Earlier this month, my Grandmother asked for a proper photograph to be taken. A neighbour had passed recently and she didn’t quite agree with the obituary photograph taken several decades ago. The fetching lady pictured in black and white was a far cry from the neighbour whom she was familiar with.
We were all taken aback initially, concerned if there was a deeper reason for the request. Thankfully there was none. And so, my sister-in-law and brother got around to planning a home photo shoot, complete with DSLR, C-stands and a huge white sheet. The living room of my parents’ 3-room flat was set up beautifully after a lot of work shifting furniture and hustling 2 naughty nieces to behave.
We all took turns to take a few shots with the nieces before my Grandmother slowly hobbled over (She’s in the late 80s and lives across the road). She settled down into the couch and pulled out two colourful blouses, insisting we advise which would be a better choice. Between the bright orange and fluorescent cyan, we picked the safer orange, bemused at her vanity.
Then suddenly, my 5-year-old niece joined my Grandmother on the couch, dragging her stuffed rabbit in tow.
“I want to take a picture with Tai Po (Great-grandmother),” she exclaimed.
Grandmother cackled through her missing teeth, holding her arm out. They posed sweetly and ever so gently, my niece mindful that she had to be very careful with Grandmother. Sitting side by side, their arms may have been the same size but the wrinkled and speckled skin belied decades of hard work that my Grandmother put in to raise her family.
For some of the seniors in our neighbourhood, their later years have not been so fortunate. A few blocks away, there was a senior who died in her apartment and no one knew till the smell alerted the neighbours. That was many years ago but just this April, the lonely death of a senior in Geylang Bahru brought attention to the increasing proportion of seniors living alone.
Since 2010, this proportion has risen from 8.2% to 8.9%. It may not seem like a lot but over the same 5-year period, the proportion of households which comprised only seniors also rose from 4.65% to 6.7%.
With a rapidly greying society, the Government has put in place measures to support our seniors. These include healthcare subsidies, GST voucher, Workfare and the Silver Support Scheme, which provides assistance to the bottom 20% of our seniors, through a cash supplement.
Expanding our social security net, PM also announced during this year’s National Day rally that the ElderShield scheme will be strengthened. He pointed out two key areas of the scheme which will likely be changed: coverage for all elders in Singapore and extending the pay-out period beyond 6 years.
Beyond Government efforts, there are also many community groups serving the elderly in our community, extending money, food and friendship. One group which continues to do great work is Window of Colours, a small group of volunteers which has gifted seniors with free makeovers and a photo shoot session, which includes a printed photograph at the end.
Although Grandmother didn’t get a full make over at our home photo shoot, we still have many beautiful shots of her, including one of her and my niece. There’s something really precious about this that makes me smile, looking at a picture that spans four generations, knowing we will endure. We will endure beyond us, beyond our singular lives.