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Navigating Death in a Pandemic
30 June 2020

The uncertainties and safe distancing measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic create great distress for our patients and their loved ones. But it is also in adversity that we find true strength and count our blessings.

By Paul Bashyam, HCA Medical Social Worker

These past few months have been hard for everyone, with COVID-19 lingering in the air, a grim economic outlook and worldwide lockdowns. People have probably not felt so alone, so isolated.

With the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak and safe distancing measures, many of our patients found themselves distanced from their loved ones that do not stay together with them. Many of our elderly patients found that their children living in other households were reluctant to visit (even if they could), for fear of spreading the dreaded virus to their elderly parents.

For instance, one of our patients, Mr Syed, who lives with his wife, dearly misses his two adult children. They stay in other households with their own children and they have not visited him since the start of the Circuit Breaker.

Mr Syed’s sons have resorted to video calls through WhatsApp instead of physically visiting him, as they are worried about unknowingly infecting their father with the virus. The worst-case scenario could mean a death sentence for Mr Syed’s already-weakened immune system and advanced age.

Battling Isolation

Although Mr Syed knows the dangers of meeting up with other people from different households, he laments that video calls are not the same as face-to-face meetings. Mr Syed questions the point of being isolated from his children, as any moment could be his last and the pain of knowing that he could die not meeting his children and grandchildren one last time is sometimes too much to bear.   

Furthermore, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, hospitals began limiting visitors and even totally disallowing visitors at one point. This made patients afraid of being admitted to the hospital, as they feared it could be the last time that they would ever see their loved ones.

Another elderly patient, Mdm Anu, who is in her 80s and lives with her son’s family, shared that her family became very fearful about admitting her to the hospital. Mdm Anu’s family feared that once she is admitted to the hospital, they would not be able to visit her. They also feared that if her condition deteriorated after admission, she would likely pass on alone in the hospital – a thought that really scared them. Mdm Anu herself was very worried about being in a hospital alone as she had never been to hospitals throughout her life, prior to her illness. She, too, was worried about going to the hospital as she feared that she or her family might catch the virus or some other infection at the hospital.

Lessons in Adversity

However, Mdm Anu shared that like many adversities that had come before this COVID-19 pandemic, she felt that each adversity taught her and her family something about themselves. It taught them that it is in the tough times that they count their blessings and that they are blessed to have experienced each other’s warmth and love.

As Singapore goes into Phase 2 of the reopening measures, may we continue to stay safe and continue to look out for those around us. May we continue to care for our loved ones; perhaps the time apart from our friends and family has helped us to appreciate them more and recall how they have blessed us. It reminds me of that age-old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.