Assisi Hospice

She speaks up for racial harmony, while she makes sure that no one dies alone

published by The Pride on October 12, 2021

President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award winners share what started them on their journeys to impact people around them.

Lydia chatting with a patient in a ward, pre-Covid.


Making sure no one dies alone

Another PVPA winner is Lydia Tan, 67, who has been volunteering for six years at the Assisi Hospice.

After retiring at 59, Lydia travelled, visiting her 45-year old son and his family in California, and her daughter, 35, in New Zealand. When she returned to Singapore, she wanted to do something more with her time and started manning a pregnancy crisis hotline.

Then, a friend, whose uncle was terminally ill, asked Lydia to help support him as he had no immediate family.

She looked after him for one month when he was in the hospital, and for another month at the hospice.

Lydia tells the Pride: “Prior to this, I had no experience with looking after the sick. I was fearful, not knowing what to do. I learnt just to be there with him.”

They would talk about the good old days and the uncle would reminisce about his youth and how he was a good dancer. Towards the end, he told Lydia: “I thought I was going to die a lonely old man but this is the happiest time of my life.”

Lydia says: “I was moved by what he said. It motivated me to think about what I wanted to do. I saw how the clinical team, from the doctors to the nurses, cared for him. It was not just a job for them, it was coming from their hearts with love, compassion and empathy. They were there for him.”

One month after the uncle died in February 2015, Lydia signed up as a volunteer at the Assisi Hospice.

Lydia (right) at a pre-Covid training workshop for NODA volunteers, practising being present and listening.

Not long after, Lydia’s 54-year old brother was diagnosed with cancer and admitted to the Assisi Hospice. She took time off from her volunteer work to care for him. The clinical team prepared her for his eventual passing, but it was a difficult time for her nonetheless.

“To see them give my brother extra care in the last days of his life was moving. I asked myself if I was able to do what they were doing. It came from the heart. This nurse, on her own accord, would rub medicated oil on his temples to help him feel better. These little acts of care to show him that he wasn’t alone, helped a lot.”

After Lydia’s brother died, she resumed her volunteer work at the Assisi Hospice.

“It was a life-changing experience,” she says.

Today, Lydia volunteers at the hospice two to three times a week — arriving at 7.30am to prepare breakfast, and keeping patients company after that.

She is also part of the No One Dies Alone (NODA) programme, providing companionship to dying patients who have limited or no family support. She is the first to respond when a vigil is activated and she often takes the midnight shift to 6 am shift.

Since then, she has journeyed with 48 NODA patients and participated in 40 vigils, even coming in on short notice when it’s not her turn on the roster.

Lydia (right) decorating a patient’s room with another volunteer for a celebration.

In 2017, Lydia joined a paediatric volunteer group trained to care for children. She supervises the young patients, reads stories to them, plays games or pushes them in their strollers.

Lydia, who has two teenage grandsons, talks about a 10-year-old patient with bittersweet fondness. The volunteers and staff at the hospice celebrated the boy’s birthday and Lydia bought him a life-sized standee of his favourite comic book character Iron Man.

He had it with him until the day he died.

Recounts Lydia: “At the end of his life, I was holding him and humming to him.

“He opened his eyes and said, ‘That is a very nice song and you have a very nice voice.’ I asked if he would like me to continue and he said, ‘Yes.’ He passed on not long after I left.”

She adds, with tears in her eyes: “I was grateful I could celebrate (his last birthday) with him. These are encounters that keep me returning to the hospice.”

Volunteering at the hospice makes Lydia want to live life to the fullest, to live and love, knowing that the next day might be her last. She credits the work at the hospice for showing her the importance of forgiveness and not being judgmental, something she says she would not have been able to achieve 30 years ago in her corporate job.

“It is not about what I am giving the patients. It is what they give me that is so important. Dying and death teach me to make the best of life, to give with a humble heart and to love. I would not exchange my work at the hospice for anything.”

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