The lack of sufficient services and support is also experienced by Christina Li Yan, the founder and grief counsellor of Heart-to-heart Life Counselling & Education.
Li started the service after her fiancé died from a heart attack and she lost her mother to renal failure just nine months later. Confronted with this double loss, Li sought grief counselling from non-government organisations but was asked to return in two months. So she ended up using a costly private counselling service that did not specialise in grief counselling.
Li – who has a master’s degree in counselling and received related training at the Prince of Wales Hospital – set up Heart-to-heart to try to bridge the gap between the need and supply. She provides counselling in the evening at flexible venues and offers life and death courses that are aimed at the layman rather than professionals such as social workers and nurses. The response was not ideal at first. “The course failed to start because not enough people signed up,” says Li, “But when it did, the participants said it was rewarding.”
There is little attention paid to life and death education in Hong Kong and some may even question whether it is necessary. The young, in particular, may feel it is a very distant subject. But death is always present in our daily life.
A happy boat trip to watch the fireworks on the October 1National Day, suddenly turned into a tragedy last year. Families watched television reports of bodies being transported from the scene of the accident onto the shore. For some of the children and teenagers watching, this was their first encounter with real deaths.
Yiu Chi-kin, registered social worker in Children Counselling Service of Caritas Family Crisis Line and Education Centre, says they received phone calls from children expressing their feelings on the calamity. “They may feel uncomfortable about witnessing such uneasy scenes. And some of them said it led to nightmares.” says Yiu.
Life and death education can also be taught through less tragic examples. Yiu suggests parents make use of examples from ordinary daily life such as the Ching Ming Festival and news reports that involve casualties to educate children about what death is. He says parents should not avoid discussing death but should instead understand children’s curiosity. “Don’t use ambiguous words such as ‘gone’ and ‘Dad left us’. Will they be back if they were just gone? We should be aware of this,” says Yiu.
Yet, there is one thing that must be remembered. “We also need to let them know, no matter how well you feel you are prepared, this is something you can never be prepared for,” says Chan Chi-ho, the social work teacher from CUHK. “There is always uncertainty in life. This is the nature of death.”
Edited by Derek Li