Shop and share end-of-life thoughts

Final-year medical students Shawn Lin (left) and Mervyn Lim say they want to get people thinking about end-of-life issues.
Final-year medical students Shawn Lin (left) and Mervyn Lim say they want to get people thinking about end-of-life issues.PHOTO: BEFORE I DIE BOARD SG

2 NUS medical students invite public to write on chalkboards placed in shopping centres

Visitors to White Sands Shopping Centre, Star Vista and Bugis+ may have noticed chalkboards asking them to pen their thoughts, dreams and aspirations before they die.

It is an overseas art project brought to Singapore by two final-year medical students; and it aims to get people to think about end-of-life issues: What sort of care they would like, what arrangements should be made and how they feel about dying.

So far, the writings on the boards dream of eradicating poverty, curing cancer, or getting their drivers' licences and going on trips before they die.

IMPACTFUL

I chanced across the board at Bugis+. I took a few minutes to look at what people wrote on the wall, and felt it was quite impactful as it made me ponder what life was about and what I want out of life.

MS ABIGAIL GOH, 26, an events executive

"We're bridging the first step to the whole issue about end-of-life care. Singaporeans are conservative, especially the older generation.

"We want to approach the taboo in an indirect manner: Get them to think about what's important in their lives, share it with their family members and slowly we can reach end-of-life issues," said Mr Mervyn Lim, 23.

The final-year student at the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Yin School of Medicine, started the Before I Die walls with schoolmate Shawn Lin, 23.

The pair thought it pertinent that family members understand each other's concerns when it comes to dying, be it funeral arrangements and inheritances, or whether or not to put a loved one on life support following a bad accident.

A three-month attachment to a hospital neurosurgery department last year showed Mr Lim that many Singaporeans do not know what their loved ones want.

"In a hospital emergency setting, where patients come in because of accidents with brain injuries - and these are normally quite severe medically - we can do an operation and save their lives but they might not be able to move, eat or talk," he said.

"A decision has to be made quickly about whether surgery has to be done or not and many find it hard to decide."

The boards are now on display at Marina Square - from yesterday until Sunday - and will appear at Singapore Polytechnic on Saturday for the Voices for Hospices Charity Concert organised by the Singapore Hospice Council.

Dr Angel Lee, the chairman of the council, said she hopes the project can help remove the taboo about talking about death and dying.

"In our experience, we do meet people who have had care taken out of their hands because family members may not wish to bring up the topic of death; so they get care that is inconsistent with what they might have wanted," she said.

"It's all right to start talking about how you want to be cared for, how your funeral will be like. We want to demystify death."

More than 1,000 people have written on the boards so far. Among them is events executive Abigail Goh, 26. She said: "I chanced across the board at Bugis+.

"I took a few minutes to look at what people wrote on the wall, and felt it was quite impactful as it made me ponder what life was about and what I want out of life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Shop and share end-of-life thoughts'. Print Edition | Subscribe