To prepare for death, live with vitality and passion

My awareness of the power of working with death began when my mother was diagnosed with end-stage stomach cancer in September last year ("The art of dying well"; July 26).

It wasn't only life altering; it was life shattering. It transformed not only my mother's life, but also the whole family.

There was no minimising the challenges that lay ahead. There was plenty of anguish, anger and heartache during those six months.

But my mother remained acutely alive during her dying. She hoped that things would get better, but was courageous enough to move forward even if they didn't. Hope existed not just in the treatment, but also within her.

One of the most important aspects of dying is for the person to seek to explain his illness to himself, to make sense of what is happening to him.

That process of putting words to the experience of illness can be very therapeutic.

My mother used her family and friends as motivation to live life with as much grace as she could muster, within the space allowed by her illness. She lived with vitality and passion.

By living as fully as possible, she helped decompress the family's anxiety. It takes great discipline to be proactive.

Reflecting on death keeps us current. It allows us to see what is really important.

There is no right way to die. All we can do is be who we are, with all of our imperfections, and allow death to take us as it will, whether there is a peaceful resolution or an intense and dramatic struggle.

I do not know whether I will ever be completely comfortable with my own dying, but I do know that I am less afraid to be who I am.

Sherman Goh Keng Hwee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'To prepare for death, live with vitality and passion'. Print Edition | Subscribe