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Conversations about Death
20 April 2017

Talking about illness and impending death: how and where should we start?

FAMILY SECRETS BY THE NECESSARY STAGE

Death, dying and illness are topics shrouded in much taboo, even as our society has progressed tremendously in the past few decades.

However, it is inevitable that these conversations have to be broached eventually, whether it’s due to a sudden bout of illness or age-related deterioration.

To explore these topics, The Necessary Stage put up “Family Secrets”, comprising two plays, “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” and “Don’t Know, Don’t Care” on 4 March 2017. The productions follow two families experiencing change after their elderly family members are diagnosed with terminal illnesses and detail the process of braving trials and tribulations to forge ever-closer bonds. The latter production, “Don’t Know, Don’t Care”, was first commissioned by HCA in mid-2012 for the Young Caregivers Programme (yCG), one of HCA’s outreach arms targeted at youths.

In conjunction with the plays, HCA Hospice Care was invited to give a talk with the aim of exploring the themes covered in the production. Medical social worker Venus Ther started the ball rolling with cards on which the words for “dying” in various local dialects and languages were written. “I wanted to veer away from the usual PowerPoint presentation and do something that’s more interactive,” Venus explains.

COLLOQUIAL TERMS FOR DEATH AND DYING IN VARIOUS LOCAL DIALECTS AND LANGUAGES

Her presentation was met with a mix of amusement and laughter from the audience. By adopting a more-tactile style of presentation, it enabled the crowd to relate better to the sensitive topics of death and dying.

MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE GAMELY PARTICIPATED

The audience was invited to participate, which they gamely did. The typical life stages of the average person were portrayed — birth, growing up, falling in love, having children, death, etc. — and participants were asked to arrange the cards in an order they thought relevant.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HEART, COMMUNITY AND AUTONOMY IN HCA’S WORK

There are no right or wrong answers but one thing is certain: death is a stage everyone eventually goes through. This was expounded in the final segment of the talk. Venus spoke about the virtues of Heart, Community and Autonomy, which tie in closely with HCA Hospice Care’s mission to ensure the best quality of life for patients by delivering professional palliative care and providing compassionate support to their families.