Death is no stranger to Methodist Welfare Services Assistant Chaplain Ms Chua Chiew Poh. Her current comfortable relationship with death began when she lost her husband to pancreatic cancer before the age of 40. Although she was thriving in the property finance industry then, she felt called into hospice work, and in 2010, she became a regular volunteer with MWS Home Hospice.
Since 2017, Chiew Poh has been working as a full-time assistant chaplain with MWS, journeying with MWS Home Hospice patients through their final days. We sat down for a quick Q&A with her to find out more about how she helps patients plan and prepare for the end of their lives spiritually.
Q: What happens in a typical home visit to an MWS Home Hospice patient?
A: I listen. I let them talk about their lives and share their stories, with no judgment from me. When they cry, I am there to encourage them, and I sometimes cry with them.
I always listen carefully and intentionally to their stories, so I can point out the good in their lives, the blessings they have received, and remind them of the moments they spent with their loved ones.
Most of our patients either have a god, or know there is a god. I pray with them and encourage them to give thanks to God for their lives and for the blessings they received. Acknowledging their belief brings them comfort.
Q: How does their belief in a higher power help them on their deathbeds?
A: I ask every patient how they think God has helped them in their lives. A commonly told story is about their darkest moments, and how in those moments, they are always granted a miraculous strength that carries them through. Everything points to divine grace, and a reminder that we are all loved by a higher being.
Dying is a lonely journey which one must embark on alone. The process of dying also often opens up unhealed wounds, which makes it scarier.
I have seen patients who do not believe in a higher power or divine being, and there was so much uncertainty in their final moments. I have come to realise that believing there is a god who created us and who loves us gives patients peace in their final moments. An awareness that they are not alone and that God is with them gives them strength and grace to bear it.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for patients approaching their final stages of life?
A: This advice is for everyone – We need to live life planning for death. Regardless of where you are in life, you should draw up your will, do your Advanced Care Planning, and make a decision regarding the Do-Not-Resuscitate order. Although we are aware that death happens to everyone, seeing people dying scares us and we often do not believe it will happen to us. I have learned that life is like a mist which can evaporate any time. If we are aware that everything in life, even life itself, is a gift from the divine, we will be more prepared for death.
It is inevitable that hospice patients in the final stage of their life will undergo depression and experience all five stages of grief. Being prepared, viewing life and death as something we all go through, and being thankful for every blessing we receive in our lives every day helps. We are all gifts to the people around us, and the impact we leave is long-lasting, even after we are gone.
Q: Do you have a memorable story you would like to share with the readers?
A: I had an end-stage patient who was in pain, depressed, and unwilling to engage or open up to us.
After a few weeks, I received a call from the medical social worker, asking me to visit her to pray as she was near the end. As we prayed, the presence of God came and surrounded us. She then requested for a red shawl or dress to be placed in her coffin, so I went to shop for one.
When she saw the bright red shawl I bought her, she smiled. The week after, she called me to her bedside, and told me she loved me.
I believe God’s love carried her through. She came in depressed but when she passed on, she was at peace, and her hair was glowing. She was not alone at her moment of passing because God was with her.
Q: What are some challenges you face as a hospice chaplain?
A: I experience deep regret when I am not alerted to my patients passing on. I question if they had anyone accompanying them on their final journey, or whether they were lonely. I hope I spent sufficient quality time with them and that they got to experience God’s love.
My goal is to recruit more volunteers so that everyone has someone to journey with them in their final moments.
This article was originally published in the December 2019 issue of Hospice Link.