Over the weekend, we invited our 20 Vigil Angels for a virtual workshop cum appreciation event. These “ANGELS” are a very special and dedicated group of volunteers, who accompany our patients during their last moments, by their very ‘presence’.
Palliative care can be rather medicalised. If it is not about technology, it is about treatment or medications. At HCA, we remember and reiterate to our families, that dying is a natural process. During the last days or hours of our loved ones, families need to especially come together to affirm their relationships with their loved ones. The loving care of the dying, is no longer about medicines, but the spiritual connections with our loved ones, to honour and respect them and make them feel as comfortable and dignified as possible, during their dying moments.
The Vigil Angels programme is slightly different from the NODA (No One Dies Alone) or the Death Doula programs. A doula is there to provide physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional support to the patients and their families, usually in a hospital or inpatient hospice setting. The Vigil Angels program is carried out in a home setting. Our angels are encouraged to get to know the personality of our patients and understand the familial relationships. With a philosophy of dignity-preserving and person-centred care, our angels are there to give our patients and their families extra support, at this special time of their dying hours. Our angels believe that our beneficiaries deserve not only to feel clean and comfortable, but also to die feeling close to their own loved ones, both physically and spiritually! A good death plays a key role in resolving the family’s grief, following the death of the patient.
Our angels’ focus is on the dying patient. It is a caring approach that uses little words, bringing comfort through soothing the five senses of sight, smell, feel, taste and sound. For the caregivers and family, a peaceful ambience is created in the home, that encourages therapeutic and peaceful presence.
Our angels are trained to identify signs of dying and to advise the family on immediate tasks should the patient pass away. During the visit, which is typically up to four hours, our angels are equipped with a kit, which consists of essential oils, body wash, gauzes and cotton swabs. They are trained to help with basic bedside care, to guide families on how to bring comfort using aromatherapy, such as aroma bed baths, oral toilet and hair washing using essential oil, gentle foot reflexology, hands and body massage, calming presence using music and aromatherapy. Our angels are a source of support, while actively connecting the patients with their families.
During the event, our two lead nurses for the Vigil Angels programme, shared that this programme is not a job, but a service for the patients and their families, who must be going through very difficult times. They also shared that some volunteers felt very connected with our patients, despite not communicating. For most, it would be the first and last time meeting the patients. They also highlighted that it is quite difficult for our angels to have to stand on the hard ground for up to four hours, tending to our patients. Sometimes, our angels have to bend over for hours, as the patients are on a mattress on the floor. Families also shared that the way our angels cleaned their loved ones is so different – so soothing, comforting and beautiful.
We also had two angels share their experiences. One angel said that the feedback he received were touching and made him feel good. He learned a lot about how to care for the dying and that this type of work is not readily available in Singapore. Another angel shared that although she had been on this programme for only four months, she has learnt so much. She learnt that by just being there, it was comforting for the patients. She said most patients tell her that they do not want to be a burden to anyone, but they were grateful for the angels’ presence.
Our spiritual counsellor shared a key point for all and that is PRESENCE! Just being there, speaks volumes.
We rounded off the event with an hour of scent workshop, with hands-on mixing of oils and fragrances. We thought this most apt, as our angels often use essential oils and scents, to help our patients.
I am so grateful to have our angels help us in this program, for which time is of the essence. If we are late, we will miss the opportunity to support the patient, for death could come at very short notice. All our angels have responded willingly and lovingly and for these actions, our families have written many beautiful notes of appreciation and gratitude to our angels. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, VIGIL ANGELS! You are such rare GEMS and doing such an amazing service!