Meet the givers - and recipients - of last wishes in S'pore
Charity Ambulance Wish Singapore fulfils the last wishes of terminally ill patients with less than 12 months to live
The appetising aroma of sukiyaki broth and wafts of the sizzling tonkatsu filled the air, making stomachs growl, especially as lunchtime was just 30 minutes away.
In a wheelchair but clearly at the helm of the cooking session was Madam Lim Tan Neo, 81, who issued a stream of instructions to two young women amid the stirring and frying in a cosy kitchen at her three-room flat.
The kitchen is familiar territory to her – the retired chef, who started her career as an apprentice cook with the Japanese Embassy in Singapore, had worked for Japanese restaurants, both here and abroad, for some 40 years.
She suffered a stroke and stopped working in her early 70s. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Madam Lim, who never married and lives with her helper, told her social worker at Singapore Cancer Society that she yearned to cook again.
Ambulance Wish Singapore (AWS), a charity that fulfils the last wishes of terminally ill patients with less than 12 months to live, was roped in to help.
One Sunday morning in September, AWS volunteers armed with groceries arrived at her flat in Teck Whye Avenue.
The session began quietly, with Madam Lim keeping to herself. But once the preparations began, the words started flowing.
She expertly took the volunteers, Ms Liow Jia Qi, 28, and Ms Rain Yang, 41, through the steps from chopping the vegetables to breading the pork for tonkatsu, the deep-fried Japanese delicacy.
She was so energised she even stood up on a few occasions to check and stir the ingredients in the pots – her social worker said it is rare for Madam Lim to get up from her wheelchair.
She also shared her secret recipes as she chatted with the volunteers – “knock” the meat before frying it to get tender tonkatsu, and blend one part Kikkoman soy sauce, one part sugar and seven parts water to get that killer sukiyaki sauce.
And indeed, the dishes were as good as they smelled – I can attest to this as I joined in the lunch when the meal was ready.
Madam Lim’s was the 102nd wish fulfilled by AWS, the local chapter of the Ambulance Wish Foundation started by an ambulance driver in the Netherlands to grant terminally ill patients their last wish.
Registered as a charity here in 2020, AWS has 157 volunteers and has granted over 100 wishes so far.
Another memorable wish fulfilled was that of Madam Chang Huey Hwa, 88, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in March.
She loves flowers, so her wish was to celebrate her 60th wedding anniversary with her husband Soh Kay Siang, 86, with a visit to Gardens by the Bay.
Madam Chang fell in love with the gardens, especially the Flower Dome, after she first visited it with her daughter when it opened 10 years ago.
She was a season pass holder and would take public transport on her own to visit the gardens regularly.
In fact, she was due to visit the gardens on the day her daughter, Madam Catherine Soh, 61, rushed her to the hospital – as she complained of stomach discomfort – where she was told the diagnosis. That day, she had chided Madam Soh for not letting her visit her beloved gardens.
AWS organised a guided tour and dinner at the Flower Dome for the couple and their close-knit family on July 27.
When asked about the secret to their long marriage, Madam Chang cheekily turned to her husband and quipped: “One plays deaf while the other plays mute.”
The couple’s family, including their two children and two grandchildren engaged them with cheerful banter as they made frequent stops to admire the flowers.
At one point, Madam Soh shared a tearful embrace with Madam Lim as she told her mother not to talk about her final days but to focus on living happily so she can outlive the doctor’s prognosis.
The Ambulance Wish Foundation has granted more than 18,000 last wishes since its founding in 2006, with more granted by local chapters in many countries. The wishes are often simple ones.
Dr Ong Yew Jin, 49, chairman of AWS, said: “The caregivers are often occupied or even burned out by the day-to-day care for the patients. They may not have the time nor energy to plan such activities, which are also important for the patients’ well-being.”
Through AWS, Mr Mohammad Yazid Sulaiman was able to go on a last date with his wife at East Coast Park on the evening of Feb 26, before his death at the age of 56.
The park was a favourite venue for the regular Saturday night dates Mr Yazid had with Madam Norraizan Yub, 50.
It was also where he had proposed to her 24 years ago by the beach on the same date, which is one day before his birthday.
AWS swung into action after it learnt about the wish of Mr Yazid, who had colon cancer and had been assessed by doctors to have one to two months more to live.
The charity had intended to hire The Duo Planner to set up a “glamping-style” picnic table, complete with a teepee tent for the couple, but the event planner became a sponsor when it found out what the arrangement was for.
Everyone feared the worst when Mr Yazid’s condition rapidly deteriorated and he stopped eating two days before the outing. But he made it to the picnic – he was wheeled to the park on a stretcher while holding hands with his wife.
Amid the romantic set-up, complete with a bouquet of roses prepared by the volunteers, Madam Norraizan dabbed a sponge in Coca-Cola so Mr Yazid could get a drink as she reminisced about their early years.
She said of the elaborate arrangements: “We were not expecting this at all and thought that we were just going to walk around the park.”
The volunteers presented the couple with a scrapbook that included some Polaroid pictures taken during the outing. Though Mr Yazid could barely speak, his wife said: “I could tell that he really enjoyed himself.”
Amid the setting sun that evening, the family celebrated Mr Yazid’s birthday with a cake – when his weak breath failed to extinguish the candle flame, his daughter Puteri Ashy Shahira, 19, helped to blow it out.
Mr Yazid died on March 4, six days after his last date.