I would describe my caregiving journey as being long and winding, with many roadblocks along the way. I have been caring for two siblings since we were young: a brother, who is bedridden with physical and mental disabilities due to autism, and a younger sister, who has been suffering from schizophrenia since her late teens. My whole family has had a hand in looking after them over the years.
It has not been easy. In the last 10 years, this caregiving burden became heavier with my parents growing older and requiring us to care for them as well. My father suffers from dementia, and is almost blind and deaf. His condition deteriorated because of a stroke he suffered in 2012, and he is currently bedridden with multiple care needs. I also looked after my mother, until she passed away earlier this year.
In being caregiver to my family, I had the assistance of two sisters and my helper. Together, we continually strove to provide the best possible care to our four care recipients. Although we made a good team, sometimes we would face hiccups. In June last year, my elder sister, who was contributing a lot as a caregiver, suffered a ruptured aneurysm. She underwent surgery and was hospitalised for a month, and could not resume working until some months later. Her hospitalisation came as a shock because she had always been healthy. My guess is that the stress of caregiving took its toll on her.
It was a difficult year for me as a result because I had to assume some of my elder sister’s caregiving responsibilities, and in January this year, I decided to take a long break from work in order to shoulder her caregiving load.
Another challenge I faced, especially in the early years when looking after my sister, was the societal stigma against people with mental health issues. My sister often did not receive treatment due to ignorance and denial of her condition. Due to that negative experience, I am now an advocate against stigma for those with mental health issues as an active volunteer trainer for Caregivers Alliance Limited, leading their Caregivers-to-Caregivers Training Programme (C2C).
Caring for my loved ones has required a lot of time and effort, and it has been a physically, emotionally, and financially draining process. However, my sister and I continually press on in our caregiving journey, putting our trust in God as our source of strength and comfort. We are also grateful to our church pastors and friends who stood by us in fervent prayer and support when my elder sister was hospitalised.
My late mother always instilled in us the importance of loving and caring for one another other, and I believe that in embracing and serving our two siblings who needed extra care ever since they were young, we have done her proud.
I hope that my sharing will encourage my fellow caregivers. Let us not lose hope, but continue to be empathetic towards our loved ones and to journey with them through their struggles and pain. Along the way, remember to exercise self-care and draw on your social network of family and friends to help you.
Story and photo provided by Elizabeth Swee (story edited)