Thursday, June 30, 2022

WHEN THAT LOVING FEELING IS GONE.....


Divorce among older couples was virtually unheard of 50 years ago. Marriages were meant to last a lifetime. Even when death took away one partner, the other would remain faithful till death. Couples in those days stayed together because they took their marriage vows seriously, especially if they married in a place of worship and exchanged vows before God.

In reality and in these days of freer social interaction between the sexes, remaining faithful to one person for the rest of one's life seems to be strictly for the firm believer in fairy tales of the genre '... and they lived happily ever after'.

In South Korea, for example, longer life expectancy, gender equality and better financial support for divorcees have been cited as reasons behind the high rate of silver-haired divorces. The percentage of senior couples who had lived together for 20 years or longer before divorcing jumped from 7.6% in 1991 to 27.7% in 2011. 

Sure, there are couples who are blessed to have found their 'soul mate' to share the rest of their lives with. But for many middle-aged couples, they are more likely to find themselves stuck in an unhappy marriage, wondering what happened to that sweetheart they loved and married so many years ago.

Whether it's in the US, UK or South Korea, the divorce rate among older couples is on the rise. (Graphics from The Daily Mail)
It's the same story in Singapore. What is interesting is that the number of older divorcees re-marrying has risen.

This is especially true for women in their 50s and 60s who feel trapped in their marriage. Emboldened by the rising number of silver-haired divorces they read about, they no longer think twice about initiating divorce proceedings. They no longer feel pressured to keep up a pretense of a happy marriage. They no longer fear facing the future alone.

70 years together "in sickness and in health". Unfortunately such loving elderly couples are a rarity these days. (Read the touching full story at The Huffington Post)

Now better educated and able to support themselves financially, many divorcees are enjoying the single life again, or entering into new relationships. And with the children all grown and flown, there is even less reason for them to remain in the role of the long-suffering wife, especially if their husband has been unfaithful or abusive to them.

No longer considered a social stigma, divorce now means liberation for many women, and an opportunity to start afresh on their own. (Image from The Daily Mail)

To be fair, there are husbands who want to leave their wives too. Some women are no angels, and do cheat on their husbands. Others are gold-diggers or title-seekers. Still others are so insecure, they become overly jealous and possessive of their husband, while many are born naggers, constantly harping on their husbands' perceived faults. Such women can make marriage a living hell for their husband.

Many reasons for a divorce. For Dina Eastwood, it was her husband's infidelity, for Al Gore it was his wife's constant jealousy rage. 

Divorces are usually messy, ugly and expensive. The only winners are the lawyers. Regardless, women will proceed to file for divorce rather than endure more years of suffering mental and emotional anguish in an unhappy marriage. Often their decision has the support of their adult children who do not want to see their mother in misery.

As long as neither party wants to give their marriage another chance, or if one partner is adamant about splitting, no amount of marriage counselling can help. When a marriage has irretrievably broken down due to irreconcilable differences, the best solution is a divorce. Couples who split amicably can choose to live separately without going through a divorce, as in the case of Kris and Bruce Jenner who have been married 22 years.

Here are some tips for a long-lasting marriage.

1. Appreciate your spouse and show it with little acts of love.
2. Communicate. Share your feelings, your views, your worries,
3. Continue to have sex and intimacy. Have weekly dates.
5. Never criticize or humiliate your spouse in front of others.
6. Have realistic expectations of each other.
7. Embrace your differences.
8. Have your own pursuits as well as shared ones.
9. Learn from each other.
10. Support each other in maintaining an active healthy lifestyle.

(Reposted from an old blog article. Update pending......)

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

'MENITI SENJA' NOW ON YOUTUBE


Yay, after so many requests to screen the film again from those who missed it, I am delighted to announce that my first film documentary is now available for viewing free anytime on YouTube at the Freedom Film Network channel.


The protagonist in the film, Puan Muji Sulaiman, a retired nurse, decided to start Malaysia's first private Muslim aged care home in 1998 when she discovered that many elderly patients had nowhere to go upon their discharge from hospital. There were also those who went home but had no access to long-term care. Puan Muji shares the sad stories as told to her by some of the residents.


The film has won awards at the Senior Movie Festival 2021 in Poland and in the Visual Documentary Project in Kyoto University, and was screened in Singapore to mark International Day of Older Persons 2021. Director Lily Fu hopes the film can act as a vehicle to advocate for the rights of the elderly.



In conjunction with the release of the film for public viewing, BFM interviewed Lily about what motivated her to make the film, what social impact the film has made and what is the next step goin forward. You can listen to the podcast at https://www.bfm.my/podcast/bigger-picture/live-and-learn/stay-home-and-watch-meniti-senja


"Reflecting the breakdown of traditional family values in modern Malaysian society that marginalises the elderly, the film 'Meniti Senja' explores the alarming rise in the elderly being left to fend for themselves in aged care centres - removed from the comfort of homes they knew, and the children they raised. On this week's Stay Home & Watch, a series done in collaboration with the Freedom Film Network,  we revisit this 2020 film by first-time filmmaker Lily Fu, who is also the founder of Seniors Aloud, an online community for senior-citizens in Malaysia and the Vice President of the University of the Third Age. Lily joins us to share more about the themes explored in her film, and how she hopes it will push for policies to protect the elderly in Malaysia."

(Text from BFM "Stay Home and Watch: Meniti Senja") 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

LABOUR DAY: TIME TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST AGEISM

 

Negative stereotyping of older adults often leads to discrimination against them. 

If you are 60 and above, you are likely to have encountered instances of ageism at one time or another. Not only are older people discriminated against by banks and other financial institutions, but also at the work-place and in the job market. Indeed, older people face age discrimination on a daily basis, especially if they lack education or financial resources. Even at home, elderly parents find that no one listens to them. Their advice is often not sought for family decisions. They are head of the family only in name.

All this is mostly based on the negative perception and stereotyping of older people as frail, senile and unproductive, and a drain on the nation's welfare resources.


The above are the faces of  the New 80s - still active and certainly still able to contribute to society. What more those in their 60s and 70s?! Don't write off older adults as useless and past their productive shelf life. Just look at these three amazing seniors above - all of whom I know personally. Such seniors used to be the exceptions. No longer so now as their numbers are growing.

It is an undeniable fact that people are now living longer and healthier, thanks to advances made in medicine, science and technology. 60 is the new 40, and 80 is the new 60. They may have reached retirement age, but are still capable of contributing to society if given the opportunity to work or serve.

Retired professionals have adequate savings to see them through the next 15-20 years. They are free of the necessity to work and support themselves. For them, returning to the work force is optional. If they do so, it is mainly to keep busy and remain socially connected. 

Some of the seniors I had interviewed about job discrimination. Many have ended up on the streets or in shelter homes as they are unable to support themselves. Some have been sent to old folks home. 

For older adults in the B40 group, it is a different story. I have spoken with many of them. They tell me they are physically able and still capable of working but face discrimination due to their age. In Singapore, it is a common sight to see the elderly employed in food courts as servers or cleaners. Such jobs are available to them as young people find menial work lowly and unappealing. Retirees are capable of contributing much more to the work force if given the opportunity. 

A common sight in Singapore

POWER and MONEY speak louder than age. Older people in positions of influence and authority, with vast financial resources at their disposal can still command respect everywhere they go. These are the blessed ones. They can take care of themselves in their old age. It's the rest of the retired populace that we should make a stand for. They are the voiceless ones, the silent majority who feel disadvantaged and powerless to fight against ageism. 

But change is inevitable. The number of older persons is growing and this silver wave can't be stopped. (I am loath to use the word 'tsunami' as it gives a negative connotation to the rise in the elderly population.)


By 2035, the number of people aged 60 and above will have accounted for 15% of the total population in Malaysia. The country is heading towards ageing country status. The government is aware of what needs to be done to meet the demands and challenges of an ageing population, but implementation is painfully slow. The private sector has yet to fully acknowledge the impact this shift in demographics will have on the work force and on the economy. 

The young work force is shrinking as reflected in the declining fertility rate. Many countries in Europe e.g. Netherlands and Britain have raised the retirement age to 66. Singapore is leading the way with re-employment age up to 70. 

Indeed, if older people are given jobs, they are helping their adult children by contributing to the family needs and also by being financially independent.   

The time will come when all of us will have to wake up to the reality that global ageing is here to stay. It is in the interest of everyone to ensure that discriminatory practices against older people be removed. Any policies that uphold the rights of older people will ultimately benefit the young of today as they too will grow old one day. To take this one step further, when a country takes good care of its elderly population, everyone benefits.


The government wants to encourage active, independent and healthy ageing. So do all older people. For this to be successful, any form of discrimination against older people must be removed, and every bit of help be given to enable them to continue working and supporting themselves for as long as possible.

So kudos to the United Nations for taking a stand against ageism and making it the theme for International Day of Older Persons 2016.

For more voices against ageism, go to HelpAge International 

(Updating this article to mark Labour Day 2022 which falls on May 1 every year.)

Thursday, March 31, 2022

REMEMBERING OUR DEARLY DEPARTED


For thousands of Chinese families, the annual visit to the burial grounds of their departed family members will start this weekend. This is Qing Ming or All-Souls Day which usually falls in the first week of April. This year it falls on 5 April. It is a mark of filial piety for Chinese families to pay their respects to their ancestors with prayers and offerings of food. Family members also take the opportunity to spruce up the burial area. This explains why Qing Ming is also referred to as "Tombsweeping Day".

Perhaps most fascinating of the Qing Ming rituals is the burning of papier mache offerings. Over the years, these paper mache offerings have changed in keeping with the trends. I recall decades ago witnessing the burning of this huge paper replica of a mansion. The patriach of a family supermarket in my neighbourhood had passed away at a ripe old age. His children wanted to make sure their father would live in luxury in his after life.

A papier mache mansion all ready to be burnt as an offering to the deceased.

At the time as I was watching the 'mansion' make its way up in smoke to the other world, I thought about my dad. When he passed away in 1957, I remember my grandma made sure we burnt offerings of paper money - lots of it, in silver and gold, also clothes, food and his reading glasses. She wanted to make sure my dad would be comfortable and would always have money to spend.

Today, being well-provided for takes on a new definition. It is no longer about sending necessities to the beloved deceased. The trend now is to go for paper replicas of luxury items like the latest gadgets, LV bags, jade and gold jewelry, a BMW, and even a yacht!


       



I was in Chinatown a few weeks ago hoping to find that little shop which used to make paper offerings for Qing Ming. It was no longer there. Not surprising. It is a dying art, literally. In land scarce Singapore, for example, who can afford to buy a burial plot? Most people these days choose cremation over burial. It's cheaper and more convenient in many ways.

With the younger generation losing interest in the old ways, Chinese traditions and customs will soon disappear into the history books. There might come a day when Qing Ming will no longer be observed if young parents of today do not pass it down to their children.

Whether that is a sad thing or not is debatable, I suppose.


With Ching Ming just around the corner, my thoughts of late have dwelled much on the topic. Death can knock on our door at anytime and anywhere. It can strike down the young and the old, the healthy and the infirmed, the rich and the poor. Death is the ultimate leveller. It comes to the best among us, and to the worst among us. Yet we know precious little about how best to prepare for death.

Countless books have been written about how to live a happy life, but none about how to die happy. Is there such a thing as the art of dying? And can it be taught or learned? Has anyone been through the death experience and shared it with a loved one in a dream? How does one deal with one's approaching death? Why is death nearly always associated with pain, fear, grief, loss and visions of the Grim Reaper? Isn't it possible to meet our Maker with joy, celebration and visions of beautiful Angels of Love waiting to embrace us? Lots of questions but hardly any answers. Death remains a taboo topic and few are comfortable talking about it. But there is now a gradual acceptance. It makes sense to plan how we want to go while we are still around and still lucid enough to decide. 

I have since learned more about death rituals after taking up a course on End of Life: Death and Dying as an elective for my MSc in Applied Gerontology. Attending the 2-day Death Festival organised by Xiao En Funeral Services in 2018 further opened my eyes to a more positive side of death. Understanding death takes away the fear and replaces it with quiet acceptance as something natural and for many, it is a welcome release from pain. 


God willing, if I am blessed with good health and long life (dare I say 100?), I will want to spend my twilight years on community service, doing voluntary work that I am passionate about. And when the time comes, I want to go in my sleep, surrounded by all my loved ones. I will leave instructions for them to celebrate the occasion with a toast to me for having lived a full life. No public viewing of me at my wake party, please. I would appreciate some privacy, thank you. I will have written my obituary to be read by my daughter. I will have taken my last portrait, of my own choosing (already done!). I will have my favourite songs from 1960s played at my farewell party. No one should wear black. Only rainbow colours. I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered in a mountain stream. No need for anyone to make that obligatory visit to the columbarium every All Souls' Day.

"Death smiles at us all; all a man (or woman) can do is smile back." Amen

Paying my respects to my parents at the temple in Jalan Gasing. My mom passed away 65 years after him. In those days, young widows remained single for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A TRIBUTE TO MY PARENTS ON VALENTINE'S DAY


It's Valentine's Day - again. While couples young and old celebrate the day exchanging gifts and Valentine cards, my thoughts, as always, are with those who will not be sitting down to a romantic candlelight dinner. Reason: they are single. To them, I say, "Happy Single Awareness Day!" I am one of you too.


Which one are you? There's a third one - being single and NOT available. 

Unless you are married to someone wonderful, it's better to remain single. I am not putting down the institution of marriage. But I seem to be hearing more couples getting divorced than getting married, especially among older couples. Once the children are grown and flown, a couple's marriage is put to the test. Retired couples, in particular, find that being in each other's company 24/7 can either rekindle the old flame of romance and passion, or it can extinguish forever the last sparks of a dying marriage. The current stay-home stay-safe during the pandemic is a real litmus test for many couple.  

It takes a lot of effort, compromise even sacrifice to keep a relationship going. Many young couples don't have the patience to work at it. Gone are the days when wedding vows were taken seriously and couples remained married 'till death do us part'. Even after death, the bereaved spouse stayed faithful to the memory of the dearly beloved. Second marriages were almost unheard of, as were divorces. Indeed, to ask for a divorce would be akin to asking to be ostracized.

My parents - Annie Goh Kwee Foung and Jackie Fu Fook Im (1947)

Today on Valentine's Day, I dedicate the day to my parents. I remember them as a very loving couple. As a child, I used to listen with fascination to the love stories my mother told me about how my father wooed her. Their courtship days were like chapters taken from a Barbara Cartland novel. My father simply adored my mother, and spending time with her was something he treasured as we saw him only during the weekends. His work as a medical sales representative often took him outstation and away from the family.

My parents and their firstborn - me!

My father treated my mother like she was a fragile porcelain doll. He was always eager to please her and make her happy. My mother bore him six children during their 10 years together. I was the eldest. My youngest sister never got to see my dad for he passed away in 1957 after a short period of illness. My mom was heavily pregnant with her sixth child when my dad left her - forever.

My mother passed away in February 2021 at age 94. She never remarried, and remained a widow all these past 64 years although she had suitors. Alzheimer's robbed her of much of her memory in her final years. I am sure she missed my father on days when her mind was clear, and her memory sharp. On those good days when I showed her an old photo of a loving couple, and asked if she knew who the couple was, without any hesitation, she would reply 'That's me and that's your father. But he's gone now. He was very good to me.'

Whether you are single, married, divorced or widowed, today is the day we celebrate LOVE. We should be celebrating love every day, in the little things we do, for the people we love. Love doesn't have to cost a cent. Love can be a genuine smile, a warm hug or an affectionate kiss. Or a good deed for someone we don't know but who needs our help.

HAPPY LOVE DAY, EVERYONE!

Sunday, January 30, 2022

THE MAGIC OF A SMILE


The Chinese new year is a mere two days away. A new year means a new beginning, although as someone has pointed out, the only difference between an old year and a new one is a mere second when the clock is about to strike midnight on the eve as Chinese families around the world celebrate with a reunion dinner. 

A friend remarked this morning in our chat group that it's quite depressing for seniors to be reminded that we will be one year older, and one step closer to kicking the bucket. My response - focus on our many blessings. We should be grateful we can wake up to greet each new dawn and see each beautiful sunset. As is often said, growing old is a privilege denied to many. This is so true as we all know of friends who have left us way too soon. 

If we look at ourselves in the mirror when we wake up on the first day of the calendar year, the lunar year, and especially on the morning of our birthday each year, if all we can see are sagging skin and greying hair (or depleting hair), it is no wonder we feel depressed. You can bet we will be seeing more of that before the year is out, especially with all the covid-19 gloom and the economy yet to recover fully. 

The secret is to switch our focus, to look beyond, or deep inside that reflection in the mirror. We will see that youthful, playful spirit still dwelling within all of us. Try it. I have, and I can tell you it works!

Begin each day with a SMILE at ourselves in the mirror. Say 'Hi' to that person smiling back at us. Not only does smiling make us look younger, it also brightens up our day. No need for botox fillers or cosmetic surgery. Then share that smile with the people we come into contact with during the day. Start with our family, then our neighbours, our colleagues, our clients, the waiter who serves us our lunch, the cashier who gives us our change, the security guard at the gate. And that nice stranger who smiles at us (er, be careful and selective with this last one).

Or would we rather wake up grouchy and whining about our aches and pains, and complaining about how the world owes us our happiness? Do we want to spend the whole day spreading misery to those around us, and looking for people to wallow in self-pity with? What an utter waste of precious time! No wonder we are poor company for our friends and grandchildren!

Smile! Pic taken in Sept 2021 to show-off my 'pigtails'. 

I recall a training session many years ago on how to answer a phone call. We may not be able to see that person on the phone, but if we put a smile on our face, and speak with sincerity, even cold calls can get us positive results. This used to be part of the training for switchboard operators and front desk receptionists. 


Yes, smiles are infectious. So let's spread smiles. I have yet to experience not getting a return smile when I smile first at someone. It's really up to us, isn't it, how we want to live each day, each year. Let's not smile only for the camera. The least we can do is put a smile in our hearts. Let us put this into practice as we welcome another new year. Gong Xi Fa Cai, Kong Hee Fatt Chai, Kong Hei Fatt Choy. That's Happy New Year in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese for our non-Chinese friends.