Family, Health

At 25, I became my family’s sole breadwinner

By Christina Wong , 1 August 2022

In 2019, my dad had a fall at home. He was admitted to hospital with chest pains, breathing difficulties and dizziness.

Dad was soon discharged but was scheduled for open-heart bypass surgery a month later.

I never would have thought that our lives as a family were about to change completely.

While my dad’s operation was finished sooner than expected, he took longer than average to regain consciousness while in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Mum and I had just reached home that night. We were about to eat our first meal of the day when my phone rang.

It was my dad’s surgeon. My heart skipped.

The surgeon said, “He’s awake … but the left side of his body is completely unresponsive. We think he has suffered a stroke.”

I felt my legs give way as I crumbled to the floor.

The phone call from my dad’s surgeon changed all our lives in an instant.

A different man

Why my dad? Why us? How will the stroke affect him? Is he never going to move again? Why, God, why?

These questions flooded my mind in the long days and sleepless nights that followed.

We never found out why my dad had the stroke. Medically, there were no definitive answers.

I was traumatised watching my father turn into a completely different person.

Possible reasons were offered – he was a smoker, he had high cholesterol and high blood pressure … but these gave us no comfort.

More than three-quarters of my dad’s right brain showed up black in scans. This indicated that his brain damage could not be reversed.

Symptoms of my dad’s stroke were a heavy weight for my family to bear.

I was traumatised watching my father turn into a completely different person.

His eyes moved differently. His mouth was slanted on one side. For the first few weeks after the operation, he slurred heavily.

He lost perception of time and dates and couldn’t tell day from night. My dad also kept recounting vivid nightmares and hallucinations – a sure sign of post-stroke delirium, one of the doctors told us.

It was the first time I ever saw my dad weep.

“I’ve never seen a patient fully recover from a stroke of this extent,” the neurologist told me. “He’ll probably not be bedridden forever, but I don’t know about the rest.

“You can only pray.”

Our future looked bleak.

Reality hits

I spent countless nights on my knees in my bedroom, crying out to God to have mercy on my family.

Be gentle with us, I pleaded with God in my journal.

Many of my nights were spent pleading with God for mercy.

Our days in the hospital seemed endless.

Mum doesn’t speak fluent English so I was listed as dad’s primary guardian. My work days were often interrupted by phone calls from the hospital.

Within two weeks, my dad was shifted from the cardiothoracic ICU to the neurology ward, back to the heart centre and then to an offsite rehabilitation ward.

What was supposed to be an eight-day hospital stay dragged into three months.

I was now a caregiver and the sole breadwinner of the family.

For the first time since things went downhill, I felt the weight of reality hit me.

I was 25, the only child in the family and not married – and I was now a caregiver and the sole breadwinner of the family.

Nothing in my life prepared me for it.

“What’s your daughter going to do?”

In the blink of an eye, I had to learn how to be an adult on my own. My family needed me to.

School didn’t teach me how to design a handicap-friendly bathroom or operate a wheelchair. But I had to learn these things.

There were also bills to be paid, home remodelling to be done, doctors to speak to … the list of responsibilities was endless.

We had to cope with Dad’s drastic personality and mood swing changes – the after-effects of his stroke. His short-term memory and communication skills also took a hit.

I quickly realised that my life was never going to be like most 25-year-olds.

On top of all this, I needed to make sure that Mum was holding up.

I quickly realised that my life was never going to be like most 25-year-olds.

One night in the hospital, my mum was talking to the wife of another patient.

She asked, “What’s your daughter going to do? She’s not yet married. Now she has the family to take care of.”

I asked myself if anyone would ever want to marry me and the family responsibilities that I come with.

Up to this point, my singleness barely affected me. I thought that if I was meant to meet the right someone, he’d naturally come. I needn’t worry… 

Until that night.

Caregiving at 25 felt like a life sentence.

The lady’s question deeply affected me. On the inside, I knew what she said was true to an extent.

Caregiving at 25 felt like a life sentence to me. Who would want to marry into this?

Lifestyle changes

Since then, my family has had to drastically alter our lifestyles.

I try to spend as much time at home to help my mum share the load of taking care of my dad. Every hour I dwell outside means an added hour of caregiving for her.

Not spending too much time outside was a necessary lifestyle change.

I now use most of my annual leave on hospital visits and medical appointments.

My single income also has to feed the three of us, plus cover all household and medical expenses. 

For now, we have just enough to get by, though I’m not sure for how long.

Amid endless household chores, I feel increasingly isolated in my struggle. Caregiving is lonely.

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t sometimes envy my friends. Many are living their lives, hanging out, achieving their dreams.

I can no longer just go anywhere I like, anytime I want. Well, technically I could … but I have to take into account my mum’s load as well.

I’ve had to come to terms with my new normal.

I sometimes envy others for having the freedom to chase their dreams.

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t sometimes envy my friends. Many of them are living their lives, hanging out, achieving their dreams.

Meanwhile, I’m lost in my own life, frozen in time. 

My source of hope

While I’ve been blessed with supportive relatives, colleagues and church community, it still feels like no one truly understands.

But I know there is always hope.

On some nights, when my emotions are raw and unfiltered, Psalm 13:1 is the song of my heart.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

I’ve learnt that my new role in the family – for however long it may be – is my form of service to God.

If I were to count my blessings, they would be even more than my misfortunes.

Yes, my life looks different from many of my peers. But the end goal is the same: To show Christ’s love by serving the people God so dearly loves.

There is always hope, even on harder days.

On days when I’m standing at the edge of an emotional cliff, this Bible passage always gives me strength.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)

If I were to count my misfortunes, there would be quite a few. But if I were to count my blessings, there would be even more.

Unexpected blessings

Time and time again, God has helped my family in far greater ways than I could ever have imagined. 

For instance, through hospital visits and the time we shared together, He actually restored my parents’ relationship that had been strained for decades.

Doctors were initially unsure about my dad’s ability to stand again. Today, I’m happy to say he is now able to walk without a walking stick!

While doctors were unsure about my dad’s ability to stand again, he can now walk without a walking stick.

His kidneys are also in a better condition than they were before his operation. He also stopped slurring and his vision is restored.

Most important of all, my dad actually welcomed Jesus as His Lord and Saviour during a chapel service he attended at hospital.

God continues to bless my family in ways I never expected.

I’ve seen how God has provided for my family’s needs so many times in so many ways.

He is truly the ultimate caregiver who continues to teach me what it means to love my family with greater love – the kind Jesus talked about (John 15:13).

While my life may never return to what it was before, I know God will make all things beautiful in His time. I trust Him to get me through the hard days.


A version of this article first appeared in Thir.st.

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