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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Wednesday, 08 August 2018 00:00

Caring for Her as My Own Granny

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Goh Hwe Yong

Volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting (2nd right) and Granny Lim are not blood related. However, they have fostered a grandmother-granddaughter like relation that makes others envy of them. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Although Lim Yoke Mee (fondly referred to as Granny Lim) and Tzu Chi volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting are not related, their close relationship resembled the love and trust between a grand-daughter with her grandmother. Residents in the nursing home, where Granny Lim stays, were amazed and extremely touched by the close bond between them which is difficult to comprehension.


It all started in March 2018, when Tzu Chi KL & Selangor received information reporting that an 89-year-old elderly, named Lim Yoke Mee from Taman P. Ramlee in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, was in dire need of welfare aid. A senior volunteer member from Tzu Chi Charity Team, Ong Saw Tin, then led a small team of volunteers including Yeap Hoi Ting, who also lives in Setapak, for a home visit to assess Granny Lim’s situation.

Eating only after the cats had eaten from her lunch box

Yeap Hoi Ting recalled that day vividly. When they arrived at the gate, the main door of the house was wide open, and an elderly lady was lying on the floor inside the house. She was clad in shabby clothes and her hair was untidy. After several minutes of shouting to her from the gate so that she could hear them clearly, they finally managed to identify her as Lim Yoke Mee.

Granny Lim slowly got up from the floor to open the gate. She was hunched, her spine was curved badly. As they approached the main door of the house, a strong foul odour of human excrement filled the air. Hoi Ting tried very hard to hold her breath as she looked around. The living room was filthy and messy, with cat faeces on newspapers and stale leftover food lying around on the floor and broken furniture. There was a metal bed frame cramped with all kinds of things dumped on it. Outside the house, a strong pungent odour came from a bucket containing clothes soaked for too long.
 
After a quick scan of the house, volunteers were puzzled as there was no clean and comfortable spot for granny to sleep. When they enquired, Granny Lim said that during the day she would lay outside the house and at night she would sleep on the old mattress or newspaper. She was reluctant to talk about her family members or give any background information.
 
Another volunteer recalled, “When we were there, it so happened that someone delivered a packed meal to Granny Lim. We then realized that she was staying alone in the house. A relative had arranged for a packed meal to be delivered to her daily comprising of rice with three dishes. This one meal would be her lunch and dinner for the day.”
 
What happened next astonished the volunteers and triggered their sympathy and strengthened their resolve to help granny. Granny Lim did not eat her lunch immediately but instead left her packed lunch on a pile of newspaper outside the house. Immediately, four cats dashed to the lunch box and ate from it. Only later did granny eat her lunch from the same lunch box.

Since Granny Lim was reluctant to provide any information about her family, the volunteers engaged the neighbours in conversation. It proved fruitful as they were informed that Granny Lim has two nephews who come to see her but only one comes regularly on Wednesdays. Hoi Ting managed to get the contact number of one of granny’s nephew, Mr Ho.

After contacting Mr Ho, Hoi Ting was informed that Granny Lim’s past shaped her present psychological state and troubled personality. Granny Lim had worked as a government servant in the civil service. Now, she lives off her monthly pension and owns the house she is staying in. So basically, financially she is alright. However, her traumatic younger days left an unseen scar in her. She was jilted in her romantic relationship and was also cheated financially by people she trusted. Thus, now she has little trust for people (humans) and prefers to direct her love and care to animals. The dogs she used to keep were removed by the authorities following complaints from neighbours as their noisy barking were a public disturbance. So now, Granny Lim only keeps cats in the house. That is why she treats these cats like her children, buying them cat food when she has enough money.
 
Mr Ho also told Hoi Ting that Granny Lim previously was well enough to live on her own. However, in the past one or two years, she began to face mobility problems. As Mr Ho himself is 70-plus years old and unable to care for granny, he helped arrange for granny to live in a nursing home. Unfortunately, granny disliked the nursing home so he had to take her home and also arranged for daily delivery of meals from a food stall nearby.
 
Confirming the neighbours’ observations, Mr Ho and another nephew are the only relatives Granny Lim has. He lamented that being elderly himself, up-keep of the house such as getting the leaking roof repaired was a problem. Granny had also refused his offer to help clean the messy and filthy house. According to Mr Ho, granny’s phobia of keeping everything with her could be due to a burglary which happened in her home. This explains why there were so much “stuff” everywhere in her house.

Psychological break through

With this valuable information provided by Mr Ho, Hoi Ting and the volunteers now understood more about Granny Lim and had greater empathy rather than sympathy for her. This empathy strengthened their resolve to help Granny Lim so that she did not have to live in such miserable conditions. The volunteers diligently carried many follow-up visits to Granny Lim’s house. Sometimes it became challenging when granny refused to let them in so they had to contact Mr Ho for an update.
 
Hoi Ting shared, “Initially, I had certain unknown fear of Granny Lim. I could only talk to her without any physical contacts. During one of our visits, granny smelled terrible due to her incontinence. She had not cleaned herself nor changed her clothes. Without a second thought, Sister Saw Tin immediately helped to clean up granny while I was asked to help change her clothes.”
 
While they were busy cleaning up granny, Saw Tin treated granny as her own relative, never showing a trace of disgust but full of love and care. From that moment on, Hoi Ting was truly inspired and decided to emulate this exemplary show of compassion by taking on the responsibility of cleaning and changing Granny Lim into clean clothes.
 
After Hoi Ting joined Tzu Chi, her first charity home visit was to an Indian care recipient’s house. She witnessed how the care recipient had to take all kinds of medicine for various multiple ailments. This made Hoi Ting realize the great sufferings of life especially when one is sick. However, after that she chose to avoid home visits because she could not bear to be reminded of life’s realities.
 
Hoi Ting attended Great Love Mothers’ Nurturing classes instead. Slowly, she learnt that suffering is common to many in this world and if help is not given to those who are suffering, their lives would be even more miserable. With this realization, Hoi Ting opened her heart to compassion and re-joined once again charity home visits. Initially, she just wanted to assist the small charity group but Saw Tin requested her to team lead Granny Lim’s case.
 
Hoi Ting relating her surprise and said, “When Sister Saw Tin delegated me the task of taking charge of Granny Lim’s case, I accepted without hesitation! I just felt that granny really needed our care despite the fact that her two nephews had been visiting her regularly.”
 
In caring for Granny Lim, Hoi Ting who lives close by, visits granny often, bringing food such as pastries. Hoi Ting regards Granny Lim as her own granny and views this as an opportunity to perform filial piety, which she is unable to do now with her own granny. This has brought Granny Lim and Hoi Ting closer together.
 
Even so, Granny Lim still did not allow the volunteers to clear and clean her cluttered and dirty house. She had even changed her mind in allowing them to cut her hair by refusing them entry into her house. This was how difficult granny was sometimes. But with sheer great love and persistence, Granny Lim finally relented and allowed the volunteers to groom her.
 
She also finally allowed the volunteers to tidy up her house after they established her trust in them. This trust was developed over a lengthy period of caring and understanding.

A frightful health problem discovered

Hoi Ting recalled her frightful discovery, “One day, before we fixed the date for house cleaning with Mr Ho, I noticed something unusual on granny’s bottom as she was changing. I became alarmed and immediately called Sister Saw Tin and Mr Ho to come over.”
 
Granny was taken to a hospital for medical check and admitted into a ward. Later, the doctor diagnosed what she saw earlier as rectal prolapse. The doctor’s advice was that the patient should not walk or stand for too long. There was also a risk of infection over long term. Only then did the volunteers realize why granny walked in a hunched manner and why she was always sitting or lying down. It was probably due to the pain she had been experiencing all these years.

Before Hoi Ting and team could spring clean the house while granny was in hospital, she was already discharged. That evening, they visited granny after her discharge but was surprised to discover the house in total darkness. They discovered granny lying on some old newspapers outside the house and there was a stench from her body. So they helped to clean her up, changed her clothes and thinking she would be alright, they left.
 
The following morning, Hoi Ting and a few volunteers went to check on Granny Lim. Sadly, they found granny rather weak and unable to sit-up. Neighbours suggested that granny may have had a fall. Worried, they contacted Mr Ho who then discussed the situation with the other nephew. They agreed that granny needed constant care and should not be left alone, so they decided it was best to admit granny to a nursing home where she could get 24-hour care. Granny was initially reluctant but after much persuasion and reassurance she agreed to go.

A Mother’s Day celebration for a new beginning

This year in April, Granny Lim checked into a nursing home. Under special care, she became much better and they managed to clean her thoroughly. Granny’s health improved, her appetite increased, she hunched less and she looked so much better. Due to the rectal prolapse, she moved about in a wheelchair. Despite improvements in her physical condition, she did not want to stay in the nursing home for she was concerned that no one looked after her cats at home.
 
To help granny take her mind off the cats, Hoi Ting and a few Great Love Mothers planned a Mother’s Day celebration in the nursing home. Granny’s two nephews made the effort to attend the celebration as they were deeply touched by the thoughtfulness and were happy to see granny’s overall improvements.
 
Hoi Ting helped cut the cake which granny served to each and every nursing assistant thanking them for the great care she received. Granny also happily served cake with a smile to all the inmates in the nursing home to foster good and harmonious relations with them. Besides cakes and flowers, an ad hoc band presented entertainment to all the inmates creating so much fun and laughter. To seal these wonderful memories, a group photo session captured everyone’s smiles.
 
Once a month without fail, Hoi Ting would diligently bring granny’s favourite bananas and chocolate drinks to the nursing home. Granny would share these with her new found friends and because she was not lonely anymore, she did not request to return home to her cats. Granny is praised by the nursing assistants as an exemplary resident who does not waste food and who is very friendly to everyone in the nursing home.

Hoi Ting and her group of volunteers visit granny regularly; at times she would go with her own family members, making the visits look like family members paying their own granny a visit. Such visits must have brought back happy old memories to granny, who would then start to talk about her family in the past with joy and sometimes chuckle when recollecting.
 
Seeing and hearing granny smile and laugh makes Hoi Ting happy. This means that granny has finally found a home where she is happy and peaceful. Hoi Ting wishes that granny will forget all negative memories and only remember the good ones. This is Hoi Ting’s vow, to love and care for Granny Lim as her real grandmother.

 

Treating Granny Lim as her own grandmother, volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting would bring and feed her food. [Photograph by Ong Saw Tin]   Granny Lim’s house was filled with all kinds of things before the clean-up. [Photograph by Ong Saw Tin]

Treating Granny Lim as her own grandmother, volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting would bring and feed her food. [Photograph by Ong Saw Tin]
 
Granny Lim’s house was filled with all kinds of things before the clean-up. [Photograph by Ong Saw Tin]
 
Volunteer Ong Saw Tin (1st left), Yeap Hoi Ting (2nd left) and some Great Love Mothers celebrated Mother’s Day for Granny Lim and other inmates at the nursing home. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   Volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting and Great Love Mothers formed an ad hoc band to entertain Granny Lim and other inmates at the nursing home with some oldies. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Volunteer Ong Saw Tin (1st left), Yeap Hoi Ting (2nd left) and some Great Love Mothers celebrated Mother’s Day for Granny Lim and other inmates at the nursing home. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
 
Volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting and Great Love Mothers formed an ad hoc band to entertain Granny Lim and other inmates at the nursing home with some oldies. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
Granny Lim’s nephew, Mr Ho, presented her a bouquet of flowers to wish her good health and happiness. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   Volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting (3rd left) always visits Granny Lim together with fellow volunteers. [Photograph by Ong Saw Tin]

Granny Lim’s nephew, Mr Ho, presented her a bouquet of flowers to wish her good health and happiness. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
 
Volunteer Yeap Hoi Ting (3rd left) always visits Granny Lim together with fellow volunteers. [Photograph by Ong Saw Tin]