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Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Dealing with the deaths of my PLHIV clients

I lost another client recently. Just one week before her death she sent me a text message informing me that she had not submitted the back-to-school expenses for her youngest daughter yet because her daughter had applied for admission to Kolej Vokasional and so they were waiting for the results of her application before they start buying her school stuff. I just replied with a short "OK". 2 days later another message came in from her number, this time calling me "Puan Afizah", which seemed weird to me because this client would usually address me as Kak Afizah. Turned out the message was sent by client's daughter, informing me that her mother was hospitalised and was unconscious. Apparently earlier in the morning client had seizures repeatedly. The family had initially opted for traditional healing by bringing her to see an ustaz, but the ustaz instead told them to immediately bring her to the nearest hospital. Client never regained consciousness. One week later, her son called, to inform me that their mother had passed away.

At least this client's death came after her older son had started working. Only the youngest girl is still in school. Since she's covered by our Education Sponsorship Program, she will still get assistance under the sponsorship. But at least I don't have to worry about who's taking over as guardian. The girl herself is big enough to contact me directly if need be.

For some other cases of deaths of my clients, the children were all still in school. I had to follow up with family members to find out who's the guardian I needed to deal with, and whether or not we needed to continue giving them financial assistance.

The first ever case that I was assigned to was Rose, who, by the time her case was passed to me, was already in stage 4 of cervical cancer. I helped her around for the last 2 months of her life as she was too weak to get around on her own, while her 3 children were all still in primary school. When her sister called me one morning to inform me about her death (which didn't come as a shock because she was already in the Palliative Care Unit), I immediately informed my fellow buddies who mostly knew Rose because she was one of Buddies' earliest clients. I was still relatively knew to Buddies then, and so the main concern the chairperson had then was how well I could cope when dealing with death. She was afraid I might break down like a few other volunteers had experienced before. Well, she found out that she didn't have to worry about me. Death is inevitable and something we must all learn to accept, and so emotionally I was okay even though Rose was the first of my clients who died.

In Rose's case, I had to follow up with the family members as to who would be taking over guardianship of the children. Rose had issues with her own siblings before, and I knew many of them weren't willing to take over the financial aspect of raising Rose's 3 children. When they told me that the children's paternal grandparents were to take over guardianship, I made it a point to visit them to assess if they needed financial help. They seemed financially stable, and the grandma assured me that they were more than willing to take care of the children.

Then there was Lily's death. Her death came quite sudden as she actually died of dengue. All her 3 children were still in primary school. Their dad passed away earlier in the year. When her body was brought back to her kampong in another town, I followed the van from behind as I needed to find out which family member would be taking care of the children. I finally managed to get to speak to an uncle who said he'd be taking care of all 3 children. Later on he did call me to express his concern about how he should take care of the youngest boy, then only 5, who was born with HIV. While I assured him there shouldn't be any worries about the boy infecting others in the family, the uncle ended up listening to people around him who encouraged him to send the boy to a home for HIV kids, away from the boy's own siblings. I wonder how the boy is doing now. He should already be 18 or 19 this year.

Then there was Shila, another unexpected death. She died at home one morning of cardiac arrest. Nothing to do with her HIV. Shila had one child, then only 12. Initially when I went to visit at her kampong house which Shila had been staying all the while with her mother, I was just paying my respects and again, to find out who would be taking care of Shila's one and only daughter. I ended up with another role, handling the body of an HIV+ person, including bathing her. While I'm used to doing that for my own family members, that was a first for me doing so for a HIV+ client. Anyway, as I had expected, Shila's daughter continued staying at the same house, with her grandmother. And we continued helping her with her schooling needs until she completed her SPM. I did offer some help if she wanted to further her studies, but she gave all sorts of excuses and decided to work at a minimarket instead.

Another case was that of Sofie. Sofie's death quite frankly did not come as a shock to me. From day one I was introduced to her, she had always been this physically weak lady (but with high spirits). By the time she was diagnosed with HIV, her condition was already quite bad, and although she did try to fight it, it wasn't long before she finally succumbed to AIDS-related diseases. When she was alive, she already told me that if anything happened to her, there was only one sister she could trust. And yes, we did continue with financial help for the education of Sofie's 4 children through that sister. But when the sister moved back to her kampong in another state, together with Sofie's children, we lost contact. I did manage to get some updates on the children by searching on FB, and since one of the boys had set his FB privacy status to "public", it wasn't a problem for me to find out what's going on in their lives. I am happy to note that despite all the problems they had earlier, the kids are doing okay now.

Then there's Yah, another one of my problematic clients. Thank goodness life had improved a lot for her in the last few years of her life. Once she moved to her parent's kampong further away from Ipoh, I'd only see her and the children during December's back-to-school shopping, and once or twice during the Buddies Annual Family Day. But one of her daughters called me one morning to inform me that their mother had passed away the day before. I didn't go to visit this one. I knew the youngest girl, the only one still in school, was in the good hands of the older girls. We still continue with educational assistance for the youngest girl, given through the eldest sister who started working not long before their mother passed away.

So yes, for me, in dealing with the deaths of my clients, my main concern, and the main thing I need to follow up on, would be the children's wellbeing, especially their educational needs.