Empowering Dignified Lives – A Love Story
“In the three years that I have been the CEO of this nursing home, we have said goodbye to our residents when they pass on. Today we are saying goodbye to a resident who is moving on to a new phase in his life. This is a rare occurrence. So each time such an occurrence takes place, it’s for us that one starfish moment and we celebrate it.”
S. Devendran, CEO, Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home
Empowering Dignified Lives – A Love Story
“There is no me without her, just like, there is no her without me”, says Mr. Velappan Vellaiyan with his eyes lit, looking intently at his newly betrothed, Ms. Savithiri Kaliappan. They are sitting close to each other on his bed at the Sree Narayana Mission (SNM) Nursing Home.
“I was lost in life, but found meaning when I started visiting him” responds Ms. Savithiri thoughtfully, holding his hands.
These may read like lines from the romantic Mills & Boon novels. Novels people read, enjoy and possibly forget.
However, Mr. Velappan’s romantic story is not meant to be forgotten, for it is real, as it signifies a societal change, one of empowering individuals to lead dignified lives. A transformation that makes our community more compassionate and inclusive.
Firstly, this is a story of two elders, both over 70 years, coming together to help each other. Something rare.
Secondly, the hero, a wheel-chair bound resident in a nursing home, is motivated to walk when he finds purpose in life. Something miraculous.
Thirdly, the couple decide to get married with the hero moving to a home of their own, to lead a life of dignity. Something blissful.
For SNM, it’s a new first. An incredible experience in supporting a resident to fulfil his dreams and empowering the couple to lead a life on their own terms.
And the upshot, they are re-integrating back into the community. Can the script get any better?
It all starts in the 60’s. “We are buddies from the same kampung. I remember him as an energetic and charming young person” recalls Ms. Savithiri, nostalgically thinking of her Silat Road home and Mr. Velappan’s Henderson locality.
Mr. Velappan, a first-generation immigrant, is a movie buff. “I have even watched English and Mandarin movies without understanding anything, in my younger days”. Tamil film songs were his best friend.
They go their ways and lose touch. She marries a Ceylonese Tamil and he marries a girl of his choice. Their families grow, she has a son and he, a daughter. He works as a helper at coffee shops and at construction sites. She works as an administrative assistant in schools.
Mr. Velappan and his wife separate. He stayed with his married daughter initially, but things do not work out well. He suffers a bad fall. And the struggle shows on him.
Serendipity brings them back together. In 2004, while participating in a skills training workshop he meets his old kampung friend.
Recollecting, Ms. Savithiri says “I was shocked. He was very weak, not the youthful, energetic person that I had seen”. They reminiscence about their childhood days over a coffee and the conversation drifts to the current situation. She realises he is alone, struggling with a weak body and painful knees.
Her kind-hearted instinct takes over. She begins meeting him regularly.
Ms. Savithiri helps him through his lowest point when he was bedridden and hospitalized. He recalls emotionally “She saved my life, she is my god, I would not have survived without her”.
In 2008, Mr.Velappan moves into SNM when his health worsens. Ms. Savithiri lives in her Bukit Merah rental flat by herself after her husband passes away in 2009. Her son is estranged. She visits Mr. Velappan regularly, despite the one-hour bus ride from her home.
Mr. Vellapan says “She was the only visitor. She would cook my favourite dishes, buy vadai, kerapu, nasi goreng”. He would eagerly wait for her visits. With her continual affection and SNM’s care, his health improves. Their bond grows deeper.
They decide to take the next bold step, to get married.
“I am excited to start this new life with him. What else do we need other than each other’s company in our twilight years” Ms. Savithiri says with conviction when probed. Adding on, she declares “I will take him home, cook for him, take care of him. He has simple needs. I intend to go out with him and enjoy our last years together”.
SNM supports their decision after reviewing the case carefully. It is made easier, as the staff have been working on his health and see an improvement. Ms. Illamaran Kalaiselvi, from the social work team, becomes a mentor guide to them. She has been supporting him for close to a year.
Friday, April 12th, 2019 arrives. It is their big day, their wedding.
SNM puts its weight behind the wedding. The staff rises to the occasion. It is a family wedding in their own home.
It is an elegant affair with the couple donning traditional attires, taking their marriage vows. Dignitaries grace the occasion and join the celebrations. Cake cutting, heartfelt toasts, buffet lunch, photo shoots and trishaw rides with Cycling Without Age Singapore to a nearby temple, all culminating in a happy farewell, as they are chauffeured to their ‘new’ home.
There are tears of joy. Mr. Velappan’s best friend Ms. Vanitha, a SNM resident, cries “You were my best friend. I will miss you now”.
The couple’s newly spruced up home is ready to welcome them.
They are aware life will present its challenges, and marriage is only an initial step. But they are wiser, for they have been through it all. Their needs are simple. They understand each other. And they will make it happen for they have shown they are alchemists.
In this true-life story, the lovely moments are not counted by age, but by the wrinkles and affection. This is a saga of two individuals, trying to fathom the meaning of their life with a steely determination to walk back into the community.
#1747 (Level 1/Room 7/Bed47) will be immortalized in the walls of SNM. This is where a new life began, “The Love Story of SNM”, a shining example of human triumph.
We wish the lovely couple a blissful life. We will continue to support. We want Shakespeare’s words to come true in their lives – “All’s Well, That Ends Well”.