The unique preposition of co-locating childcare and eldercare has reaped benefits for all.
Aside from providing more opportunities for fun and laughter, what is the value of having an infant and childcare centre co-located within a nursing home? Is it too absurd to imagine little children as providers of palliative care?
The principal of St Joseph’s Home Infant and Childcare Centre (SJHICC), Ms Imelda Anthony, shared a story involving the young children under her care.
Arriving in school early one morning, the children saw a bird lying dead on the playground. There were mixed reactions. Some squealed in disgust while others asked, “Why did it die? What could have happened to the bird?” Imelda gathered the children around and made it an opportunity to talk about death.
She explained, “Death is a natural part of life. The bird could have been seriously sick or hit itself against the wall. It’s the same for us — we may fall sick or something can happen to us too. As long as we are alive, death is inevitable at some point in time. When a person we love dies, we will feel sad and miss the person. That’s normal.”
The children and teachers then prayed for the bird. They then gently picked up the carcass of the bird, wrapped it in a piece of cloth and buried it under the plants in the garden.
EMBRACING SMALL MOMENTS OF LIFE AS TEACHABLE MOMENTS ABOUT DEATH
As part of SJH philosophy, children are not shielded from topics of death and sickness. Children interact with elderly residents on a daily basis as part of their curriculum. Seeing residents with a urine catheter, rouse tube or lying motionless on the bed was not uncommon. The teachers embrace these small moments of life as teachable moments about death.
When death comes, our pastoral staff would set up a memorial table with a lit candle for staff and residents to stop by for a prayer or moment of silence. Seeing the table along the walkway, teachers would take the opportunity to demonstrate how to pay respects to the deceased.
Starting early education on death and dying normalises this natural part of life — including the grieving process — and equips young children to be comforters and companions to others.
An edu-carer, lovingly known as Teacher Wen, who had worked at St Joseph’s Home for three years caring for infants, left to nurse her illness when she was diagnosed with cancer. The SJH teachers took turns to call and check in on her and her family. Parents of the infants she cared for also gifted her with plants and fruits.
Although the children she cared for had just reached two or three years old, teachers would show them pictures of Teacher Wen and tell them that she took care of them when they were little. On her passing, teachers took extra care to inform the children and their parents as well.
CULTIVATING LITTLE COMFORTERS AND CARERS TO THOSE IN SUFFERING
When Louisa Chua, a senior teacher at SJHICC, admitted her father as a resident to SJH, a few of the current Kindergarten Two children met him. This visit was part of SJHICC’s intergenerational experience, which included visiting residents every day and learning about music and nature alongside them.
This was the very reason behind Louisa’s decision to choose SJH for her father. At the time of his admission, SJHICC had been in operation for two years. The intergenerational programme had become more established, with a timetable for children to visit residents and take specific subjects that involved them.
Louisa had seen how the children brighten up the residents’ days. Having the children engaged in the same activities with the residents improved their alertness and participation, and she wanted her father to be able to have such experiences as well. After Louisa’s father passed away in the Home, the children even created cards with handprints and kind words to comfort the family.
“My family enjoyed reading the notes from the children. It brought a smile to our faces despite the sadness of losing Dad. He would have loved seeing the messages because he really liked children,” said Louise.
Children also encountered classmates with family members who passed away from illness. When a child enrolled in the Kindergarten Two class, known as Lei Lei, experienced the passing of his grandfather, he received support from his classmates through open and caring conversations. On his first day back at school after the funeral, his classmate, Alexa, asked him, “How was the funeral? How are you now?”
CHILDREN ARE DOORWAYS FOR CONVERSATIONS AND GATEWAYS FOR HEALING
When children are unafraid of the topics surrounding death and illness, they become doorways for conversations. With open, honest and respectful dialogue, comfort and healing of the spirit is allowed to take place.
Mary, a resident who had her leg amputated, was a regular at the intergenerational programmes. The first time she met the children, they innocently asked her, “What happened to your leg?” In the beginning, she gave short, curt responses such as, “I cut it off.”
During subsequent visits, the teacher observed an increased openness and acceptance in the way she explained her amputation. When another child asked about her leg, she replied, “I got sick and in order to keep the sickness from spreading to the rest of my body, the doctors had to cut off my leg.”
The conversation went on for about ten to fifteen minutes after that, with the conversation ending with the child looking over the amputation and asking, “Does it hurt?” And Mary replied, “It used to. Now, it no longer hurts.” They both smiled at each other.
Photos: St Joseph’s Home