Writing poems to cope with grief

Categories: Care, Featured, and People & Places.

The breast that was supposed to nourish,

Turned against mother and child.

Chemotherapy unleashed, but alas,

Sweet milk turned to bitter gall.

Untitled by Dr Jamie Zhou

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Dr Jamie Zhou, a consultant at the National Cancer Centre Singapore’s Division of Supportive and Palliative Care, is privileged to hear the many stories of her patients’ lives. She uses writing in various ways: to process difficult thoughts and feelings, to memorialise her patients, and as a therapeutic tool with her patients so they can see their story from an observer’s perspective.

Says Dr Zhou: “In palliative care, we dive to the deepest end to explore both the suffering and the beauty of life. Writing, to me, is like coming up before your tank gets empty. It helps me process what I witness and experience.

Sometimes, writing is like taking pictures to catch a moment, a precious story or a feeling. It’s a chance to memorialize a connection with a patient. There have even been times where I shared a poem with the patient I wrote about. During those rare encounters, the connection has been extraordinary.

My poems are simple and easy to understand. I take about 5 minutes each time to write them and collect them in a Substack account. Very often, I feel I understand my patient more after I write. I’m grateful I can use writing as a tool and hobby, not only to appreciate my work but also cope with it.”

Dr Zhou, together with Dr Cynthia Goh, share more about poetry in palliative care here.

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Untitled was taken from ‘to let the light in’ a recent publication by the Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network and Singlit Station.

‘to let the light in’ is a poetry collection that gathers the voices of doctors, nurses, caregivers, and patients from across the region to address one of humanity’s most universal experiences: death. With 111 poems featured in 11 languages – each translated into English to reach as wide an audience as possible – the collection aims to provide a sense of comfort, connection, and catharsis for everyone involved in the palliative care journey.

To find out more, head to our website.

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