It is a work of love, patience and understanding, say three Canossian nuns involved in palliative care at St Joseph’s Home on Jurong Road.
“Palliative care is quality and holistic care for those with advanced and progressive diseases,” says Sr Geraldine Tan. It is “to provide comfort and help to patients to stay pain-free and symptom-free so that they may experience spiritual, psychological, social and physical respite”.
This help is also extended to the families of those who are dying “before and after the passing of their loved ones”, said the nun who is administrator of the home.
She was recently featured in a film by Lien Foundation, honouring five Asian women for their work and contributions in palliative care.
Sr Geraldine told CatholicNews that on average, patients stay at the home for about two to three months before they pass on.
A 14-bed hospice is attached to the nursing home which has more than 100 beds.
“Those in the nursing home stay for rehabilitation after hospitalisation or for the long term,” she said “Most of those in the nursing home have no families and come from very low income groups.”
Sr Geraldine shared that her calling to join the Canossian congregation stems from her conviction that “we are a group of Sisters who are passionate for God and all His people. We have a giving heart and go the extra mile to serve”.
One of the Sisters who was in the pioneer batch that started St Joseph’s Home in 1978, Sr Mary Tan, shared that “54 years ago when I said ‘yes’ to my calling as a nun, it was a heartfelt and serious commitment for me to carry out my duties for the love of Christ and humanity”.
The nun, who provides pastoral care to patients, said she sees to the spiritual needs of the sick. As the home is a Catholic one, Masses are held there twice a week to enable Catholic patients to draw strength from God in their last days.
Sr Mary shared that when she was a novice, she went to Hong Kong from 1959-1962 for training as the congregation did not have a novitiate house in Singapore then.
“My novice mistress noticed that I had a special inclination to care for the sick and asked if I wanted to pursue nursing, and I said I would like to. Therefore from 1963-1965, I went to St Andrew Hospital in England for my nursing training and I became a state registered nurse.”
Sr Mary said that she finds fulfilment and happiness in helping the sick. She added that a simple gesture like a pat on the shoulder is enough to comfort patients.
“When they are dying, I sit with them in their final hours and pray with them regardless of their religion,” she said. “I would hold the person’s hand and give them assurance that he or she is not alone. That touch and a short prayer help them make that transition to death and not be frightened. Even non-Catholics would like a simple prayer to God for a peaceful passing.”
Another Sister, Sr Marie de Roza, shared with CatholicNews her calling and battle with cancer. She has been 51 years as a Canossian nun since she first joined the congregation at the age of 17.
Her background was in primary school teaching. She taught at St Anthony’s Convent for six years and later at Canossa Convent for another six years.
“As a young Sister back then, I wanted to do mission work,” she said. She was sent to Australia for studies and later taught catechetics for 12 years in Darwin and four years in Brisbane from 1982-1985.
Her calling to be a nun came when she was a primary and later a secondary pupil at St Anthony’s Convent. She recalled being fascinated and in awe of the Canossian nuns who were running the school.
“I wanted to be like them and form a close bond with God and I was invited to join the congregation at 16 years old by one of the Italian nuns,” she recalled.
“My hope was to be a teacher and a nun too, so being a Canossian at that time suited my gifts from God.”
Sr Marie’s role at the home is to counsel the nurses and to look after their well-being.
“Most of the nurses are from Myanmar and some from India. They feel homesick and can get lonely. The work they do is also very challenging so I offer them counsel,” she said.
Sr Marie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990 when she was in Darwin. She found it hard to accept as she had been healthy all her life.
“When I got sick I realised that God was my teacher and I had to learn to stay strong spiritually to get well,” she said.
In 2005, she apparently had a relapse of the cancer after it was in remission for 15 years. Doctors diagnosed this relapse only in 2009.
Sr Marie says she is now well after rigorous treatment and is thankful for her “new lease of life”.
By Martin See
When a family member requires palliative care
Those with family members who require palliative care must be understanding, patient and caring towards their loved ones, advises Sr Geraldine.
Care-givers must know that those who are sick have it “thrust upon them without choice and it is a difficult position to be in”.
“The patients are also learning how to accept their illnesses,” she added.
She said that in the case of chronic illnesses, patients initially receive support. However, over time, the support diminishes as care-givers and others take it as a norm for the patient to be sick. And that is where the patient begins to lose that care and support.
Sr Geraldine encourages care-givers to “not lose hope and continue giving their care and support” because the patients need that hope to live their last days.