“Nurse Casey was my angel in the darkness,” Melissa Quek says. That darkness was at its deepest in the wee hours of the morning, shortly before her father passed on. In the throes of the cancer, he was restless and had been running around the house for hours. At her wits’ end, an exhausted Melissa called HCA’s 24-hour hotline for advice.
Coincidentally, HCA Senior Palliative Care Nurse Casey Wong, who was also Melissa’s father’s primary care nurse, was on call that night. Ever reassuring and jovial, Nurse Casey spoke patiently to her at length about the medication and gave her the emotional support she needed. “It really helped to break the darkness,” Melissa shares.
Melissa was a caregiver to her father and grandmother – both of whom were patients of HCA – in 2018 and 2012 respectively. Most caregivers stumble upon the task of caregiving inadvertently, usually a result of circumstances beyond their control. But there is no doubt that it is one of the most invaluable gifts one can ever bestow on another – often entailing an immeasurable amount of effort and countless hours in a day.
Melissa shared an unbreakable bond with her grandmother.
It was a role Melissa gladly took on when her grandmother became stricken with colon cancer and leprosy. “My grandmother was my life, my everything,” Melissa says lovingly. Determined to make the most of the remaining time, Melissa filled their days with beautiful memories to last a lifetime. “We often went out for meals and some shopping,” she says. “I even introduced her to different foods, like mayonnaise!”
Eventually, things took a sombre turn. Her grandmother’s condition was gradually deteriorating and their conversations shifted towards the topic of funeral plans. “We planned her funeral together. We wanted to make it fun and my grandmother requested for there to be enough food for everyone who came to pay their last respects,” Melissa says. “We even chose her burial clothing and packed little candy bags with thank-you notes together.”
There is little doubt that caregiving is one of the most challenging tasks anyone can ever take on, especially when the person being cared for needs help with even the simplest tasks. The daily responsibilities and emotional uncertainty surrounding impending death can wear caregivers down, crippling them mentally.
Building a strong network of support is crucial to the wellbeing of caregivers. “Never be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling,” Melissa advises. “Nurse Casey and the doctors at HCA really guided me when I wasn’t sure what to do, or how to react to the difficult situations that arose.”
“Nurse Casey checked in psychologically on me regularly and always told me that I was doing a good job.”
Celebrations were a way for Melissa to collect beautiful memories of her grandmother.
Practising acceptance also enabled Melissa to better take the emotional and physical challenges in her stride. “I don’t harbour any taboos about death and funerals at all,” she says. “It seems ironic to say this, but palliative care actually gives loved ones time to say goodbye.”
Hindsight and experience afford profound wisdom, which Melissa hopes to share with people struggling to come to terms with the prospect of losing their loved ones. “Life does go on; it isn’t that scary,” she says. “Take as many photos and videos as possible to collect memories.”
“When they have passed on, continue to celebrate their life, their goodness and the good times of the past.”
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