“Grandma Xinjing, you used to do Taiji so well! Would you like to demonstrate to us again?” The courtyard of Ren Ci Hospital is filled with warm sunlight today (Mar 31, 2013) when the volunteers visit the grandma in one of their regular visits. As the grandma is in exceptionally good spirits, Tzu Chi volunteers Zhou Biyun, Wang Lijuan and Fan Youli put grandma in the wheelchair and takes her out to the corridor to enjoy the sunlight.
Though suffering from impairment in hearing, as well as severe degradation in her cognition and memory, the grandma takes the volunteers clad in blue and white uniforms as her relatives and is highly delighted when she sees them, chatting with them endlessly. It is such a déjà vu of what happened years ago when Tzu Chi volunteers used to visit her at her home.
A contented Grandma after surviving second world war
Even before Tzu Chi Singapore branch was officially registered as charitable organization in Singapore (in 1993), it had already started taking care of grandma Xinjing. The grandma was 85 years old then, and she lived with her god son, Gan Rixiong. “Grandma Xinjing” is the affectionate name given by the volunteers to the elderly and whenever the volunteers call her by the name, the grandma is filled with blissfulness.
Born in 1908, Grandma Xinjing left her hometown in Guangdong when she was over 10 years old for South East Asia to make a living and to provide financial support to her family back in China. She had worked as maid, cleaner, as well as running her own small business before settling down in Singapore.
At that time, Singapore and Malaysia were part of the battle ground of the Second World War and having witnessed for herself the cruelty of wars, she would share with the volunteers her horror experience of running for her life through battle field littered with dead bodies. War has cast a dark shadow in her life that she couldn’t shake off, but it has also taught her to value life and be contented with what she has in life.
Grandma Xinjing had got married once, but her husband passed away many years ago; not having any children, she has since been leading an independent life. When she was 46, she adopted her neighbor, a 19 year old man by the name of Gan Rixiong, as her god son as they could get along very well.
Gan Rixiong lost both her parents since young, and he had never experienced motherly love in his life. Grandma Xinjing took care of him as she would of her own son, winning much respect from Gan. For tens of years, the mother and son supported each other in their simple life.
Poverty doesn’t prevent grandma from being philanthropic
As she grew older and couldn’t work anymore, she had to rely on Gan's meager income for her living. When her god son was out at work, grandma would do some simple housework, chant or chat causally with her neighbors, leading a simple life on her own. And her happiest moments were when Tzu Chi volunteers visited her.
Grandma Xinjing would take out her old photos and showed them to the volunteers over and over again. A practitioner of Taiji, she would from time to time ask the volunteers to show her a few steps in Taiji, exhibiting her lively personality. And when it was time for the volunteers to leave, she would see them off at the lift, finding it unbearable to part with them. As she grew older and developed difficulties in moving, she would leave her key near the door for the volunteers to unlock the door and enter the house on their own. But when the volunteers were leaving the house, she insisted to see them off at the lift.
“At that time, we were worried how she was going to get home to lock the door, and she would ask us not to worry. As a matter of fact, we always hid in the corner near the lift to observe if she walked back successfully on her own, and that was how close we were to each other—like a family.” Volunteer Zhou Biyun, who has been following grandma’s case for more than 10 years, said as she laughed.
Grandma Xinjing led a meager life, but she saved all she could and was generous in making donations to Tzu Chi for it to help the needy. When Taiwan was struck by the 921 quake in 1999, grandma donated her savings of many years, about SGD 1600 without a second thought to the refugees. “It isn’t a lot of money, just a small token from my heart,”this is what the humble grandma normally says.
Due to the loving kindness of the volunteers, the grandma identifies deeply with Tzu Chi and is strongly supportive of it. Upon receiving invitations to attend Tzu Chi events, she would show up punctually with Gan Rixiong. In 2003, as Tzu Chi celebrated its 10th year anniversary to showcase its achievements, grandma was one of those featured on the display boards. When she stood in front of the display board that featured her life story, she too witnessed for herself the solid efforts of Tzu Chi in promoting humanitarianism in Singapore.
A close mother-and-son relationship
Unfortunately, good times came to an end. In 2004, grandma Xinjing who was already 96 years old fell down at home and was admitted to the hospital for an emergency operation. Overwhelmed by work and family, Gan Rixiong chose to stop working in order to look after the grandma full time, thereby setting off a financial crisis in the family.
Tzu Chi then switched from providing spiritual to subsistence support to grandma with a monthly allowance of SGD 300 dollars from the beginning of 2005. The monthly allowance was later reduced to SGD 150 from June of the same year after Gan had successfully obtained financial support from the government.
At that time, health of the 70 year old Gan was deteriorating and it was too demanding on him to take care of the elderly grandma who had difficulties in moving. In June, 2005, with the help of social workers from government hospital, grandma was accepted for admission to long term nursing ward in Ren Ci hospital (she had earlier stayed temporarily in Bright Vision Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital). Apart from Tzu Chi volunteers, what was always on grandma's mind was her only son who was elderly and unmarried.
To help grandma maintain her peace of mind, Gan would visit her twice a day without fail with her favourite food. The mild mannered Gan would also help to take care of the other patients when he visited grandma, warming the heart of many and winning praises for himself from the nurses.
It was sad that in July 2007 Gan was diagnosed to have cancer and his conditions didn't improve after a few rounds of treatments. He started to lose weight and looked very sick towards the end. While receiving treatments he wasn't able to visit grandma as scheduled as he was weak and moreover, he wouldn't want grandma to worry for him upon seeing his conditions.
Fortunately, during that difficult period, Tzu Chi volunteers helped to play the link between Gan and grandma. Besides visiting grandma every week on behalf of Gan, they also visited Gan regularly to provide him company and support.
At the beginning of 2008, Gan's conditions worsened and he knew that his days were numbered. He understood that he wouldn't be able to take care of grandma anymore and longed to see grandma for the last time. His relatives wanted to fulfill his last wish and requested that Tzu Chi volunteers take grandma to the hospice centre for the mother and son to meet with each other. It was a poignant and touching scene, with grandma offering her well wishes and blessings to her god son. With his last wish fulfilled, Gan passed on peacefully on the 20th of February.
A Peace of Mind with contentment and gratitude
In 2013, grandma Xinjing is already 105 years old and she is a long term care recipient of Tzu Chi Singapore branch for record period of time. To date, Tzu Chi volunteers continue to visit grandma regularly to shower her with their care and concern. Looking back at the last twenty years of home visits, the volunteers feel that they have learnt much from the grandma.
Tzu Chi volunteer Wang Lijuan shares that every time when they visit the grandma, she is always full of well wishes for them. “I feel that we do not offer her much, we just take her as our relative and keep her company. But from her, we learn how to be a respectable elderly and though her life is tough, she is never selfish and greedy, instead she is very compassionate and generous in making donations to the needy, and she is always at ease with herself. These are the remarkable spirits that we have learnt from her.
“Whenever we visit her and ask her if she needs anything, she always answers she needs nothing but she thanks us profusely for visiting her. Grandma Xinjing is always content and full of gratitude for everything, she is really a role model for us to emulate!” So says Zhou Biyun.
Taking hardship and vicissitudes in life in her stride, the 105 year old grandma knows how to be content and grateful to maintain her peace of mind, this is really what an elderly can best teach us.