
Despite his already busy schedule, Andrew stepped forward to participate. He shared his thoughts on how things can be made better for caregivers.
“It is good to have this kind of platform where there are no right and wrong opinions and views. But voicing them out, a lot of it is in theory, but whether all these are being taken care of, this is a different ballgame,” he said.
One of Andrew’s suggestions was to have support services for caregivers that go the extra mile.
“If we’re on your own, we need support. For example, you call this number… It’s like a ‘care line’. Once in a while, you will call me and check on me. ‘How am I doing?’ Then I will say, ‘everything is fine.’
“But what I need more is they come over. It’s easier to speak [face to face] than over the phone,” said Andrew.
He feels the session is a positive starting point but hopes that something concrete will come out of it all.
“There’s this saying, ‘NATO’ – no action, talk only. So it’ll be good if once [our stories have] been shared, the relevant authorities will know about it and do something,” he said.
The focus group discussion was part of the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, a larger-scale series of engagements by the Labour Movement to engage all workers across various life stages.
To participate in the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, visit conversations.ntuc.sg.