Causes Week 2021: Losing a loved one inspired doctor to start a grief support network

Causes Week, which is into its 10th iteration, runs this year from Dec 21 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community, for children and youth, in sports and arts, among others.

Dr Chia Lingyi hopes others can avoid difficulties navigating end-of-life matters like funeral arrangements or legal processes. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - After completing her medical studies in 2018, Dr Chia Lingyi was looking forward to the next chapter of her professional life.

But things changed drastically when her mother was diagnosed with stage two pancreatic cancer the following year.

After a long fight with the illness, Ms Ng Geok Khim died in January at the age of 56.

As Dr Chia took time off work over the next few months to grieve, she felt lost without her mother around.

Dr Chia, now 28, said: "It was a difficult time to get through, and during that period, I came upon the idea of building a community where others like me could share their grief about a loved one they had lost or their worries about someone who was ill. I felt like I had found a new purpose."

Creating a website from scratch in March, Dr Chia put together information and advice online to help readers better cope with grief, share their thoughts with others, and find resources on end-of-life affairs such as creating a lasting power of attorney or procuring a death certificate.

The initiative - Before Beyond - also gave Dr Chia the chance to draw from the experiences of others who had lost loved ones as well.

Following her initial diagnosis, Ms Ng, who was an executive at the Employment and Employability Institute, underwent major surgery and several months of chemotherapy, which sent her cancer into remission.

But less than a year later, it was back and had spread. A cure was no longer possible.

"After receiving the bad news, my mother remained calm and told me: 'Do not cry. I have led a good life.' She gave me instructions on what to do upon her death: the type of funeral she wanted, how to distribute her belongings, and how to look after my family members," Dr Chia said.

In the following months, mother and daughter shared heartfelt conversations.

"We spent our time saying 'Thank you', 'I'm sorry' and 'I love you'." There were many dark and painful moments, but they were interspersed with dear memories. Love always guided our actions and it filled our days with meaning," Dr Chia recalled.

Dr Chia's 23-year-old sister and father would buy Ms Ng her favourite meals and the family spent time together on activities like painting.

Her mother requested a simple funeral and a burial at sea, which were carried out according to her wishes by the family.

"Her willingness to discuss matters like her funeral and finances made it possible for us to fulfil her wishes at every step of the way, but we still found it difficult to settle end-of-life matters after her passing because of the many processes," Dr Chia said.

Remote video URL

By initiating conversations on mortality and other topics not often discussed and providing basic resources to followers, Dr Chia hopes others can avoid difficulties navigating end-of-life matters like funeral arrangements or legal processes.

Before Beyond now has 10 volunteers from the healthcare sector who edit and review content before it is put out and are developing a mobile app for the initiative.

The team is also in the midst of publishing a book about grief support, and has set up a channel through instant messaging and communication platform Discord to spur conversation among followers.

"Whether it is a domestic worker mourning the loss of an employer she has known for a very long time, or someone who is coming to terms with the death of their beloved pet, grief can manifest in many ways, and I want to create a space that is unconventional where people can discuss grief," Dr Chia said.

While she is excited to reach out to more followers, Dr Chia is mindful of her mother's advice.

"Before her death, she told me: 'Don't work so hard.' I have to try and heed her words. There are days when I spend the only two hours I have left after work on Before Beyond, but I hope by showing my vulnerability to people as someone who is still grieving, they will feel motivated to be vulnerable too," she added.

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