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Charity-run centre helps grieving hearts heal

Grief Matters is first here focused on giving support to those who have lost someone close

Theresa Tan on 14 Dec 2019

The Straits Times


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Her two other siblings kept advising her to "let go" of her sorrow after their eldest brother's death in August, but Ms Sim felt it was easier said than done.


The 62-year-old and her eldest brother, both single, had lived together for decades and enjoyed a very close bond. He was 80 years old when he died of pneumonia after a brief illness.


Ms Sim, who declined to give her full name, said: "I treated my brother like my father as my dad died when I was in my teens. After my brother's death, I realised he was also my companion."


She sought grief counselling at Grief Matters, the first centre in Singapore to specialise in bereavement support. It is run by charity Montfort Care.


"The counselling helped me to open up and speak frankly. I was not able to be frank with my siblings because I felt they didn't understand my grief. They (the counsellors) knew it may take months or years for the grief to ease."


A study on bereavement support services here by the Singapore Hospice Council and the National University of Singapore, which was completed last year, recommended that a centre dedicated to providing care for bereaved individuals be set up to help them through their grief. Grief Matters welcomed its first clients in March.


Ms Chee Wai Yee, a senior director at Montfort Care and also the programme director at the Singapore Hospice Council, said they were concerned about those who lost someone to suicide, an accident or any other unexpected death.


Besides the manner of death, some people find it harder to cope with the passing of a loved one when they are facing other problems.


"Many of the bereaved tell us they can't find understanding and when others see them cry, these people get scared off. Or the bereaved keep hearing things like 'let go and move on', but they don't find hearing such things helpful," Ms Chee said.


"People say such things as grief scares them off. It is because of our discomfort with intense emotions."


The centre provides grief counselling for free to help the bereaved work through their emotions, and works with dying patients and their families to help them prepare for an impending death.


Ms Chee said: "We help them work through what may have been left unsaid or their difficult issues, for example, so that they could reconcile. We have seen people who felt they had a proper closure because they had a chance to ask for forgiveness, express their love and say goodbye."


The centre is also promoting grief literacy, through public education efforts, so that more people know how to better respond to others who are going through bereavement.


It has also started working with Mortuary@HSA, located at the Singapore General Hospital. Those who go to the mortuary to claim a dead person now receive a file with Grief Matters' contact details.


Ms Chee said that many of those who died in an accident or suicide, for example, are taken to Mortuary@HSA.


Grief Matters also started its pilot "death education" course - Ultimate Exploration of Life - in August. It aims to get people to think of end-of-life issues and facilitates conversations around sensitive topics such as mortality and relationships.


Participants are asked to say "I love you", "Thank you", "I forgive you and please forgive me" and "Goodbye" to those who are close to their hearts.


These four phrases are adapted from American palliative care doctor Ira Byock's book, The Four Things That Matter Most. They are said to help mend and nurture relationships, and hopefully allow the person to die with fewer regrets, Ms Chee said.


For example, a man in his 70s took the chance during the course to bid a proper goodbye to his father who died of a heart attack about 40 years ago.


"He felt he had no closure even after so long. He would tear each time he talked about his dad. So the course gave him a chance to address this and he wrote a letter to his late father to bid him farewell," said Ms Chee.


Ms Sim attended the Ultimate Exploration of Life course, which she described as an eye-opener. The course is held once a week, over eight weeks, and costs $50 a participant.


She said: "I found the course to be very fruitful as it gives us a chance to talk about issues and our feelings on topics such as death and illness."


• To find out more about Grief Matters, call 8181-0448 or go to www.griefmatters.org.sg


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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