And so the ship sails on in the ocean of this shared endeavour. The waves carry us forward toward a non-destination; to be together having conversations on living and leaving is what matters most. There is a public showcase like an island we’re moving towards with intentional verve, and while that weighs significantly on how our time together is planned, I remind myself to find a presence in the quiet sky around us. We’ve sailed quite a bit now. As conversations deepen, going into light and dark places, waves of memories hit — some hurt; other splashes delight; while others are a propulsion toward saying something one has never said before.
Working with women of the older generation is to, at times, battle ingrained societal scripts around the intelligence, capabilities and strength of women. I see each of the senior collaborators as a precious jewel in her own right, with something to say. In trying to find what each person’s creative project is to be, I try to locate with each woman what truly matters to them. This is a process of getting to know someone that takes time, authentic connection, trust, and the best communication both sides can offer.
As a result, we are witnessing the nascent beginnings of a spectrum of potential expressions, from a collaborative short film to be made at the pool next door, on learning to swim in old age, freedom in water, and reflections on life and death; to an ethereal booth sharing a multitude of existential questions, where one can have conversations with a cosmic philosopher; to a mixed media installation of umbilical cord sculptures reflecting on birth and end-of-life conversations. These will be accompanied by tours, talks and readings at the public showcase in March 2024, where Wellness Kampung @ 765 Nee Soon Central is a living site existing between art and life.
We’ve also started discussing what it means to have end-of-life conversations — which don’t just happen at the end of life, but can happen anytime. A Regional Connector (Yishun Health staff who help identify and develop strengths and assets of residents, as well as problem-solve) who joined one of our sessions shared that in a casual family setting, she would comment on death-related news she was reading, and that would be a natural way for her children to learn about her preferences and wishes over time.
Together, we identified topics within the umbrella of end-of-life conversations. There are practical affairs such as: finances, funeral arrangements, organ donation, medical care, numerous legal documents such as one’s will, Advanced Medical Directive, Lasting Power of Attorney, as well as the non-legal Advance Care Planning. But there are also a suite of less tangible and equally important things to talk about, such as: life reflections, final wishes in life, objects to pass down, fears of death and illness, religion and the afterlife, regrets, and gratitude.
We started coming up with situations for these conversations, like an elderly parent announcing her terminal illness to her adult child, or a depressed and ill single senior being visited in hospital by a friend. The seniors threw themselves into roleplay very naturally, inciting laughter, empathy, further reflection and problem-solving, as we find ourselves in a rare setting practising these conversations. Of course, there are doubts — “not everyone will want to have such conversations”, or, “I don’t think I will talk about this with my friends”. It is my hope that we can digest and respond together in time.