Most of us would eventually have to take on the role of a caretaker, be it to our grandparents, our moms and dads, or our distant relatives. What is it really like to be a primary caregiver to a loved one, and how can we cope with the difficulties that come with this responsibility?
Over a phone call, Mazidah shares her personal experience of administering end-of-life care for her mother-in-law, as well as the values and beliefs that she held on to throughout her private and professional caregiving journey.
Responses have been edited slightly for clarity.
Becoming a primary caregiver to her mother-in-law
Mazidah’s mother-in-law experienced her first stroke in 2016 and her second stroke right before Singapore went into the circuit breaker period. It left her bed-bound, requiring NGT feeding, and unable to communicate verbally.
“For two months, my husband and I worked hand-in-hand,” she shares. Her husband had applied for 2 months of no-pay leave to take on the duty of looking after his mother and sharing Mazidah’s workload.
During this period, Mazidah tapped on the basic caregiving skills that she had learnt from nurses at the Yishun Community Hospital, where her mother-in-law stayed when she was first admitted.
“It was totally a new thing for me. If I was looking after people’s beauty and doing facials for people, this was the complete opposite,” she laughs. “But it was a pleasure.”
“It’s a noble job. It is something that everyone would have to come across and experience.”
Initially, Mazidah found it difficult to apply what she learnt about bathing and toileting to her mother-in-law. After all, she did not want to take the risk of carrying her mother-in-law into the bathroom and injuring her or herself in the process. To get around this challenge, she suggested sponging and bed bathing with baby products to make her mother-in-law feel more comfortable.
Though her mother-in-law could no longer speak at this point in time, Mazidah felt that her hard work was still acknowledged through her mother-in-law’s body language.
Caregiving: A journey of trial and error
There’s no all-in-one guidebook on caregiving, but Mazidah tried her best to find resources that she could learn from to help her mother-in-law, including reading resources or watching YouTube videos.
What helped the most was putting herself in her mother-in-law’s shoes and thinking from her perspective.
Mazidah and her mother-in-law.
“You would still want to look good, you would still want people to talk to you, you would still want to laugh or smile and feel happy, even if you can’t do it yourself.”
Mazidah was incredibly dedicated to making her mother-in-law’s experience as pleasant as possible. When her husband was not at home, Mazidah would still change her mother-in-law’s bedlinen and sheets on her own, even though it must have been a difficult task to complete alone.
“I wanted to make it perfect for her,” she says.
Pivoting into professional caregiving
Alongside her husband, Mazidah was the primary caregiver for her mother-in-law until she passed on in 2022.
“After she passed away, I began to miss what I have been doing for the past two years.”
Mazidah also wanted to earn money while doing something at her own time and pace. She then heard of Homage from a nurse who used to visit her mother-in-law, and she applied to be a caregiver.
Empowering her care recipients
Throughout our call, Mazidah shared useful tips that she had learnt and relied on over the years.
For those who are conscious but are unable to speak or communicate, it’s important to catch their attention with how she spoke to them. Using a high-pitched voice to greet them as she stepped through the doors, as well as speaking loudly enough for them to be able to hear, is important.
By doing this, she shares that her care recipients would “smile, respond, and cooperate” with her.
Giving all of her care recipients a choice and allowing them to make their own decisions, even over the little things, is also something that Mazidah feels strongly about.
Preserving her care recipients’ autonomy and dignity came in many ways, one of which was allowing them to choose what they wanted to eat or drink. “Never force them to eat what you have prepared. It’s important to respect them,” she explains. She would also ask her care recipients to blink or squeeze her hand in certain ways to indicate whether they liked or didn’t like something.
Her family, her support system
Knowing that Mazidah worked full-time for years, I asked whether it was difficult for her to step away from work and transition into being a primary caregiver at home.
She admitted that at first, she was a bit stressed—not because she didn’t want to look after her mother-in-law, but because she didn’t know how to make her feel at ease while she was newly bedridden.
Mazidah, pictured with her family.
But the support that she had from her husband, her grandchildren, and even her siblings who came by to visit her often, helped her tide through this period and she eventually got the hang of things.
Mazidah and her beloved grandchildren.
“I am a very bubbly person. And I believe in Allah very much. Whatever he has given to me, he is going to help me,” she shares. “You have to be happy to do what you are going to do, and death is not a question.”
Anchored by her faith, empathy, and a deep love for those that she cares for, Mazidah found reason to continue bettering her care recipients’ lives.
If Mazidah’s story resonates with you, Homage is always on the lookout for professional caregivers who want to help others. Being a Homage caregiver is not about having the right formal qualifications. What’s important is having the right heart and a dedicated attitude to help others with their daily living tasks and self-care needs.