Assisi Hospice

Capturing photos for memories: How one volunteer group helps terminally ill patients

published by Channel News Asia on May 1, 2023
Hospice patient Mdm Tan Seck Eng and husband Mr Yong Joon Kooi being photographed by Portrait from the Heart photographer Charis Tan. Photo by CNA.

Having a family portrait taken may not seem like a priority when a loved one is terminally ill. But such photos play an important part as patients and families seek to retain as many memories as possible.

Portrait from the Heart, a group of volunteer photographers, have been helping to fulfill the wishes of end-of-life patients by taking family portraits for them.

“We always want to create fond memories for our beneficiaries, to help them keep that as a legacy for the generations to come, for their children and their grandchildren as well,” said Mr Lawrence Loh, who started the group 10 years ago.

While people may think they still have time to take such portraits, this is not always the case, he said, citing the example of families that lost their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Family portrait is something which many of us take for granted. We think that we can always do it another day,” he said.

His team of 10 has photographed hundreds of patients and their families, and Mr Loh has seen a change in attitudes towards the practice.


The first member of Mr Loh’s team, 28-year-old Charis Tan, said that families that do not have the habit or the financial means to take such portraits, would not have such photos.

She said that the process of taking these photos also leaves a memory for the families.

“It’s not just about taking portraits, but we’ll also have conversations with them, we engage them, make them happy,” she said, adding that the way they look and smile at one another during these shoots can be deep and personal.

Like the other volunteers from Portrait from the Heart, Ms Tan understands the importance of taking such family photos.

Ms Tan’s grandfather died in December last year after being in and out of the intensive care unit a few times.

On one occasion when he was discharged, Ms Tan realised that she did not have a recent family photo with him, the last one having been taken in 2015.

“I didn’t want to have regrets of not having a full family picture with him and with my family. So we arranged one, and …  about a week later, he passed on. I’m very grateful that I have a (recent) picture together with him,” she said.


While some are still resistant to the idea of having photos taken in such circumstances, people are generally open to it, said Mr Loh.

“Over time, I think people are more receptive to taking family portraits unlike in the past where in a setting like this, people will be more taboo, knowing that their time is running out,” he said, adding that his team now receives more requests.

Taking on about 100 requests each year, Portrait from the Heart now works with around 10 hospices, charities, and health groups.

Among them is Assisi Hospice, which has opened its doors to the Portrait from the Heart team for the first time.

One of its patients, Madam Tan Seck Eng, recently got her photo taken.

“It’s like a souvenir, these family portraits. I feel warm and blessed. When I’m no longer around, my descendants can flip through and see how I looked,” said Mdm Tan.

Having photos to remember a loved one does not always have to involve a professional photoshoot, and the Portrait from the Heart team encourages everyone to capture moments when they can, even through a quick selfie.

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