To most, it’s merely a cookbook. But for one palliative patient at Sengkang Community Hospital, the collection of recipes was part of her legacy that allowed her to live out the remainder of her life meaningfully.
Madam Julie Wee’s life was not always smooth sailing. Ever since her husband passed away many years ago, she worked hard to raise her three children on her own. It was tough being a single parent, but her love for them was far greater than anything else.
Her last wish
Madam Wee was known by her fellow patients and the hospital staff to be a reserved person. She only opened up and shared about her life experiences when spoken to in the Teochew dialect.
The fluent Teochew speaker knew that time was not on her side. She could feel her condition worsening each day and so, expressed her wish to write a card for each of her children and also to create a recipe book that contained their favourite dishes.
“Some examples of legacy work are conducting a life review, creating a recipe book, written or audio letters, or photograph albums to family members.”
Prabha D/O Techna Miti,
SKCH Senior medical Social Worker
She envisioned the book to be filled with traditional dishes that she used to make for their birthday celebrations. A part of her will stay with them as memories and remind them how she used to prepare their favourite dishes on those special occasions.
It will also help her children to continue with the tradition of cooking for the family at home.
The Rehabilitation team then initiated this piece of legacy work — something that allowed palliative patients to reflect on what’s important to them, and motivate them to have a dignified rest-of-their-lives during their stay in a community hospital.
“The Rehabilitation team provided her with different art materials to create her cards and recipe book. She would request for what she needed and the designs she wanted,” shared Tricia Ng, SKCH Senior Occupational Therapist.
The Medical Social Services (MSS) team on the other hand provided psycho-emotional support for her to complete the project.
But the process was not as easy as the team thought it would be. Madam Wee was lethargic and needed rest most of the time due to her condition.
To help her complete her wish, the Rehabilitation team focused on getting one recipe done at a time. They broke down the tasks into smaller steps and completed them day by day. For example, the team would start with getting the list of ingredients followed by recording the methods the next day.
Once they have gotten all the information, they began to decorate the recipe book based on Madam Wee’s instructions. There was also the language barrier that the team had to overcome. The team had to enlist the help of Teochew-speaking colleagues so they could understand Madam Wee’s wishes.
With all the help from the team, Madam Wee was finally able to complete her recipe book. She passed away three months later in August 2020 in her late 80s, but not without leaving something very valuable behind.
Madam Wee’s legacy work taught many staff and patients about a mother’s unconditional love. She was able to be a part of her children’s life despite her illness, continuing to celebrate their birthdays whenever her recipes are recreated in the kitchen she left behind.
Starting legacy work
Legacy works help patients to reflect and initiate a review of their life experiences and document it as a tangible item so that their stories can be passed on to the future generations.
Some questions that can be asked are:
• What activities are meaningful to them to create a tangible memory?
• What are some tips or life experiences that they would like to share with others?
• What would they want their family to remember them for?
• What would they like to leave behind for their loved ones?