A Miracle

What is the most difficult life event anyone might recall? For me, it was probably seeing someone in my own family facing death. My sister Emily was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 1989. At that time, I was still working in the Air Force as a Manpower Officer of two training schools. One evening, I received a call from my brother-in-law informing me that my older sister had to undergo open heart surgery. She needed people to go to the blood bank to donate blood.

I was shocked at the news! My sister had been healthy as far as I knew. She had 2 daughters; one was thirteen years old and another just 3 years old. I was glad that, with my work and social connections, my colleagues who were strong national servicemen quickly volunteered to go to the blood bank to donate their blood. The cancer growth which was found in the lymph nodes near to her heart area were removed. After the open heart surgery, she had to undergo an abortion as she was pregnant with another child. The doctor told her she had to undergo chemotherapy right after, and the baby would not be able to survive the chemotherapy without any harm. Chemotherapy was needed to kill the remaining cancer cells in her body.

She must have been heart-broken at that time. However, she kept a brave front and was determined to beat the cancer cells! She went through several cycles of chemotherapy till all her veins collapsed. I visited her once and saw that the doctor had to use the leg veins as a final resort. Throughout the whole ordeal, she endured the treatment. Her recovery was a miracle as she turned to God for help at a time when medicine could only do so much.

Perhaps, it was this witnessing of her suffering that made me return to medical social work after my 6-year contract with the Air Force. Up till now I have avoided talking about the incident with my sister. Each year as I celebrate her birthday in July, I am so glad she has proven to me that God has been gracious in preserving her life for a purpose. It has been 28 years since the day of her diagnosis. I can only give thanks to God for such a miracle. Hence, one should treasure each day with our loved ones while they are around and with us!

Siblings’ conflict

Recently, we have been bombarded with newsflashes and all kinds of public opinions on the prominent siblings’ quarrels. I too have many siblings, and quarrels are bound to happen! I came back recently from a wonderful retreat and church camp, and was looking forward to slowly eating my beloved sugar-free chocolate that a dear friend had bought for me from Canada. Lo and behold! I discovered that it was missing from the refrigerator in spite of my efforts to hide it well! When I asked around, my older sister said she had eaten all of it at one go during one of her nightly hunger pangs when she could not sleep. My heart saddened and I felt angry. I pondered over the matter for a few days before deciding to forgive her as her birthday came and went.

This matter also brought to my mind the experience of a dear client of mine with regard to her siblings. Miss Doris Yeo was a shy and quiet person. She hardly raised her voice at anyone. She was always generous and selfless to others, as the eldest child of the family. As a spinster, she helped to look after her ageing parents and also helped to take care of her niece and nephew when they were young. In fact, she gave up her job to do it. Doris bought a 4 room HDB flat and was looking after her dementia-afflicted father and depressed mother. At the age of 58, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and it had spread to her bones. I was introduced to her by my palliative care team. She was reserved and it took her a while to accept my presence. She had 3 other siblings, all married and living apart. Her closest sibling was her younger sister, Agnes Yeo. Agnes’ two children were cared for by Doris and they lived in the nearby block of flats. Agnes was an insurance agent and would drop by to check on Doris’ health condition.

First disagreement came about as Doris wanted to keep the diagnosis from her parents. Her father’s behavior became an issue as he would go wandering around. He also had difficulty controlling his his bladder. Her mother’s nagging at her poor appetite was also bothering Doris. After much discussion among the siblings, the decision was that her father could attend day care so that her mother would be less stressed cleaning up after him.

Second disagreement came on the issue of hiring a domestic helper to look after her aged parents and Doris as she was progressively getting weaker. Doris was used to being in control of everything. Suddenly, she felt helpless knowing that a foreigner was coming into her home. In our conversations, I highlighted the possibility of her siblings wanting to do their part in caring for her and her parents. All her younger siblings were glad to be able to contribute to the expenses of hiring the domestic helper. She finally agreed to the plan.

Family discussions were also held to educate family on the progression of her illness and prepare them that more help would be needed to care for her. Also the option of going to inpatient hospice was discussed. However, Doris verbalized that she wished to remain at home in her passing. This request was respected and her siblings wanted very much to carry out her wishes.

Third disagreement came with regard to her funeral arrangements. Doris wanted a sea burial while the family wanted her to be cremated and her ashes to be kept at a Buddhist temple. Agnes said she had no knowledge as to how to go about doing the sea burial. I gave Agnes a few funeral companies to enquire on the arrangement.

Family members were finally able to talk through the issues and come to a consensus as to how to help Doris in fulfilling her wishes. Finally, Doris was able to pass on peacefully at home in the presence of her family members and had a sea burial according to her wishes.

A Labour Day’s story

Today is first of May and it is a Public Holiday (Labour Day). A day of rest for the labour we had put into our work. However, one of my previous jobs; I remembered having to catch up on my recordings at work. Not something that I am proud of but it was a necessity to keep up with the pace of work. I often dread myself for having so many holidays burnt over work. I am glad this is a thing of the past. I have now freed myself over materialistic pursuits and more relaxed at my part time work.

Today, I chose to honour the lives of my clients and patients as they were called for their generosity in sharing their experiences and journeys with me. One particular patient, Mdm Lim came to mind. She was very candid about her life. A divorcee in her late 30s and single handledly raised her two sons. She had little education and was doing three jobs just to save enough money to buy a 3 room HDB flat.

When I was first introduced to Mdm Lim, her stomach cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. She was still working part time at the coffee shop taking orders of drinks and cleaning the table. Often we would meet at the coffee shop where she worked during her lull period when it was less busy. Over a cup of drink, we would converse over her days and her concerns over her two sons; one who was serving his national service and the other working in the police station as constable. She was proud of her older son who described as more sensible and hardworking.

Toward the third week of our first meeting, she received the bad news that the cancer had spread further to her bones. Shortly after, she had to quit her job at the coffee shop and rest more at home. Occasionally, her sisters would drop by with groceries and to check on her. Still she was very positive and watching her Taiwanese drama in Hokkien. Her sister had bought for her the DVD for her to watch at her own leisure. She shared her life story was like the drama played out in her struggles against a marriage which she suffered till she could no longer stand it. It took her a lot of courage to divorce and raised her two sons. However, she had no regrets over the matter.

Then, she told me that her younger son, just two months short of him completing his National service was getting married. As a matter of fact, she decided to give up her master bedroom so that her younger son and his wife could stay in the flat. She moved to the second room to stay with her older son.

During her days at home , she still did quilts; from baby covers to bedspread covers and her older son helped her to put them up for sales. She was very proud of her fine sewing skills and the different designs she made.

One day, she asked me if I know of any lawyers as she would like to make a will and instruct the lawyer on how to distribute her little assets she had. She took actions quickly knowing her time was short. She also spoke of her wish to go to inpatient hospice rather than to die at home. She spoke of how she longed to rest from all her labour and be freed from the pains she was suffering. Yet in front of her children, she put on a brave front enduring the pain till that final day when she had a fever and was admitted to the hospital.

The next day after her admission, she passed on peacefully. I met her older son after the funeral and he spoke of his mother’s love for them. He also promised to live harmoniously with his younger brother and his sister-in-law honouring his mother’s wish.

A Double Fool

“ How do you know it is God’s calling?” my friend asked me. This is a question that I asked myself as a young Christian. Is it possible to hear God’s voice loud and clear? I wondered to myself.

Let me share with you an April’s Fools Day event. I prayed for an opportunity to serve God as a young believer. God heard my prayer but answered it differently from what I expected. It took twelve years of shaping me and waiting before He asked me to go. But I hesitated as I had the comfort of home, job and the lovely surrounding of friends .

So, one day I decided to take God seriously and told Him that if He could show me through His words that I should go out of my comfort zone. It is so dangerous and naïve of me to ask of Him. On a Sunday , I decided to attend three different church services in a day. Lo and behold, the three preachers had the same text for their message: Genesis 12:1-3. It is on the call of Abraham to leave his comfort zone too! How loud and clear can God be when He wants to answer me? He seemed to say to me; “Any more excuses for not leaving your job, family or friends?”

So, I decided to take up the challenge since He has given the command and also the promise to take care of my needs. I asked Him again when I should leave and the answer came on first April. “Is this a April’s Fool joke on me?”

God opened the door for me to go to Canada as a permanent resident. However, since I do not know anyone in Canada I decided to join a Christian organization; Youth With A Mission (YWAM).

When I leave Singapore on first April, I arrived at Calgary,Canada also on first April. That makes me a double Fool! I did not understand the joke at that time. It was cold and I had a huge luggage weighing 30 kg. I was stranded waiting for my leaders to pick me at Calgary International Airport for more than an hour.

Finally, I asked a stranger for a 20 cents coin to call the YWAM base at Turner Valley. I was told they left more than an hour ago. When they arrived, I heard that they took a wrong turn and it took them another hour to find their way to the airport.

I was the first candidate to arrive from overseas. The ride to the base was one hour and 45 minutes , so we finally reached there close to midnight. I was tired and hungry. My leaders led me to a big room with double decked beds. I soon learnt that the base was an old hospital and I was put in the room that used to be an operating theatre! I just left my last job as a medical social worker dealing with heart transplant patients. It took me a long while before I fell asleep wondering what kind of heart surgery God would be doing on me.

When the other candidates arrived, I learnt that I am the only Asian among them. Of the 10 of us, we represent five countries: Australia, America, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada. Together, we lived in a community for six months. Going for our outreach in Dominica ( in the Caribbeans). It was wonderful , to rehearse in a play; The prodigal son that brings out the different talents in each of us. We also drove in a van that brought us all the way to Winniepeg, Toronto ( where we saw the Niagara Falls) down to Saint Marie , even visited Chicago and Montana on our way back. It was indeed an adventure. God rewarded us with a delayed flight and we had an overnight stay at Antigua to enjoy the food and wonderful dinner.

In Dominica, we were introduced to the tropical climate and had lots of mosquitoes bites. The people were friendly and it makes our time there meaningful. We did performance at churches and also in the outdoor.

When we finished our Discipleship Training, we saw snow again in August which was a rare sight. God never fails to amuse me with his surprises. He did a heart surgery on me to change me to be more compassionate and a deeper understanding of Him as Father God. I also had to change my taste buds as no Chinese food was available in the YWAM base. Also no Chinese in sight throughout the training. It taught me to focus on God alone who knows my needs. I guessed He did well as I survived and even lasted seven years in Canada. He was faithful to provide my needs in all ways beyond my comprehension. I even had sufficient finances to help fellow candidate to pay for the training course when I went to the next course after the Discipleship Training program.

Same birthday

Today is a special day because it is my birthday! This year, I volunteered to start our group meeting with a dinner and a beach walk that coincided with my birthday! It was also nice to learn another young colleague of mine also shares the same birthday as me. So, I treated her to green soya ice cream.

Seven of my friends came in support of this special occasion with flowers, gifts and a great time of sharing of food. It was in celebration of two birthdays! We then proceeded to walk along the beach till we saw an unusual tree. We took picture of it and decided to find a place to draw, color or to paint the scene before us. With the cool breeze blowing on our faces, we soon forgot the time when it was time to go! As we parted , I walked the beach alone praying and pondering on how my life would have been if I had not met this group of friends.

I thought of the choices I had made in my life and how things would have been so different if my health was not good. This reminded me of my former patient, Mr Fred Tan. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he shared the same birthday as me when I first met him. However, he was diagnosed with kidney failure and had to start dialysis soon. Unfortunately, he stayed alone in a rented flat and had no one to bring him for dialysis. Also he was blind for the past one year. With this news of his kidneys had failed to function, he knew that without dialysis he would die in a few months.

Even as the doctor told him bluntly on the facts of his medical condition, he remained silent for a moment. After the doctor left, he turned to me who was then a young medical social worker: “How long can I remain in this state of mine?” He later revealed that he only had to blame himself for being poor and unable to afford the dialysis. Even if he had money, he chose not to prolong his life by being hooked to a machine for 3 to 4 hours and it had to be done three times a week.

He requested for his pastor to come to visit him and I had made the application for him to go to inpatient hospice through the doctor. When his pastor came , he told him about the hymns and songs he wanted to be sung at his funeral. His calmness in handling his own impending death taught me not to fear death! A few days later, I found out Mr Fred Tan was transferred to Dover Park Hospice and he passed away three days after his admission.

I wondered if I would have chosen to walk the same path as him. Now, I am many more years older, I think I would also choose not to prolong my life depending on a machine too! On hindsight, I thought Mr Tan was wise in his decision. We shared the same birthday, his choice was a gift to me and it taught me about life’s choices. If we walk with God, we need not fear death! Knowing God and that He holds my hand makes it easier to walk this life on earth.

Unexpected Rain

This month of February appeared to be a wet month with unexpected rain. Although it brings some cool breeze to the air, it soon becomes overwhelmed by the humidity. This is such weather we lived in Singapore and have to accept the living condition. How nice it would to live in a different country like Canada where I once lived before. This form of thought comes once a while when I think about escaping from my present environment. This reminded me of my former patient who lived overseas for many years and had to return after her husband passed away in a car accident suddenly.

I met Anne when she came to the hospital to visit her 80 year old mother who had a stroke. She was undergoing the caregiver’s training and was preparing to take care of her aged mother after the discharge. She was the only child and had the heavy responsibility of shouldering this burden by herself. Anne was fifty years old at that time. I learnt she was depending on the insurance from her late husband and had moved back to Singapore not long after her husband’s demise. They were married a long time and had no children.

She had no choice but to adjust quickly back to the Singapore’s environment as her mother was depending on her. The family lived in a 3 room HDB flat and her late father passed on ten years ago. I understand from Anne that she had a good relationship with her parents. Not long before she left for overseas, she bought a five room HDB flat for her parents. It was long before her father passed away while she was overseas. In total, she lived overseas for fifteen years and she described it as happy moments.

While caring for her mother in the ward, she fainted and had to be rushed to the emergency department. It was then discovered she had a brain tumour. Suddenly, her world fell apart and she had to arrange for her mother to go to a private nursing home before she underwent the brain operation. She had to appoint her cousin as her power of Attorney to handle her financial matters.
The day before her operation, it was raining very heavy. She spoke to me of her fears of not able to survive the operation. She made a will quickly and instructed her cousin on the matters that she was concerned about. Both me and her cousin were dismissing her fears and tried to encourage her to be positive.

Two days after her operation, I visited her in the ICU and learnt that she suffered a series of seizures. Not long after, her cousin informed me that she passed away peacefully. I was shocked as I expected her to pull through the operation. Life is so fragile indeed! Together with her cousin, we had to break the death news to her mother at the private nursing home. Her mother was also shocked and took a long time before she calmed down. She attended the last day of funeral wake and said goodbye to her beloved daughter, Anne.

One week later, I received a letter from the late Anne. She wrote it the day before her operation thanking me for visiting her. In her letter, she expressed she had left sufficient money to take care of her mother in the private nursing home and there was no need for me to apply for her mother to go to a voluntary nursing home.

On reading the letter, I was touched by her words that she had been so caring even towards me knowing I was also busy at work with many nursing home applications. It was so rare to meet someone like Anne!