Singapore Hospice Council’s inaugural panel discussion on normalising end-of-life conversations and raising death literacy welcomed by the community.
On 8 July, Singapore Hospice Council (SHC) organised the inaugural “Leaders Forum – Life and Death Matters” in conjunction with the 8th Singapore Palliative Care Conference. This event aimed to encourage open, inclusive conversations about end-of-life matters and promote understanding and awareness of death literacy. Death literacy is defined as a practical set of knowledge, experience, and skills one gains access to, understands, and uses to make informed choices about end-of-life and death care options.
Leaders helming ethnic or religious groups, youth groups and social service agencies convened to discuss their perspectives and explore opportunities to influence change and encourage end-of-life conversations within their respective communities. Representatives from The Eurasian Association, Bukit Batok East CCC, Al-Muttaqin Mosque, Singapore Buddhist Federation, among others, discussed the following key points.
HAVING THE CONVERSATION
Having conversations about death and dying is essential, as only through open discussion can we start to deal with it. Avoiding the topic can lead to unmet wishes and conflicts when instructions are unclear. Engaging in conversations early allows planning for unexpected events and making informed decisions. These discussions can also help us cherish life, gain support from loved ones, and address important matters, such as: preferred care, illness concerns, living well, family, and how we wish to be remembered. Practical issues like business, bills, and estate planning are also essential topics.
Collective efforts to start intentional die-logues will contribute to a death-literate community that is confident and well-prepared to handle matters relating to death and dying and to support caregivers and individuals with life-limiting illnesses.
So, when is a good time to talk about end-of-life matters? It would be now.
EMPOWERING THE COMMUNITY
Fostering a culture of openness and compassion within the community is important for people to feel comfortable to engage in such essential die-logues. Community support is crucial as matters of life and death are inextricably linked to each individual’s personal background and social network. Traditions and rituals pertaining to death and dying, concepts of the afterlife, and how we remember the dead are some areas in which our beliefs, values, preferences and culture influence. Such topics are familiar and can be perfect conversation starters within tightly knit local circles. Questions on how we might better prepare our community to engage in die-logues and support each other in death and dying matters were raised and explored during the session.
Dying is a relational and spiritual process. As the end draws near, patients and their family typically seek out their religious leaders to come to terms with death and dying. “When we visit them, I think it is important for us to know how to help ease them through the process,” said Mr Chung Kwang Tong, President, Quan Zhen Cultural Society (Singapore).
Community leaders can serve as initiators and facilitators for end-of-life conversations, and advocate for early planning. Organisations are already doing so via programmes such as Parting Words by City Harvest Community Services Association (CHCSA) and Good to Go by AMKFSC Community Services. However, Mr Kenny Low, Executive Director of CHCSA remarked that “death planning is something we need to do better, we have to be a bit more intentional about it.” Dr Terence Yow, Division Director, Care & Integration Division, AMKFSC Community Services, echoed similar sentiments, “Many [of our members] are not very literate [on death matters], in fact many of them avoid talking about it and hence it really is [about] opening up that space for people to come together to talk about it.”
In addition, the session highlighted the plethora of existing resources and how they can be used to fill knowledge gaps and educate people on death and dying. Available resources include books and guides, videos, programmes, workshops, and more. These offer practical information, advice and assistance to elevate an individual’s death literacy. “After we attended the Palliative Care 101 course by SHC, we thought this is a really good way for us to introduce this topic to people our age,” said Ms Low Yi Ker, a student at Raffles Institution.
CONNECTING COMPASSIONATE COMMUNITIES
This forum is the first in a series aiming to engage and facilitate discussions among leaders and stakeholders across various sectors. “I appreciate today’s sharing to prepare leaders like us so that we can prepare our people,” said the Venerable Shi JianXin from Singapore Buddhist Federation. As Singapore is projected to become a super-aged society by 2026, SHC believes that it is critical to raise the national death literacy level, collaborate with communities to empower individuals to make informed decisions and approach the end of life with dignity and compassion.
“I applaud SHC for holding this open forum with community leaders, with many of us learning of opportunities to engage the community,”Mr Biren Desai of Singapore Gujarati Society.
WATCH THE HIGHLIGHT VIDEO
Photos: Singapore Hospice Council