A Good Death

Back in 2017 while in remission, Kimberley became a volunteer writer for the website “gooddeath.org.sg”. While serving as a volunteer writer, some of the articles that Kimberley wrote includes ‘Stop and Stare’ and ‘Every Breathe You Take’

Exactly a year since the article ‘Stop and Stare’ was published on Medium, Kimberley was in the midst of planning for her death.  

Since young, Kimberley always had a plan. She knew what she wanted in life, and would work hard to achieve it. At the age of 19, she started planning and thinking about the company that she wished to apply for a job at after graduation, how long would she stay in that company before moving on to another company. 

           My sister always had a plan, whereas for me I would always go with the flow and see what happens next. Henceforth, as I was writing this post, I decided to search Kimberley’s google drive for ideas or clues. I was convinced that Kimberley would have documented something about her perspective of ‘good death’. 

Indeed, I found a draft in her google drive about her perspective of ‘ good death’.  

“ A good death is about both choosing the way you want to live, as well as the way you want to die. If chemotherapy doesn’t work this time, then agreeing to treatment would mean that I would spend my last days pumped full of drugs and in a great deal of discomfort, battling bouts of diarrhoea and nausea, among many others. 

I know that I don’t want to spend my last few days pumped full of drugs. But what if restarting chemotherapy would give me the chance to be rid of the disease, and to live a longer life?”

2017 was the year that Kimberley restarted chemotherapy after being in remission for eight months. Restarting chemotherapy was an entirely different situation as compared to the previous chemotherapy sessions. From 2015-2016, despite undergoing chemotherapy, my sister did not have to endure several side effects. Her hair was thinning, but she was not vomiting each time she consumes food during each cycle of chemotherapy. 

In 2017, each cycle of chemotherapy meant that Kimberley would spend the next few days feeling super bloated and vomiting. Chemotherapy was not working as well as it should have. Eventually, Kimberley decided to pull the plug and ceased chemotherapy in January 2018.

“ I know that I don’t want to spend my last few days pumped full of drugs”- Ironically, the weeks before Kimberley’s death; she was prescribed morphine to help her cope with the pain. As we shared a room, each time Kimberley’s cough in the wee hours, I would wake up and would ask: “ Do you need water? Are you ok? Do you need me to help you take your morphine?”

Three weeks before her death, she was admitted to the hospital. The X-Ray scan detected a lump pressing on her intestines. Kimberley was very determined to be discharged from the hospital. On the day that she was discharged, she shared with us “ No matter what happens, don’t send me back to the hospital”

Few days before her death, she said “ I think I might need a wheelchair because I’m feeling weak and breathless”

In one way or another, some may say it’s fate but I chose to believe that my sister wanted to have a good death and she passed on before there was a need for her to use the wheelchair.

I wasn’t by her side when she breathed her last, but my mother was telling me that the Home Care Hospice nurses were arranging for a machine to be sent to my house as my sister was having difficulties breathing. She knew that she didn’t want to spend her last days hooked to machines, as such she passed on before the nurses settled the necessary paperwork. 

After reading Kimberley’s draft, I thought and wondered did my sister have a good death?

  • She did not spend her last days hooked onto machines.
  • She shared that she does not want visitors as she is not a circus animal 
  • She was at peace and she knew that I have matured and is capable to take care of myself.

I guess all of her wishes were granted and she did have a good death. I was her biggest worry. She was afraid that after her death, I would end up in depression. She kept holding on and fighting on until she was convinced that I would be fine and will be able to take care of myself. 

           For several months, I have been telling myself that my sister had a good death, did not help with the grieving process.

 “ This is Kimberley’s dying wish”

 For months, friends of Kimberley that were by her side when she passed away kept telling me “ But that is Kimberley’s dying wish” I thought to myself, maybe that was my sister’s dying wish since I was not there with her, I would not have known if her friends were lying or telling the truth. 

These friends tried to get me to join the church group that Kimberley was serving before she passed on, and each time I rejected the offer. These friends would say ‘ It’s okay, whenever you’re ready but just know that it was Kimberley’s dying wish and you need to continue her legacy’ 

As I contemplated joining the group, I realised that what if it wasn’t my sister’s dying wish. My sister was never a person to force someone into any religious activities.

 To be honest, I did not feel comfortable around these people at all. For almost 6 months, they would organise prayer sessions to pray for my sister’s soul. It was rather thoughtful of them, and I was appreciative of their kind gestures. 

It was nearing All Souls Day in November when one of the friends asked 

 ‘ What time mass would you and your parents be attending?’ 

‘ I’m not too sure. But it is alright, you do not need to come if you are not free.’

‘ We’ll come. It’s something that we have to do to make ourselves feel better’.

That phrase ‘ make ourselves feel better ’ struck me. I wondered and pondered about it, but told myself not to think too much about it.

2 November 2018. 

On All Souls Day, I flew off for my solo trip to Melbourne. Together with my parents, this group of friends attended the evening mass with my parents. They were shocked to find out that I was at the airport awaiting my flight to Melbourne. Without even understanding the situation, one of them texted me and said ‘ How can you be so irresponsible? Instead of praying for your sister’s soul, you choose to fly off for a holiday?’

Little did she know, on that day I was on half-day leave and had attended mass on my own. 

This incident was the last straw. I stood up and started to disconnect myself from these people and stop letting these people dictate my actions and using the sentence ‘It’s Kimberley’s dying wish’ to guilt-trip me. 

I started searching and exploring what I can do on my own, to continue my sister’s legacy and to live boldly. 

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” —André Gide

It took me almost two whole years to lose sight of the shore. During the past two years, I was constantly thinking about the different ways to continue my sister’s legacy. Around February 2020, I agreed to an interview with ‘Don’t Assumed, Be Assured’ 

Before the interview, I was afraid that I would breakdown during the video recording as I recalled about all the pain and sufferings that my sister had to endure. I was this close to pulling out from the interview, but I’m glad that I did not. Participating in the interview had helped me to cope with the grieving process while raising awareness about colorectal cancer.

Continue to Live each day to the fullest

While my sister had a good death, it’s time for her friends and family to continue to live each day to the fullest and to continue her legacy. 

My biggest regret up till today is having quarrelled with her on her last birthday. But I have learnt to stop dwelling on it. Perhaps it’s indeed a blessing in disguise that she passed away two years ago and does not have to go through the COVID-19 situation. 

Thinking back about my sister’s journey, it serves as a reminder to be kind and be nice to the people you meet. You might never know when will it be their last day on Earth. Life is too short, to live in regrets, to dwell in the past. 

It’s been a long journey, but this is not the end.

Let’s continue to live boldly.

Photo credits: https://totallybuffalo.com/a-heartfelt-message-from-artist/