Madam Salmah retraced her husband’s last journey and how she found the peace in acceptance and gratitude.
Madam Salmah Beevi bte Kader has been married to Mr Abu Bakar bin Kunju Baba for 43 years and they were inseparable. Mr Abu Bakar was a protective husband who insisted on accompanying Madam Salmah everywhere. At the same time, he also encouraged her to do whatever she wanted. “He never ever said ‘no’ to me. He did everything for me,” recalled Madam Salmah.
However, in 2015, Mr Abu Bakar’s health started to decline. Eventually, he had to stop working and underwent as many as nine ballooning procedures and a heart bypass surgery to treat the blockages in his heart. Four years later, his health troubles culminated in a diagnosis of end-stage kidney failure. It was then that he and his family were referred to the Ageing-in-Place (AIP) palliative care service at Yishun Health (YH).
Through this service, Mr Abu Bakar received regular home visits from Resident Physician.
Dr Tan Shu Zhen and Senior Staff Nurse Thilagavathy d/o Muthusamy (Thila). They worked together with Madam Salmah to manage his symptoms, which ranged from swelling, to wounds and injuries. In addition, Senior Medical Social Worker Lim Li Ying provided psychosocial and emotional support, and connected the family to financial assistance schemes to relieve the burden of his medical expenses.
Every day, Madam Salmah would diligently record her husband’s vital signs in a worksheet and show it to Dr Tan and Thila when they made their visit. Madam Salmah also learned to administer Mr Abu Bakar’s medications.
From the time when she learned of her husband’s prognosis, Madam Salmah was determined to be the best caregiver she could be. In fact, the whole family was committed to meeting Mr Abu Bakar’s needs, from cooking his favourite meals to keeping him well-groomed.
The family made it a particular point to respect Mr Abu Bakar’s wishes to be as independent as possible. For as long as he was able, he did not wear adult diapers. Instead, his grandchildren accompanied him when he went to the washroom to make sure he was safe.
Tightening family bonds
One of the things that have bolstered Mr Abu Bakar’s spirit during his last days was his family growing closer. Their two daughters set aside a long-held misunderstanding, which brought joy and comfort to Mr Abu Bakar. “He loved the children so much,” shared Madam Salmah. “Since young, he would never scold them. Just a little bit, once in a while. And he would do anything for the grandchildren.”
One of the happiest periods for Mr Abu Bakar was when the couple moved in with their eldest daughter, Jannah, for three months. Everyone would gather in her spacious house for meals.
A peaceful goodbye
On 22 April 2020, Madam Salmah spent the day alone with Mr Abu Bakar. She laid down beside him and prayed with him. He passed away peacefully, resting on her arm. It was the day before Ramadan.
This is very meaningful for Muslims, said Madam Salmah. “It is the day Muslims pray before the fasting month. We pray and hope to die on that day, during that month.”
Nevertheless, it was a painful separation for her. “I sat with him until the morning. I was very heartbroken.”
Li Ying provided support and counselling to Madam Salmah with a home visit and phone calls. She also referred Madam Salmah to a counselling service by Montfort Care Grief Matters to help her cope with her grief and to come to terms with her husband’s passing.
With the support of her family and care team, Madam Salmah was able to find gratitude in the peace her husband received at the end. She made a photo album documenting this journey and gave Thila a copy. At Deepavali last year, she also made kueh and cookies for the AIP team. This honoured her husband’s wish which was to thank them for their care and support with homebaked goodies.
“It was very painful to see him suffering until the last day. When the doctor came every week to review his condition, it had helped me to be strong so that I could take care of him better, day by day. They encouraged me to do whatever I can. I’m really satisfied with what the doctors and nurses have done for my husband in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. I’ve always tried to take care of my husband until his last breath. Thank God for the opportunity that he died on my arm,” shared Madam Salmah.