April 16, 2009
Life before death
Even singles can have a good death
Q: I am single, have no brothers or sisters and my parents died many years ago. I am now terminally ill. Can I die well without any family?
A: A good death is different for everyone, but there are universal elements such as freedom from pain and suffering and the preservation of one's dignity, said Dr Tan Yew Seng, medical director of Assisi Hospice.
Dr Tan's advice for those who are single and without family is to ensure that these elements of death are maintained.
'One may want to enrol in a hospice programme and start to identify people whom they want to assign to handle their affairs when they become incapacitated,' said Dr Tan.
A patient of his was single and without family and was admitted to the hospice in his last days.
Dr Tan said: 'He told me, 'I am not afraid to die as I have lived my life to the full. However, I do feel sad to leave this world because I now have a family - you and everyone in Assisi Hospice. Thank you for being my family'.'
Thus, even for those who are single, if enough care is given, they can change their perspective of their situation from one without relatives to one where they have a family, said Dr Tan.
Dr Rosalie Shaw, consultant at the National Cancer Centre, recalled a book where the doctor asked his patient what he could do for her in her last days.
'You can buy a platform ticket. I feel like I have to go to the station to wait for the train and I would just like someone to wait with me till the train comes in,' said the patient.
Dr Shaw said: 'No matter what, we have to go through death alone, but people who understand can be very supportive.'