Insight: cherish the older generation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 1:43pm

My father celebrated his 83rd birthday in November. Despite his advanced age, he works full time and is financially independent. He had enjoyed good health for more than 80 years, but unfortunately he was diagnosed with diabetes last year.

The illness had a devastating effect. His health was seriously affected by the diabetes and his weight declined dramatically. Originally tall and handsome for his age, he gradually turned into a thin and sunken old man. Although his illness is now under control, it has definitely aged him.

The decline in his health has been a reminder for me to treasure the time he will be with us. I visit him whenever I can and sometimes chat with him on the phone.

When we witness the deteriorating health or death of a loved one, it reminds us of previous experiences of bereavement. My paternal grandmother died in 1988, soon after I got married. I was her primary companion before my marriage. We went to church together every Sunday even though she was not a Christian.

But once I was married I moved away. As there were no other Christians in my family at that time, no one took on my role of taking her to church on Sundays. Her sudden death made me realise how important my companionship was for her. Going to church was her only social activity for the last few years of her life. It gave her some social connection despite the fact that she was not socially active at church.

Looking back, I feel guilty for leaving her without understanding the loss she would suffer. Two years later, my father-in-law died when my husband and I were doing postgraduate studies abroad. It was an unexpected death, as he was in his fifties, and it left us regretting that we had not treasured our time with him. I vowed to cherish the time spent with family members.

But in my effort to keep a work-family balance, I later started to focus on my children. All other family members served as support for me to take care of the children.

The needs of the others disappeared from my mind. Providing steadfast support to their own children throughout the years, they aged silently.

Now they have reached the stage of life where they need care from those they once supported. With our strong child-centred mindset, overlooking the needs of the older generation seems to be a widespread phenomenon. There is a growing imbalance between the time and attention we give to our children and to our older generation.

So I have determined to shift the enormous attention I give to my two children to a more balanced focus on other family members.

Recalling the Chinese idiom, "Trees want to be still and quiet but the wind keeps on blowing; children want to take care of their parents but they are already gone", I do not plan to wait until it is too late.

Dr Lau Yuk-king is a consultant with the department of social work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong