Palliative Care: Beautiful nightingales who walk with us in our last journey

When we are in our final days, we need someone to walk alongside us.

Whether it is a spouse, a parent or a close friend, leading by the heart and keeping the love flame burning bright and alive throughout the final moments of the person who is going to die will help a great deal for the dying to go off peacefully, happily and contented.  

At hospices and in some hospitals, palliative care nurses play a vital role in rallying around the dying who are reaching their final days, as well as providing emotional support to their immediate relatives. Some of them will be severely depressed. Patients could be facing life-challenging illness like cancer or organ diseases, leaving relatives in deep worry and anxiety.

Besides showing compassion and understanding, the most important quality which palliative care nurses must possess is EMPATHY.

Nurses who are well trained to take care of the sick and help them to a full recovery must always be treated with utmost respect – and I admire all of them for their dedication and commitment.

To me, nurses who stand out are those who are trained in palliative care.  Many of these ‘nightingales’ develop a special bond with the dying patients so much so when those under their care passes away, it is not uncommon for the professional carers to cry their hearts out. In my opinion, those who cry can so easily feel for another human being because they have love in their hearts. And love unquestionably is a powerful healer.

Besides providing words of comfort that includes deep gratitude for the love that kept the relationship beautiful – in good times and bad, relatives holding hands of their dying loved ones will find that this is yet another effective communication tool to show love.  Palliative nurses also do this.

Nurses who showered me with love and tender care

During the late 70s when I was trying to cope with kidney problems where I was passing blood, I felt severely depressed as the pain in my back was unbearable. Each time when I wanted to ease myself, it was so painful when I had to ‘force’ the urine out of my bladder.  Added to that, I was worried sick about my beloved wife who had to struggle with schizophrenia.  I recognised the symptoms of my depression that was ‘haunting’ me and upon my wife’s advice got myself warded in the then-Toa Payoh Hospital which was directly opposite my work place in the national Radio and TV station.

It was during the few days that I was hospitalised that I discovered how beautiful and adorable nurses can be. The Chinese nurse manager there who was in her fifties knew how to lead by example and despite her hectic schedule in the ward, found time to talk to both me and my wife.

I recall being unshaven for 2 days and I looked awful.

“Your husband is handsome and you are a loving wife, just can’t understand why he is losing the will to live.  You both must pray ok,” Sister Tan gave some motherly advice.

“No, he does not look so good, Sister, he is so unshaven,” Doris told the Sister.

“No true, Mrs Fernando, he is terribly good-looking,” Sister Tan shot back much to the amusement of my wife and the nurses.  

“Preaching again, Sister,” a female staff nurse teased.

Knowing that I was severely depressed with suicidal thoughts provoking me from time to time, Sister Tan asked a North Indian nurse in her thirties to talk to me at night until I slept. She was a beautiful nurse, not only in appearance, but she had a beautiful heart. She held my hand throughout the night, giving me lots of encouragement, and in the process, with some medication, I slowly came out of my depressed state.

I am not sure if the Indian nurse was trained in Palliative care ward, but boy she sure qualifies in that area.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital provides Palliative Care

It is heartening to know now that some hospitals like Tan Tock Seng Hospital have Palliative Care Nurse Clinicians whose services include:

  1. Management of pain and symptoms

  2. Psychological, emotional and spiritual support for the patient and family

  3. Grief and Bereavement support and counselling. 

  4. Maintaining care continuity as the patient moves from hospital to home or to other institutions of care (e.g. hospice)

Fulfilling a dying wish

Like many others, I could not hold back my tears when I read of how an Australian ambulance crew in Sydney carrying a dying woman to hospital took a detour to grant her final wish – to visit the beach which she loved so much – for one last time.  The crew was patient to the palliative care unit of the local hospital. This moving account was reported on 23rd November 2017.  True to every sense of the word, the virtue of empathy shone so brightly – like a sparkling diamond.


I am sure when the lady passes on, she will do so happily knowing that love brought pure magic to her.


Let’s value and cherish all our loved ones every step of the way, embracing a life of no regrets, but only beautiful memories to fondly remember for all the days of our lives.


Raymond Anthony Fernando