Life wasn’t easy for housewife, Mdm Tay Jiat Hiang, but she was content. Her husband ran a vegetable stall in the market with his mother, while they let out two bedrooms in their three-room flat for extra income – the rental was essentially her housekeeping money, and milk powder money for their little girl and boy. Mdm Tay dedicated her life to caring for her family and keeping their three-room flat spick and span.
That simple existence was harshly interrupted when her husband suffered a severe stroke in December 2015, leaving him paralysed on one side of the body. “We had no savings, no way to pay the medical bills. I used to ask him if he had bought insurance for the family – I thought this was important, especially since I’m just a PR. He always replied that he did. But when this happened, I discovered that he never had,” Mdm Tay lamented.
To get by, Mdm Tay began working as a part-time cleaner, while looking after her husband and mother-in-law, who was also ill and passed away within the year. “My kids were then in Primary Six and Four,” she recounts. “Every morning, I sent them to the bus stop, then returned home to prepare breakfast for my husband before going to work. Then I would rush back to prepare lunch for him and give him a bath.”
Mdm Tay also singlehandedly sent her husband for various doctors’ appointments and TCM treatments, pushing him in a wheelchair. “I’m just a woman. The hardest part was heaving both him and the wheelchair in and out of taxis,” she muses.
Sadly, her husband suffered a second stroke two years later, and his condition deteriorated. Mdm Tay relates, “I stopped renting out one of the rooms, as he needed a bigger bed and I needed more space to care for him. Eventually he couldn’t even speak and passed away in April this year. He was just 61.”
The physical and mental stress took its toll. “My heart started giving trouble half a year after my husband had his first stroke, but it was mild compared to now. I had some symptoms and went to see the doctor. It was probably from the stress of caring for him and worrying about our finances that worsened my condition. I was in the hospital twice last year and again this year. Nothing can be done so I just take medications to help control it.”
Mdm Tay was officially diagnosed with heart failure at the beginning of 2021. Due to severe and frequent bouts of breathlessness, she is no longer able to work. But that’s not all. “Before, I enjoyed gardening, pottering around my plants. Now I barely have the energy to water them,” she shrugs helplessly. “I also liked listening to music and singing karaoke, but haven’t sung in years.”
“I asked the doctor why my legs ache so much when I walk. The pain reaches my waist and I get breathless. The doctor says it’s all due to my heart failure and resulting poor blood circulation. When it gets bad at night, I can’t even sleep. My hospital bag is always on standby. Struggling from day to day, life seems so meaningless,” says Mdm Tay, revealing that she also suffers from depression.
Although fate has not been kind, Mdm Tay is grateful for the help her family has received. When her daughter was in Secondary One, her school helped her apply for a scholarship. Her application included an essay on her family situation, witnessing her mother’s transition from housewife to breadwinner, and how she sacrificed health to raise her children. Her moving story – backed by excellent grades – saw the committee approving her application.
“After my husband had his first stroke, our church members came to pray for him, and also put us in touch with Jean and the team at FaithActs, who have helped my children apply for yearly bursaries to pay for my daughter’s tuition in junior college. Sometimes they deliver groceries to us, and we also receive $200 for household expenses and $100 Sheng Siong vouchers,” Mdm Tay explains.
Jean Hong, one of the caseworkers at non-profit community care service, FaithActs, reveals that the grocery deliveries double as a house visit. She also calls Mdm Tay on the phone at least once every fortnight. It’s not her physical health that worries Jean, as much as her emotional state.
“FaithActs has been journeying with the family for the past five years now. Over the past year, Mdm Tay’s depressive moods have deteriorated to chronic illness that exposed the family to further suffering,” she shares.
“Thankfully,” continues Jean, “Mdm Tay will also reach out when she’s struggling. After chatting awhile, she’ll say things like she’s okay now, that she’ll talk to the doctor about adjusting her meds. It’s just that with reduced activity, she spends most of the time alone at home, which can lead to overthinking.”
What of tomorrow?
Perhaps what Mdm Tay is most grateful for is that her children have grown up well. Her daughter is now 19, and in her first year at NUS. Her son is also in his first year at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. But a part of her also feels guilty. “I feel that I owe them a lot. They were still so young when their father had his first stroke, and we couldn’t be like a normal family, going out, enjoying fun times together.”
In a one-to-one talk with Mdm Tay’s daughter recently, Jean found her wise beyond her years. “She understands that her mum feels bad about not being able to support them financially, yet she doesn’t know how to help. While she would like to get a part-time job, she’s afraid it would place even more stress and guilt on her mum.”
“Every one of our cases is unique,” says Jean. “Like here, it’s not just about job placement. Our concern for Mdm Tay’s mental and emotional well-being, whether she can get through this time of uncertainty, is more crucial. There is no specific treatment, just a lot of waiting and hoping. So we are here to make sure the family can get by with their basic needs in the meantime.”
Mdm Tay has just one hope for the future: “That God grants me at least another five years, so that I can see both my children graduate and become contributing members of society. Now and again, I think how nice it would be to see them get married and start their own families, but I don’t dare to think too far.”
You can help Mdm Tay, her family, and others in need who are supported by FaithActs, a benefitting agency of the President’s Challenge, when you donate through SAFRA Cares via Giving.sg (tax deductible).
An initiative to commemorate SAFRA’s 50th anniversary, SAFRA Cares is raising funds for low income and needy families and children under the President’s Challenge, as well as servicemen disabled due to service under the SAF Care Fund. You can also donate using your NS55 credits or with your bank app (via PayNow).
Just launch your LifeSG app or bank app, and scan the QR Code below. Key in your desired amount to donate!
For more info, please visit www.safra.sg/SAFRAcares.
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