JOURNEY OF LIFE
PREPARING TO SAY
Insights & Reflections by Agnes Chua
The webinar on “Journey of Life – Preparing to say Goodbye” organised by Cornerstone Community Services, Caregiver Support Group, in September 2021 was a timely invitation. I have two elderly parents in their golden years, and my father had a stroke 7 years ago. I left the webinar feeling empowered, giving me confidence to broach this sensitive subject in a more light-hearted manner with them.
The speaker, Dr Helen Ko was open in sharing her personal experiences as a cancer survivor and caregiver.
Two main aspects were covered during the webinar:
The social, emotional, psychological and spiritual pain faced by the elderly at the end stage of their life;
How we could enter into a conversation on death & dying with them.
The top 3 concerns of the elderly:
87% hope that their death is not a financial burden to their families or loved ones, thus wishing earlier death.
81% want to have control over pain relief and other symptom control
78% want to be surrounded by their loved ones.
Most of the older folks were able to accept that death is inevitable. This reality brings about fear. Fear is not just confined to the physical pain as a result of their illness or loss of control of bodily functions, but also the pain of unfinished business; leaving behind loved ones; depression, or not finding meaning in their life.
Understanding these different aspects of pain helped me to understand a lot more of what seniors go through as they face the final phase of their life’s journey.
Dr Ko suggested that we could incorporate creating autobiographies with our loved ones using photos, paintings, poems, calligraphy and videos. This will give them a chance to reminiscence fondly when they revisit places of significance in their younger days. Even as they move towards the finishing line, the elderly must celebrate life and be given opportunities to express their hurts and pain.
As caregivers, our thoughts and behaviours can directly affect the stress levels of our loved ones. This is especially prominent when caregivers are too controlling and unable to let go that their loved ones are dying. Caregivers with unrealistic expectations, who do not articulate their needs over long periods are likely to suffer from burnout which could adversely affect their quality of care too. The best gift a caregiver can give to her care recipient is to care for herself too.
I was most moved when Dr Ko shared about her own struggle with cancer. It kickstarted her own journey in dealing with her internal struggles and allowing herself to be cared for and loved. She came to accept her own frailty. She shared that she learned to strengthen herself by immersing in God’s creation. She also recounted the spiritual support she received from her community. Their care, concern, love and constant encouragement saw her through many of her dark moments.
Dr Ko ended with a quote from Helen Keller - “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us”.
We will all at one point in our life walk this life’s journey either as a caregiver or care recipient. Whatever season it may be, may we find empowerment and strength to finish this journey of life faithfully.
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