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Do we know what to do when it comes to last rites?
25 August 2017

As end-of-life care specialists, our HCA clinical staff are challenged in many aspects when providing care and consultation to our patients and their families. But are we really equipped to handle the needs of our multi-religious society?

HCA ensures that our multi-disciplinary teams are well informed so that they can render the necessary care in an appropriate manner. To this end, we invited noted leaders from four religions in Singapore – Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity.

These noted speakers came together to provide deeper insight into “Influence and belief system in end of life care including the last rites”.

These noted speakers shared with our attentive audience on the Do’s and Don’t’s of each religious sector’s rites – with exciting examples of their own personal experiences when dealing with last rites.

Sensitivities were explored and explained, taboos were highlighted and  unravelled –   so that all of had a better appreciation for each religion.

Ustaz Mohd Ali Atan, Mosque Executive Chairman of MUIS.

Venerable Shi You Guang, Abbot/President of Samantabhadra Vihara.

Islamic view

Imam Ustaz shared the Muslim’s view of death as “another transition to account for what we have done in this world”. He also noted that death is closely linked to the Quran. The affable Imam advised the clinical team to “say good words” to the family after a patient passes on. He also cautioned that wailing, striking of cheeks and tearing of clothes are forbidden. However, crying is only natural and allowed as it is the mercy of God.

Buddhist’s view

Venerable Shi You Guang advised that Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion and in their context, there is no creator God. When a person falls ill, it is believed that “the body is sick, but not the mind” says Venerable Shi. Citing an example of a patient he knew who, despite immense pain, refused medication offered by the hospital. Instead, she entered into a deep state of meditation where she felt no pain.

What should one do when faced with a patient in an unconscious state? “Speak only good deeds as the patient may still be able to hear. Focus the patient’s mind on virtues to ease their mind”, suggests Venerable Shi.

Master Chung Kwang Tong, ordained Taoist priest of the Quan Zhen Dragon Gate Tradition.

Taoists’ view

“Taoists believe that the soul will return to the source after death” says Master Chung. According to the teachings of Zhuangzi, a prominent Taoist philosopher, death is natural and we need to face it positively.

A common Taoist ritual would comprise streamers, incense and bells which are used to call the soul of the deceased back to the altar to see their family members before moving on. This ritual is also comforting to the rest of the family members, relates Master Chung.

Inter-religion becomes a common topic for a lot of Singaporeans, as both Buddhism and Taoism practices are often mingled as part of family tradition. How does one determine which religious rites to carry out? Master Chung advises to respect the decision of the patient, although, there are some current day practices of combining of both rites on alternate days at the wake.

Reverend Gabriel Liew, Pastor of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

Christian view

Reverend Gabriel opened his segment by illustrating a quote by Henri Nouwen.

Holding a piece of paper up high, he began tearing it into pieces. He then recited the quote: “This represents our lives. Our life is full of brokenness – broken relationships, broken promises and broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives?”

He opens the shredded paper to reveal a whole piece of paper. “Then can we find healing and wholeness and restore our hope”, to which the whole auditorium resounded with loud applause. The humble pastor candidly joked, “Pastors need to constantly learn skills too.”

Nurses amused by the magic show by Reverend Gabriel Liew.

He also shared about the difference between caring and curing.  He cited another quote by Henri Nouwen:  “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not healing, not curing – that is a friend who cares.”

To care is be compassionate and to care is to be human. It is also a way for one to grow closer to God and experience him, shares Reverend Gabriel.

Living in a multi-racial and multi-religious society, our holistic care philosophy has to embrace empathy and sensitivity.

We as Singaporeans are extremely fortunate to be able to be immersed in a harmonious society, enabling us to appreciate the various customs and traditions.