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Rising Above Self
07 March 2018

Turning grief and pain into an enriching experience for others – here is how a grieving son became a HCA yCG Programme facilitator

An interview with Edwin Sim

“There’s nothing more that can be done. Your father has less than one year to live”

“There’s nothing more that can be done. Your father has less than one year to live”. This unexpected prognosis devastated Edwin Sim, 43 and his family. 

“When I heard the word “cancer” from the doctor’s mouth, I couldn't believe my ears. We hear people being stricken by cancer, but I did not expect it to hit so close to home,” shares Edwin, who cared for his father, late Sim Cheong Chye (Mr Sim). 

Edwin describes his relationship with his father as a “typical Asian father-son relationship.” “We do not say “I love you” but we show our love and concern for each other in tangible ways.” Mr Sim was a simple and hardworking man who prioritised his family above all else. Edwin fondly recalls the time when his father would buy supper home for him and his brother when they were kids. “We were a very average-income family but he would surprise us once in a while with a treat of Char Kway Teow or Hokkien Mee. I also miss riding with him on his motorcycle. I remember in the early eighties, we were once stopped by a traffic police officer because I was too young to ride as a pillion on his motorcycle. My feet could not reach the foot rest and I had a toy helmet on me! But dad managed to talk himself out of the situation and we got away with a verbal warning.”

Mr Sim’s (far left) last Chinese New Year reunion celebration with his family in 2015

Mr Sim first suspected something was amiss when he constantly suffered from a bloated stomach and gradually lost his appetite. It wasn’t until he was rushed to the hospital one Sunday evening after having breathing difficulties, that doctors diagnosed him with Peritoneal Cancer. 

“Dad cried when he first heard about his diagnosis. He was a strong and resilient man who hardly shed tears. We sought all forms of possible interventions but his cancer was too advanced and he rapidly lost a lot of weight.”
“We were referred to HCA Hospice Care (HCA) as we wanted to bring dad home. Nurse Esther and Nurse Rahmat took care of my dad and provided us with emotional support as well.”

Edwin holds his father’s hand to assure him of his presence and love

Having to watch his father suffer, Edwin admitted that he experienced a deep-seated anger and struggled to accept the circumstances. However, recognising the limited time he had with his father, Edwin bravely put aside his pain and focused on making the rest of the time he had together with his father as meaningful as he could. “I learnt to text in Chinese to tell him I love him and how great a father he has been to me and my brother. I wanted him to know how much he meant to us.” 

A family picture taken at a Father’s Day celebration for Mr Sim

Barely four weeks after Mr Sim was discharged from the hospital, his condition quickly deteriorated. Together with his mother and brother, they stayed by the bedside of their father. “I remember contacting the on-call duty doctor at HCA. My dad’s breathing was heavy and intermittent. I will never forget the assuring and gentle voice over the phone. He said to me, ‘I think your dad may pass on very soon. It can happen in the next few moments. Hold him close and talk to him…and just be with him’. After that call, my mom, brother and I held dad in our arms as he breathed his last breath.”
The weeks that followed were immensely painful for Edwin. He would often be jolted awake, crying in the middle of the night. “Before my dad passed on, he asked me to take care of my mom and brother; to be a good husband and father.” Till this day, his father’s last words to him continues to resound deep in his heart. 

Edwin crooning to his late father’s favourite tunes at a yCG workshop

“Being a yCG facilitator, I see it as a two-fold response to the care and support HCA has given to me and my family and also a way for me to honour my dad”

This constant reminder from his father to be a good person is the very reason that led him to being a facilitator with HCA’s Young Caregivers Programme (yCG). “I see it as a way to help children and young adults understand what end-of-life means and how they can play their part in making that journey less “painful” for patients and show their care to their grandparents.” When appropriate, Edwin also shares his personal experiences and stories of his journey with his dad’s battle with cancer. The musically talented individual also enjoys incorporating music in his workshops, often belting out his late father’s favourite Hokkien tunes to break the ice with the students. 

“Being a yCG facilitator, I see it as a two-fold response to the care and support HCA has given to me and my family and also a way for me to honour my dad” says Edwin. 

If like Edwin, you have a passion to empower and educate the young about end-of-life issues, join our dedicated team of yCG facilitators. Write in to us at ycg@hcahospicecare.org.sg