During my formative years, I spent more time with my grandparents than my parents. As their only granddaughter AND their youngest grandchild, I was doted on immensely.
I suppose it was this closeness to my grandparents that made me decide to move in with them during Phase 1.
My grandparents used to live with my aunt and uncle on weekdays, and would go back to their own home on weekends. Because I lived near my aunt and uncle, we would eat dinner together every weekday.
At the end of March, the COVID-19 cases in Singapore were increasing daily, but my aunt and uncle still had to go out for work. As they did not want to unintentionally carry the virus home to my grandparents, my grandparents moved back to their own home as a safety precaution.
It felt strange to go from seeing them nearly every day to suddenly only being able to hear their voices over a phone call once a week. I worried a lot about how they were doing as it was their first time living alone in over 50 years, with nothing but a television and each other to keep them company.
When we used to go out, I would hold my grandmother's hand to support her.
Almost every night, I dreamt about something bad happening to them while they were alone – such as my grandmother having another bad fall – and would wake up in tears.
My grandfather's younger brother also passed away at that time. My grandfather practically raised him from young, so I was worried that he would be grieving and feeling lonelier than ever.
But because I could not see him in person and he did not like talking on the phone, there was no way for me to reach out and help him through his grief. All I could do was hope he was alright.
After those agonising two months, Phase 1 was announced and I could finally visit my grandparents. When I went over with my brother, my grandparents were ecstatic to see us and cooked all our favourite foods.
After seeing how happy they were to finally have people around, I knew I wanted to prolong that joy. That was when I made the decision to move in with them.
My sleeping arrangements for my stay with my grandparents.
Both my grandparents can take care of themselves just fine, but they have been hospitalised in recent years. Although I was not really there to look after them, I still made sure to help out in little ways, like reminding my grandfather to take his medicine.
A particular instance that comes to mind is when I noticed my grandfather's rashes had gotten more serious and he was scratching them relentlessly. He was in obvious discomfort but stubbornly insisted that he did not want to see a doctor, so I just texted my relatives to bring over a cream when they visited in a few days.
Next thing I knew, they were all coming over with creams and moisturisers. Within days, he was okay again. If I had not contacted my family, my grandfather would have had to wait a few more days for a single cream.
Although it was a small thing, I felt happy I could make things more comfortable for him.
Every morning, my grandmother would prepare breakfast for me.
Of course, it wasn't always all fun and games.
Phase 2 started on Jun 19, just five days into my stay. I refused to go out for fear of bringing the virus home to my grandparents, even when my family members encouraged me to.
But as I watched my friends reuniting on their Instagram stories, I could feel myself getting more irritable and restless. I realised I was losing motivation to do my work, and that I was almost going stir-crazy.
Eventually, I allowed myself to leave the house once a week. Even so, I sanitised regularly and headed straight for the shower when I got home.
Another time, it was about 2am when a (really huge) cockroach flew into my room. Normally I would wake my family members up to help me get rid of it because I am scared of bugs, but my grandparents had already been asleep for some time.
In the end, I went to sleep in fear, hoping that the cockroach would be gone in the morning. When I told my grandparents the next day, they just said: "You should've woken us up. We're experts at killing cockroaches!"
It was only then that I remembered that my grandparents grew up in villages and had their fair share of encounters with creepy crawlies. Although I was living with them, there was so much more I did not know about them – but I wanted to find out.
The next morning I showed this photo to my grandparents, but their reactions were lacklustre.
My grandmother may be a pro at catching bugs, but she has one weakness: walking long distances. A year ago, she had a bad fall and was hospitalised for a few months. Since then, she needs a cane to get around.
One day, she asked me to take the bus to the bank with my grandfather, who was hospitalised a few years back for high blood pressure. I wanted to go the next day as I had an online group meeting soon, but both my grandparents started getting ready to go out.
I had no idea how they intended to walk all the way to the bus stop together, much less get on the bus. With dozens of potentially catastrophic scenarios flooding my head, I scrambled to cancel my group meeting and arrange for a relative to drive us to the bank instead.
Over the seven weeks of living with my grandparents, I learnt a lot about them: grandmother says "好个来" (good things are coming) whenever she sneezes, grandfather's catchphrase is "it's okay" and my grandparents sleep at about 10pm every night.
Although we aren't the type of family that talks about our feelings, I also learnt that they love and pamper me a lot, especially through every Singaporean grandparent's love language: food.
Once, I asked my grandmother why she bought kiwis even though they were so expensive, and she responded they were good for her health. My grandfather added that both of them share a kiwi every morning and grandmother started scolding him.
I realised they had been generously giving me a whole kiwi every day, while quietly scrimping on themselves.
It was a small gesture, but I felt really touched at that moment. Somehow, the kiwis they gave me tasted sweeter since then.
Every night after dinner, my grandmother would cut fruits for me.
On Jul 21, my class was called back to school to finish up our final year. Because I did not want to risk exposing my grandparents to the virus, I decided to move back home on Jul 29.
When I told my grandparents about my decision, I could tell that they did not want me to go. My grandmother claimed that I could just shower once I got back from school and it would be okay.
As tempting as it was to continue living with them, I knew it would be too risky to return to them after a long day at school when there were still COVID-19 cases in the community. I did want my grandparents to be less lonely with me around, but more importantly, I wanted them to be healthy.
With one last reminder to my grandfather to eat his medication, I left the place I had fondly called 'home' for the last seven weeks.
Whenever I visit my grandparents, they always prepare my favourite dishes.
With the COVID-19 situation better now, I get to visit my grandparents once a week, and it is a lot easier to have conversations with them than before I started living with them.
Although it was short-lived, I am glad I got this chance to bond with my grandparents and understand them better.
During my stay with my grandparents, I often wondered how other seniors were doing.
Life has resumed to a 'new normal' for most of us, but many seniors are still afraid of leaving the house - or are unable to go out in the first place. If staying at home for a few weeks made us feel so trapped and restless, imagine how elderly relatives who do not have access to Netflix or Zoom may feel.
Of course, I'm not saying we all need to move in with the elderly. But a simple phone call or visit once a week would go a long way, and will leave both you and your relative feeling good after.
For all the affection that we received from them since young, maybe now is the best time for us to give back to our loving grandparents.
PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/CELESTE LIM
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