It was a cool, overcast afternoon as the video crew gathered around the dining table in the Seet family’s house. Everyone was eagerly waiting to tuck in to the aromatic pot of golden yellow chicken curry that had been simmering on the stove for hours. Katherine, ever the consummate host, invites everyone to sit down and dig in.
Preparations for the curry had begun the day before. Watching Katherine taking charge of preparations for the dish and blending the fragrant spice mix for the curry, one could hardly guess that she has lived with dementia for close to 10 years.
Katherine grew up in a large household with a Chinese father and Peranakan mother. Life growing up was comfortable, as the family was well to do and had servants, cooks and drivers to tend to the family’s needs. Her upbringing meant she spoke multiple dialects and languages, from English and Malay to Hokkien, Cantonese, Mandarin and Teochew, conversing easily with many people in their neighbourhoods and from various walks of life.
She soon married Mr Richard Seet, who was a humble teacher, and Katherine had to now get used to an independent life centering around her children and daily chores. Making the most of her well-rounded background and new skills such as being the designated driver in the family, she fetched her kids to and fro school and extra curricular activities, earning the title “the queen of the road” in the process.
Love and Sacrifice, Despite Dementia
Her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 came as a shock to the close-knit family, who was also struggling to cope with their father’s cancer diagnosis in that very same year. Initially, Katherine’s diagnosis caused her to stop doing familiar things she enjoyed such as driving out to places and cooking. She became depressed and lost weight.
The crisis brought together Katherine’s four adult children – three daughters and a son – to decide how to share these new caregiving responsibilities. They embraced the belief that life is short, and it was most important to make the remaining days of their parents’ lives as happy as possible. One of the principles that Katherine believes strongly is the need for persons with dementia like herself to continue to keep their minds active and engage in activities while they still can.
It is this belief that her two daughters, Belinda and Babara, are determined to enable in their mother’s life. Belinda and Babara, whom Katherine endearingly dubs her ‘two angels’, made the conscious decision early on to make the sacrifices needed to keep their mother’s day-to-day life as normal and happy as possible. Belinda gave up her high-paying lecturing job, switching to part-time teaching and consulting, and also moved in with Katherine. On the weekends, Babara would step in to give Belinda some respite from caregiving. Both are counselling trained.
To keep their mother engaged, Belinda and Babara have devised a daily schedule of activities based on her interests. Another cognitively-stimulating activity is also working on primary school-level assessment books on English, Mathematics and Mandarin to keep Katherine’s mind sharp. They have also embraced technology, in particular the Zoom platform to speak to their peers from Voices for Hope, and to play Katherine’s favourite games on her iPad.
Despite dementia, Katherine, Belinda and Babara continue to press on, not without its challenges, but with a happy- go-lucky spirit and “come what may” attitude in life. And in times of need, the girls can still rely on Katherine for life’s simplest comforts, such as her hearty Peranakan cooking and motherly advice.
Back at the dining table, with their bubbly Thai helper in the background clattering around and preparing the cutlery, Katherine, Belinda and Babara are eager to share their meal with us and the crew, and invites everyone to put down their equipment and join the table. As the fragrant spices and rich coconut gravy scent wafts around us, so does the warmth and love of the Seet family.
Watch the #DespiteDementia video featuring Katherine, Belinda, and Barbara here: