A Paradox of Joy and Grief

Oct 31, 2019   |   Cheryl Lim

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For our Fundraising and Thanksgiving Dinner 2019, ‘Heart Strings, Connecting Youth – Our Journey Towards 20’, a few of our Heartware volunteers shared their experiences volunteering at Heartware Network. The following sharing is by Cheryl Lim, a volunteer with the Support Our Pioneers (SOP) Programme. The other sharing by Neo Wei Li can be found here.

Cheryl’s sharing during the Fundraising and Thanksgiving Dinner.

The Heartware Support Our Pioneers programme, or SOP, is the highlight of my time at Heartware, and the one I’m currently involved in as a volunteer leader. Together with my fellow SOP volunteers, we identify and help with the physical and social needs of the elderly we visit, particularly those living alone in one-room flats.

This very moment as I’m speaking to you reminds me of my first day visiting the elderly.

First, my heart is beating really fast, as it did during that first visitation.

So many thoughts were rushing through my mind back then – how should I speak to the elderly? What if they don’t understand what I’m saying? What should we talk about other than “Le Jia Ba Boh?”, (Have you eaten?) and “Le jia si mi?” (What did you eat?).

I wish I had a script then like I do now.

Additionally, I didn’t know anyone there. Admittedly, I couldn’t distinguish between faces. All the aunties looked just the same at that point.

Fast forward 3 years, I think I blend in with them perfectly now. I speak like them, laugh like them and love hearing the stories they share about one another. We would go to Mdm Lee’s house to hear her talk about Mdm Tan’s knee problem, then go to Mdm Tan’s house to hear her talk about Mdm Lee’s next trip to Malaysia.

Let’s catch up over tea!

It brightens my day to see them so cheerful and lively when they talk about their friends. It’s exciting, because we get to see the quirks of each elderly, and learn more about their personalities.

Now I recognize all our beneficiaries and I know all their names. After a while, they’re like your friends. You know not just their names, but the names of their family members, even the names of their medical conditions and medication.

On the other hand, although they don’t remember my name just yet, I’m always overjoyed when they recognise me and wave to me when we bump into each other at the void deck.

Sadly in this short time I have on stage, I can’t tell you about all 30 of my elderly friends from Yishun. But there’s Mdm Lee whose brain works 10 times faster than mine when we play Rummy-O, Mdm Lok who wears more fashionable clothes than me, Mdm Angela who sings and dances better than I ever could, and the list goes on. Today, I have decided to make Mr Ma the focus of my story.

Making memories with new old friends!

Mr Ma has a bad hearing problem, so we always sit really close to him and take turns to shout into his ear when we’re having conversations. Many of the elderly tend to repeat themselves. I have listened attentively a hundred times when Mr Ma taught us to let go of petty problems in life, to be happy with what we have, to do things ethically, and even how to find a good guy.

Despite his good-spirited nature, he often spoke about wishing to go but God wouldn’t take him.  One great thing about being part of this programme is seeing all these problems which come with age, and having the chance to restore normality and joy as best as we could.

One day Mr Ma said he missed playing mahjong. Without hesitation, I suggested playing mahjong the next visitation. I remember how his eyes lit up.

When the next visitation came, we listened to the updates of the people living in the block, as usual, from Mdm Lee. She told us about Mdm Tan’s dementia, another story about a magical well in Malaysia, and a wake which happened downstairs last week.

After an hour we made our way to Mr Ma’s house. We knocked on his door, brimming with excitement. I was sure he was looking forward to playing Mahjong. But one thing was amiss. No one was home; and he never leaves home.

We left, feeling empty and uneasy. My suspicions were confirmed a few days later when we got the news of Mr Ma’s passing. If only we had knownearlier that he loved playing mahjong but had no one to play with, if only we had spent more time with him. ‘If only’ seems pointless now. Let us all be reminded to never take time with our loved ones for granted.


Never too old to learn the way of the selfie.

I would describe my SOP experience as a paradox of joy and grief.

Today, I would like to share a short poem I have written for the elderly beneficiaries at Yishun.

Oh my revered role model

You have shown me, taught me

The despair of losing a loved one

The vulnerability of aging

The transience of youth

But above all

The joy of living life to the fullest

Oh my revered role model my friend

Talk to me, Laugh with me, for

We will be here for as long as you will be

I would like to thank Heartware Network for giving me the opportunity to meet my elderly friends who I would not have met otherwise, and my parents for supporting me throughout this humbling journey. Although I will be sitting for an exam tomorrow morning, I have chosen to stand before you, to share my experience. To share the abundant joy and wisdom I have received. For these I am thankful.

SOP taught me the urgency of spending precious time with our loved ones, while we are all still here. Not just as SOP volunteers, I think we can all make this place a little brighter by loving the unseen members of our society a little more.

Thank you.