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.