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Starting with the young

Cheo Hao Min from Restful Retreat, a student-led group from Anglo Chinese School (Independent), shares their objectives to raise awareness among youths about palliative care and his reasons for not viewing death and dying as taboo topics.

Youths aged 17-19 participating in a Restful Retreat interactive session

Our team wanted to start by sharing one of the quotes that inspired all of us, which is from one of the participants in our programme: “Funerals are not a celebration of death, but rather a celebration of life”. Our team felt that this quote represents the essence of treasuring our lives and knowing how to live a life we will not regret. Furthermore, celebrating life also enables us to think and reflect on our contributions.

Another quote that resonated with me is by the author of Life in a Hospice: Reflections on Caring for the Dying, Ann Richardson: “We cannot change the outcome, but we can affect the journey”. Life-threatening illnesses can occur to anybody and at any age. I believe striving to live a life with no regrets is paramount to living a good- quality life, so I always tell my friend: “the quality of your life depends on the quality of your experiences”.

What is a dignified farewell to you?

A dignified farewell is one that gives people the care required, in addition to the final opportunity to enjoy their favourite things. The farewell should be one that is pre-planned beforehand by the deceased and not a version of what those around him think it should be. It should be an occasion for the celebration of a life where the good they did is remembered.

What do you think of Singaporeans’ attitudes towards death and dying matters?

Singaporeans are conservative regarding topics such as death and dying. Many think talking about such problems is taboo and try to procrastinate or avoid such conversations until on their deathbed. Many have misconceptions of palliative care, associating it with death, being bedridden, and a situation that you can never get out of. However, it is the stark opposite — such care will provide relief, and improve patients and families’ quality of life. People of my age group generally feel the same as they lack exposure to such issues. However, they are more open- minded and willing to learn.

Why do you think it is important to normalise conversations about death and end-of-life care plans?

Death is a natural process but one with great uncertainty. We strongly believe in being well- prepared for the uncertain future by normalising conversations about death and end-of-life care plans, but not trivialising them. This is important not only to the elderly, but also to the youths. One of the group’s co-founders, Jason, shared this story about his uncle who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was in palliative care. Although his children, who are between 18 and 20 years old, wanted to spend the last few days with him meaningfully, they did not know how to strike a conversation with him and just accompanied him in his room in silence. This shows us the importance of normalising such topics even to the youths.

Can you share what Restful Retreat was set up to do and what do you hope to achieve?

The team’s aim is to raise awareness of end-of-life issues and resources, such as grief support, palliative care, and hospices. Our target audience for this initiative is youths, specifically those aged 17 to 19, who are in pre-university institutions such as junior college, polytechnic or the Institute of Technical Education. We hope to educate youths on the importance of palliative care and the resources available in our community for palliative care patients, caregivers, and even the bereaved.

Lin Pin shared his hospice volunteering experience with the rest of the team. We felt deeply about his experience and concerns, though we also did not then know what palliative care was. Though the journey to raise awareness about palliative care has been long and bumpy, our passion for the cause, and personal experiences for some, drove us to do more.

What do your family, friends and teachers think about your initiative?

Our peers, parents, and teachers fully support our work to educate and raise awareness of palliative care among the youth. Palliative and end-of-life care are topics that are barely talked about in Singapore, much less among the young. Educating youths on such vital issues is crucial as they will be the caregivers of tomorrow.

Photo: SHC, ACSI

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