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Sunflower Remembrance Day 2016: Setting Aside Time to Heal and to Learn
11 November 2016

By Rose Ramli

In spite of the grey drizzling weather, the first thing most arrivals for the Sunflower Remembrance Day saw was an array of cheerful yet respectful faces greeting them. Volunteers, young and old (some very young indeed) were in out in full force to lend their support to grieving families of departed HCA patients.

Most of these families would already have undergone funeral rites for their loved ones according to their beliefs. However, as those who grieve know, the process to heal takes time. Where funeral rites provide an opportunity to grieve together with family and friends, to perhaps cling on to structured rituals to put aside thought, it is in the quiet time after, in the midst of daily routine, that the loss hits hardest.

This is something that the Hospice staff and volunteers know well. The Sunflower Remembrance Day was started to provide an opportunity to remember, to acknowledge a loss and take another step forward towards healing.

What would strike an observer though, was that the atmosphere at the start of the event was full of life – laughter, voices chatting in various languages, clothes in merry colours, young children running around the open hall. Family of patients greeted the staff like old friends and sat down to pen their thoughts, their goodbyes and their memories on bright yellow paper petals that formed the Sunflower Tribute.

Some of the messages on the petals tugged at the heart. “We Miss You Mummy”. But it was clear that the act itself in penning these notes was not one of grief. There were few tears and sad faces. It was a start to remembering.

As the ceremony progressed the atmosphere changed. Faces became solemn. A few sniffles could be heard. Ms Cynthia Wong, a HCA Council Member, shared the symbolism of the Sunflower –  a large glorious flower made up of many small florets, represented the beauty of small things, many memories making up a glorious whole, a celebration of life lived. She shared a poem ‘In Our Hearts’ by Rose de Leon with the poignant ending “God has you in his keeping. We have you in our hearts.”

That remembering continued as Ms Liow Lilian shared via video her memories of her father. What was clear in that video was the passion her father had for gardening. Even in the midst of a painful end, the garden gave him joy. The symbolism of growth amidst death continued when school children from North Vista Primary School offered pots of sprouting sunflower plants, which they had planted, to families after they had lit their remembrance candles, as images of their loved ones filled the screen.

The ceremony ended on a much more pragmatic note with reminders to the families that there are programmes available for them to continue healing and to continue to connect with HCA. Thereafter, as with most Singaporean occasions, it wrapped up with food and drinks for all.

As cheerful voices once again filled the space it is clear that life does continue! Perhaps that is the key message that the Sunflower Day holds. For the grieving families to learn to set aside time to remember and acknowledge the loss, thus to see the potential for growth. And for the young sunflower growers and volunteers – the knowledge that death is a part of the cycle of life and there was something to be gained in helping others heal.

Find out more about coping with grief, or how you can support grieving family or friends here https://www.hca.org.sg/hospice/services/psychosocial-and-bereavement-support/about-the-grieving-process.