Reality Check

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…


…these were my thoughts as I had my morning cup of tea.

It has been a long time since I have committed to staying for such a spell (three weeks) at the family home in Kuala Lumpur. Circumstances have always been difficult in my family. The years I have spent away have not so much been in denial as it has been in despair at a situation that no one has the will to change.

I have spent all of my 50 years with a mentally and physically disabled elder sister in the background, a constant shadow that continuously serves to remind me that as a family, we are never completely free from responsibility and scandal.

At times, in a flight of fancy, I imagined our grand house to be a tropical version of Thornfield Hall. Who can blame Mr Rochester for wanting to have an ordinary life with Jane Eyre? The living must go on living.

Sadly our housekeeper of  46 years no longer recognises us. Propping her up whilst KL Sister fed her yesterday evening, I tried to mine my memories for anything that might make me feel sad that she is due to be admitted into a residential care home tomorrow.

The truth is that I don’t feel any sadness. We are unable to care for her in the way my parents would have wished for. We have found her a lovely place. But I do have some memories…although nothing at all happy.

Our housekeeper was permitted to cane us if we misbehaved. She stole from us to feed her gambling habit. The only reason that I avoided most of the caning was that she was illiterate and that I was the only one who would read and write her letters for her.

Letters to a boy she once looked after, to her friends and even to her Priest…I helped shape her rudimentary but well-meaning thoughts into coherent and heartfelt sentences, sometimes adding a bit more good cheer depending on the season: May the Good Lord richly bless you this Christmastime. That probably went down well with Father Joseph.

For many years I helped cook the family dinner (another reason she couldn’t cane me)  and her favourite request was always spaghetti Bolognaise. She has been refusing to eat of late but yesterday she consented to some spaghetti in a tomato sauce. It may be her last dinner with us.

I left for England in the early 1980s and remained until today. My eldest child is now the same age as I was when I got married and I now feel I can leave London to take care of things.

Take care of things: this is going to be an extremely steep learning curve. As soon as I arrived home, it was time to help feed my disabled sister. How did things get so bad? She can’t move much anymore, she can’t see and she is almost all bones. It takes two adults to lift her up to a wheelchair so she can be fed.

There is a cocktail of pills that regulate her bodily functions and prevent her from having epileptic fits. On the occasions that this fails and she does fit, it is quite an episode for anyone looking after her at the time.

It is strange that I have never questioned God why this is so. I don’t believe anyone has a perfect family. But I do ask what it is that I am meant to learn from all this.

This afternoon, feeding my sister again, I had the opportunity to wonder that despite all her disabilities, she could still swallow food. Actually, she could comprehend that she had to eat. She has been refusing water so KL Sister tried water with a little Ribena. When that was rejected, with both arms held up against her face, we thought to add a bit more Ribena and some ice cubes to make the drink cold. That worked.

This evening we bought some coconut water for tomorrow. This is chilling in the fridge.

What makes each of us unique is the spirit that God has placed in our physical bodies. I have often thought, why don’t we let her go? When will this end? Who are we keeping her alive for?

What I witnessed today was a feisty spirit inside a decaying body. What I learnt was to respect that in matters of life and death, only God can call the shots. What I am grateful for is for KL Sister who has shouldered so much of this burden whilst allowing us to raise a family of our own.

It has taken me almost 50 years to write this down and I am not going to talk about it again. There is no category in the blog for this post. Yet it had to be written because it is a part of my life which cannot go away. Maybe that is the lesson I had to learn, that it is possible to love and be loved despite all that life throws at us. That, of course, leads to two Korean films I watched recently, which I will review in a future post if I find any time during this trip.