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A Calling with a Purpose
30 October 2020

At HCA, all patients receive medical care and support from a professional, multi-disciplinary team of doctors and nurses. Have you ever wondered how HCA ensures that the spiritual and emotional needs of patients and caregivers are met as well? This is where Irene Lee, our resident Spiritual Care Counsellor steps in. Above: Irene supports and cares for caregivers like Juliana (left) and her mother (right).

By Ruth Chua, HCA Community Relations

Burying her face in her hands, caregiver Juliana was at her wits’ end. Her daily responsibilities were getting increasingly difficult to bear.

While keeping her ailing mother at the foremost in her mind, she had to get up early for work, look after her two children, aged father and manage the household.

How was she going to cope in the long run?

She decided to reach out to Spiritual Care Counsellor, Irene, to seek help and support.

Answering the Cry for Help

When they first met, Juliana was reticent and wary, as she had never had a session with a spiritual counsellor before.

In response, Irene understood her concerns and patiently devoted time to getting to know Juliana better. Through Irene’s various guiding questions and gentle prompts, Juliana was eventually able to open up and gain confidence in expressing herself.

Juliana, in a session with Irene. Initially, Juliana was reluctant to open up, but after a couple of sessions with Irene, Juliana flourished into a frank, honest individual who is able to express her troubles well.

After several sessions, Juliana became more capable of facing her daily challenges and finding peace with her troubles. She believes that amidst all her problems, a higher power is in control and she trusts that she will be guided in all the decisions she makes concerning her mother’s welfare.

“I saw the first session with Irene as an epiphany with a higher power,” Juliana shares. “I eventually recognised the importance of leaving all my worries and concerns in life to my faith.”

Irene had also helped her discover her hidden creativity in solving issues. Once, Juliana fretted over her brother who was living overseas and unable to see and spend time with their mother. But with Irene’s help, she worked out that she could connect her brother with their mother through video calls on WhatsApp.

Apart from spiritual support, Irene works with HCA's other medical social workers to provide Juliana with resources and practical information to enhance her caregiving skills.

“Initially, Juliana appeared very anxious and stressed from caregiving. Now, she is relaxed, frank, honest and expressive about her journey in looking after her mother,” Irene says, beaming with pride at Juliana’s positive progression.

Irene (left) and Juliana (right) are all smiles for the camera.

Through her Lens

People very commonly misperceive Irene as a Christian counsellor. To clear the air, she would usually introduce herself as a “spiritual care counsellor who deals with a wide spectrum of matters, which include issues of the heart, existential issues and religion-related matters.”

She usually extends a hand to patients, caregivers and families from all walks of life, especially those who are hurt, hampered by the struggles from their ailments and have trouble accepting the harsh truth of being terminally ill.

“I take my career as a calling. I love pastoral care with counselling,” Irene shares. Prior to becoming a spiritual care counsellor, she was unsure about her capabilities in the role, due to her limited experience in palliative care.

“When I took this job, I was not sure. However, when I began to step in the role, I feel the Big God upstairs saying that the world is my prairie,” Irene says.

“I am privileged and honoured – I started out with so little experience in palliative care but after three years of working with the HCA team, I have learnt how the power of one’s presence can influence others in the room.”

On life and death, Irene holds an interesting perspective. “Grief and loss is a normal process of life. Like the cycle of a butterfly, this process has its stages: eggs, caterpillar, pupa and butterfly,” Irene says. “Like how a pupa transitions to a butterfly, I see death as a transition to something far more beautiful and splendid.”