Covid-19 has proven to be an unprecedented factor in many aspects of our lives, for many segments of our population. The virus has single-handedly succeeded in uncovering gaps that we may have so often deigned to overlook, while building bridges that we might not have thought possible in our lifetimes. Amidst it all, our vulnerable groups in society have been the most exposed to elements of the strong Covid winds, leaving in turn many segments of society disrupted, and giving rise to unprecedented thought and reflection too.
One such group has been our elderly. For elderly who have expected and valued relationships with their spouses, children and grandchildren in their seemingly “golden age” years, the Covid winds have brought rude shocks as difficulties abound to allow for continued interaction, normal social activities, and the usual caregiving assistance.
This is even more pronounced among our isolated elderly who live on the fringes of society, either in the lower income groups or the isolated widowed and destitute. In Singapore, it is estimated that the numbers of elderly living alone number more than 50,000. Many more may live with spouses or children but still feel extremely lonely.
A case in point is Mdm A. I first met Mdm A several years ago after her husband passed away, and upon which she became increasingly forgetful and lonesome. At the time, she had just moved to a rental flat and was on financial assistance though she was still too shy and proud to visit day care centres.
I remembered her again in these Covid times and reached out to ask her how she was doing. She shared how lonely the days were and how she did not understand why she needed to stay in her flat. I shared about Covid and the importance of having to stay indoors, but I did wonder whether she would remember the same for long, given her onset of dementia.
Fortunately, Mdm A’s social worker was allowed to continue to visit her during these Covid times and had tried to step up visits to spend time with Mdm A.
Given the sudden resource constraints that many social organisations were dealing with, a few other volunteers and I gathered to set up a “Love our Elderly SG” phone befriender group who would reach out to such elderly by phone at least twice a week. Once the befrienders are properly briefed and introduced to the elderly, such calls are intended to supplement current caregiver responsibilities and help engage the elderly.
As I continue to call Mdm A each week through a video call, I am heartened by her eagerness to speak and her simple words of thanks for doing so. I have also learnt the importance of the need for community and laughter – even if it’s only over the phone – and how to embrace just spending time with her.
As more and more Singaporeans continue to step forward in this period, I believe that it is with this kind and generous spirit that our society will truly be able to flourish, to take even better care of our elderly as well as many other groups that may be in need. Indeed, it is probably these Covid times that have taught us the most about the importance of spending our time to appreciate and care for things that truly matter – and I can only look forward to a better Singapore ahead.
** For more details on how to join our “Love our Elderly SG” phone befriender initiative, contact Renita at 98475517. ☺
RENITA SOPHIA CRASTA (Group Legal Counsel)
Renita Sophia Crasta is presently a Group Legal Counsel at Temasek’s infrastructure companies (Capitaland), and is also pursuing a double Masters in Law and Public Policy. She remains passionate for elderly, low-income communities, women, environmental and foreign worker causes. As a corporate lawyer, she heads the Younger Lawyers Chapter of the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association, and was named one of the top lawyers under 40 in 2018 by the Singapore Business Times. Outside of work, Renita is a committee member with the Young Women’s Leadership Connection, as well as Family Support Services group of the Eurasian Association. She has also co-founded two other initiatives, being The Kindness Initiative SG” to promote kind acts across society, as well as the “Chatty Caterpillar” to promote mental health and resilience as well.