It was 5 pm on a Thursday, I was at work and had no further meetings that day, I was winding down from work and was walking out of my office for a short break when my phone rang, a call from another country, Singapore.
It was my brother. I answered the call and found a corner to stand in outside, away from listeners.
“Kor?” I answered. A term for big brother in Chinese.
To be honest, I cringe when I call him that, especially where we are at our ages now.
I wrote a post a year ago about the perspective of being the youngest child in a family of four kids. In that post, I also wrote that my parents had me in their forties and about the large age gap between me and my siblings.
My oldest brother is 16 years older than me.
I am now in my thirties, and he is in his fifties. His kids are in university and not long from graduation, while mine are still in kindergarten, with my youngest just about to turn 2 years old.
He had left home at 15 years old on a scholarship to study in Singapore and has not stayed home long term with us since. When I was born the following year, he was already out the door living on his own as a student, and later graduated and found work, got married, and started a family away from us. His relocation was permanent.
Therefore, we do not have many common themes to talk about, but we understand where we stood on both ends of the age spectrum in the family, and what my parent’s needs are.
It is expected that we do not talk often, as we had lived our lives apart from each other for as long as I can remember.
Life has passed us by fast, from when he seemed like an uncle who visited me once a year when I was a child. Being abroad, his visitations will either fall during our annual Chinese New Year week or during Christmas. Then he was gone, with his bags and another year will pass. He never had a permanent room at our house, since we moved around a lot when I was a child.
In fact, am closer in age to his two older daughters than I am to him. Yet here we are, in our adulthood, on a call, talking about my parents.
“Rebecca, I just had a call with mummy and papa…. Wait, is this a good time for you?” he said.
He realized I was probably still at work. I responded that I could talk and we proceed to catch up and discuss in detail topics relating to the welfare and caregiving for my parents.
The fact is, my parents are advancing in their age and are approaching their eighties, and my mum had been battling some health issues for the past year. My dad too has his share of health conditions, but my mum herself who usually had been quite fit prior to this had started to experience pain and discomfort.
After many treatments and doctor’s consultation, the latest diagnosis was a nerve issue and that it will take quite a while for a full recovery. The past year I had been having anxiety over her health, from worrying about the worst-case scenario when doctors couldn’t conclude the cause for her recurring pain, with the varying diagnoses from tooth infection to sinus complications, to the current one of nerve complications.
My parents have a house in Melaka, the state where I live, and that house has been vacant for over a year due to the pandemic. It was purchased with the help of my eldest brother’s funds 10 years ago, and I managed the renovations and upkeep of the house, so we have a working relationship. This, and some other topics as well, were all managed via calls and emails between us.
Now we had to tackle the topic of managing my parents in their approaching old age, topics on when my parents were to relocate down to their home here to be near me that I may support them when needed, to a discussion of having a potential live-in maid in the future to assist them should the need arises, and how my parent’s health conditions were.
I updated him on the house conditions, the termites that were detected, and that I had engaged a pest control contractor to perform the inspection and treatment. We then discussed the cleaning services required and the upkeep of the grounds. I also shared with him to give my parents some time before confirming to proceed with any of our plans for them, as their wishes may change over time.
He insisted on co-paying for all the costs incurred and thanked me for managing my parent’s needs in person when he couldn’t. We discussed further how to prepare for the needs of my parents in the coming years, and how to review this topic with our other two siblings. We then ended the call.
After the call, I am reminded of the fact that I appreciated him and his support, family matters aside. I felt less alone in my concerns for my parents, a shoulder to offload some of the burdens, financially and emotionally.
It also made me reflect that I had to enter this season of life earlier than others my age. The season of worrying and supporting ailing parents due to old age, while many of those in my age group had younger parents and were not at that stage of life yet.
I guess we all have our share of burdens, each unique to ourselves compared to others and this is the one I am handed. In this case, I am thankful for having a supportive husband, and an older brother to go into this season with me.