Spiritual counselling plays a key role in building the resilience of caregivers, as they grapple with the physical and emotional toll of caring for their loved ones.
For caregiver Juliana, life had been an endless cycle of responsibilities — caring for her ailing mother and elderly father; attending to her children’s needs and managing the demands of work.
Physically and emotionally worn out, Juliana was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the daily grind of life. At her wits’ end, she voiced her concerns to her mother’s primary care nurse at HCA Hospice Care (HCA), who quickly arranged for HCA Spiritual Counsellor Irene Lee to pay her a visit.
By journeying with caregivers through both happy and painful times, I hope they will eventually find answers and peace, before their loved ones pass on.”
On Irene’s first visit, Juliana was reticent, as she had no prior experiences with spiritual counsellors. Sensing her hesitation, Irene patiently devoted time to getting to know Juliana better. Through Irene’s various guiding questions and gentle prompts, Juliana eventually opened up about the worries that had been weighing heavily on her mind.
“I viewed the first session with Irene, as an epiphany with a higher power,” Juliana shared. “I eventually recognised the importance of leaving all my worries and concerns in life to my faith.”
Over the course of the next few sessions, Juliana started to find peace within herself, which enabled her to cope better with her daily challenges. Apart from spiritual support, Irene also gently guided Juliana through the conundrums she faced. When Juliana fretted over her brother who was living overseas and unable to see and spend time with their mother, Irene guided her in finding a workaround. Eventually, Juliana worked out that she could tap on technology and connect her brother with their mother through video calls.
“Initially, Juliana was very anxious and stressed from caregiving. Now, she is relaxed and expressive about her journey in looking after her mother,” Irene said.
Most people have a common misperception that spiritual care is necessarily rooted in religion. “Spiritual care is more about bringing hope to patients and caregivers, and helping them realise there is love and peace,” Irene shared.
Caregivers often struggle with anticipatory grief, compounded by the mental and physical toll of caring for their loved ones. Existential questions also often arise: “Why does this have to happen to my loved one? Where will they go after they die?”
There are no clear answers to these difficult questions, but Irene believes that caregivers eventually arrive at their own conclusions. “Life is a mystery and I don’t have the answers to everything,” Irene said. “But by journeying with caregivers through both happy and painful times, I hope they will eventually find answers and peace, before their loved ones pass on.”
Irene often works hand-in-hand with HCA’s doctors, nurses, medical social workers and art therapists. Patients and caregivers are usually referred to her by the nurse, doctor or medical social worker in charge, according to the needs of the case.
Irene recounted an elderly lady who envisioned going to a beautiful landscape of expansive grasslands and blue skies after her passing. The patient also spoke about how peace, love and joy were important to her. With the help of HCA Senior Art Therapist Gracia Lim, they worked on a painting of nature, with the words “peace”, “love” and “joy” written on it.
“Her daughter framed the painting and placed it on the wall opposite her mother’s bed,” Irene said. “It made the patient smile, whenever she looked at it.”
The process of creating the artpiece helped the elderly lady arrive at her own after-death conclusion and also brought comfort to her daughter.
Irene’s role as a guiding pillar of support helps caregivers find that element of peace, steadying them as they navigate the uncertainties of illness and dying.