Alden Boon

Lisa Teng: How Caring for the Elderly Allows Her to Answer Her Calling as a Christian



In her time of quivering faith, the words of a counsellor from church brought renewed hope, like the sighting of shore after nights of being stranded at sea of turbulent waves. “He asked, ‘Lisa, have you been reading the Bible?’ Honestly, at the time, I found the Bible boring,” quips Lisa. “But my counsellor urged me to go home and read the Bible.” Lisa heeded his advice — she flipped open the book, and by divine intervention not happenstance landed on the page inked with the passage 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the words as if gleaming left her incredulous.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

Lisa immediately felt the extrication from her emotional bondage, these words of God lifting her like a wind that carries a weightless thistledown. The following Sunday, the Lord again spoke to Lisa, this time using her pastor as a messenger. “I’m a Cantonese, and for the first time in his sermons my pastor spoke in my dialect. He said, ‘Do you know that we are made up of spirit, soul and flesh? Even when a person departs this world while in a coma, the spirit is still very much alive. Jesus has come to receive the spirit, and He says, ‘I love your daughter, are you ready to go with me?’ At that I cried again, for I am my mother’s daughter, and I knew that Jesus saved her.” That very Sunday, Lisa was released from a long-tormenting guilt.

Lisa Teng | Caregiver Dementia

Answering her calling

Lisa’s personal ordeal and loss make her uniquely qualified to be a caregiver, and today she freelances as one, taking on tasks assigned by agencies such as Homage. Kismet it was that began her journey. Lisa used to work with children, but an administrative error placed her in a church outreach ministry that reaches out to the elderly.

It was not a position Lisa accepted with alacrity. “Everyone loves working with children because they are cute and cheerful, the elderly not so much.” She was also very particular about hygiene and cleanliness, and clouds of doubt began to form in her mind as to whether she could care for elderly folks who suffer from incontinence. “I prayed to God, and asked Him to help me. I am only human, but He is strong, and He fills me with love, so that I can be a vessel of love to my charges. I asked that He helps me to say and do things that bring glory to Him. By the grace of God, I was put in this new position.”

Lisa Teng | Caregiver Dementia

Backbreaking work

Amongst her charges are dementia patients, who while still lucid are gradually losing their cognitive functions and mobility. The early days of building a rapport with a senior are wrought with mind-taxing challenges. Viewed as a persona non grata, Lisa has had chairs thrown in her direction, and was even chased out of the house. That they need a caregiver is a devastating blow to the egos of dementia patients, many of whom are still struggling to come to terms with their reduced capabilities. To them, Lisa’s presence in their homes was that of an intrusive opossum in a still-vibrant garden.

Despite these challenges, Lisa never walks away, for doing so signals her giving up. “I try not to take any snarky remarks or aggressive behaviours personally; it’s the illness that is speaking, not the person. Getting them to open the door and let you in is the first step to establishing trust. Once you’re inside the house, you can then begin to render assistance.”

Dementia patients are not stupid or crazy. They are very aware of what is happening, and they are upset about their conditions — they are just embarrassed to admit they require help with the simple tasks. They are in the same plight as a runner who has just lost his limbs. I cannot treat them, but I am here to lend support. I want to care for them, so that their family members do not have to go through what I did with my mother.

Once in, Lisa still has her work cut out for her. Because of her altered perception of water, one of Lisa’s patients who has Alzheimer’s disease is terrified of showering. Having gone a long period without showering, the patient’s skin was blotched with black, and she reeked. Lisa had to get creative to ensure her hygiene, using body moisturer and cream as a salve to clean her.

Another time, a stroke patient of hers took a serious fall. “It was supposed to be an afternoon session, but I just felt this force impelling me to visit her early. Again, this was God’s will in action.” The patient was much taller in stature and heavier. Propping her up using her own body, Lisa had to, inch by inch, support her from the bedroom to the bathroom. Lisa threw her back out, and writhed in pain for days on end.

Lisa Teng | Caregiver Dementia

However sacrificial the nature of the work is, caregiving has imbued Lisa with a deeper appreciation of life. “One of my patients who has dementia shared with me how much she admired me for being able to perform so many tasks on my own. I saw how much she longed to be independent. And I realised: I have a family, a home and my health. That’s all I need to be happy in life.”

I do sometimes regret not being there for my mother. Now, I see my job as a privilege, and I feel blessed that I can be a caregiver. Thanks to this job, I’ve learnt humility and patience. Every household that I go to, the love that I give is multiplied and given back to me.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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