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Caring for the Elders — An Interview with Abigail Setera
Abigail Setera has been on the caretaking team with her mother, looking after a few elder nuns at CTTB during her first year as an MA student at DRBU. Born in Malaysia, she followed her parents to CTTB at age twelve and studied at Developing Virtue Girls School (DVGS). After graduating from DVGS in 2016, she went to Oregon State University to study Digital Communication Arts. She returned to CTTB after college in 2019. Shortly after COVID hit, she moved to the residence of Tower of Blessings (TOB), where the senior nuns live.
Q: What was your relationship with elders in the past?
I wasn’t particularly connected with elders in the past but enjoyed working with kids. In high school, I used to help with the kindergarteners and first graders during summer camps.
Q: What is a typical day like taking care of the elders at TOB?
There are a few caregivers in TOB, and we each have different shifts throughout the day. Jin Zhi Shi, who is in my cohort, was also helping out at TOB during the pandemic.
Every morning, my mom would wake them up for breakfast. Then after breakfast, I would take them for a walk around the Bodhi House cul-de-sac. Before lunch, they would do a bit of reading or recitation. I would go to the big dining hall to pick up lunch for the elders. Then after lunch, they would take a nap or read a bit more. Around this time, one of the volunteers would do some light cleaning. Then it would be dinner time and evening ceremony. After the evening ceremony, they would read some more or rest.
Q: What has changed in you after taking care of the elders on a day-to-day basis for over a year?
Taking care of the elders every day has made me appreciate life more. Seeing dementia in some of the elders makes me cherish my mind as well, knowing that someday I might lose it, too. With that in mind, I want to put it to good use. I also began to think about the elders outside the CTTB. The senior nuns have a lot of blessings to be able to live out the rest of their days comfortably while also being able to cultivate and be in a community. There are many elders who are not so fortunate. What do they have to go through? What support system do they have? Is there anyone looking out for them?
Q: Are there any stories or words shared by an elder that have inspired you?
Dharma Master Ran, eighty-eight years old, had served as the kitchen manager for 30 years at CTTB before she retired after her stroke. One day I asked her,
“Why are you so happy today?”
“Being happy is good. There are no worries,” she said.
“How can I be happy?”
“Just don’t worry too much.”
This year, DRBU is reopening to welcome new and returning students coming to campus. Abigail may need to move out of TOB for the new semester. Though she is sad that she may not be able to continue to care for the elders, she is also looking forward to having the opportunity to meet all the new and returning students whom she has only met in little squares on zoom. She is open to embracing all that life has to offer.
In 2016, Abigail shared at her DVGS high school graduation, “I would like to thank the Venerable Master for everything, for letting me have the chance to make CTTB my home with my family, to go to school in DVGS, to meet such amazing and wonderful people I would have never thought of meeting all the years before I moved here. I don’t give him enough credit for the things that he has done.” Now she is on a journey of giving back to this community as a student at DRBU.