Leaving memories behind

Photo 02 B

Leaving memories behind

Palliative care patients benefit immensely from Creative Arts Therapy at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Palliative Care Unit beyond just the passing of time.

Creative Arts Therapy comprising music and art, is often misunderstood. The sessions are not for keeping the patients occupied but rather serve as a medium that provides a unique and compassionate outlet for them to meet their physical, emotional and psychological needs. Contrary to popular belief, patients do not need to have any formal art or music education to participate in these sessions.

This form of therapy helps patients refocus their minds on aspects of their lives aside from their illness. From concentrating on creating an art piece to simply immersing themselves in a piece of music, patients talk about how their minds are taken off their physical symptoms such as pain or breathlessness. This often gives them a much-needed night of rest.

There is a sense of accomplishment when given the opportunity to create a memento, such as a customised painting or song recording, for themselves or their loved ones. This allows patients who are more reserved to express their gratitude towards their caregivers in a safe space, leaving their work behind as a valuable keepsake for their bereaved loved ones.


永远陪伴在您身旁, 9″ x 12″, canvas, acrylic paint

Mr A, a 58-year-old patient with metastatic pancreatic cancer, shared with his art therapist during his 18-month illness journey about his inability to continue buying his wife flowers for their wedding anniversaries since his diagnosis. With minimal guidance, he was able to paint her favourite flower — a perennial purple rose with the meaning “永远陪伴在您身旁” (Forever by your side).

During one of the sessions, Mr A revealed that he also struggled to connect with his young adult son, even though they lived under the same roof. He reminisced about the time spent together when his son was still a toddler. He wanted to communicate this phrase of encouragement — 风来雨挡 — that there will always be a way to handle any problem he may face in life. He wrote these words on a jigsaw puzzle for his son.


Madam T, a 52-year-old patient, had aggressive stage 4 breast cancer. Even though she was actively dying, she had always loved music, and music therapy provided the chance for her to be engaged in an activity that raised her self-esteem and lifted her mood while in the hospital. She could participate in something she loved despite gradually losing autonomy over basic bodily functions.

Rapport during music therapy was built through music engagement, and it provided a safe space for Madam T to share her hopes and fears and to reminisce about better times with family and colleagues at work. The music therapist assessed her musical preferences, the extent of her relationship with her family, how good her social support was, and, more importantly, how she was coping with her diagnosis and her gradual loss of autonomy.

During a session with the music therapist, Madam T divulged that she was extremely close to her daughter, who had asked to have a memento from her mother. The music therapist suggested creating a musical piece as a legacy for her daughter. Such legacy-making projects may be beneficial to both patients and their loved ones in a variety of ways, such as facilitating conversations about remembrance to help family members come to terms with the eventual loss of a loved one.

Madam T, under the guidance of the music therapist, worked on a heartbeat-recording project — an audio file of her singing Theresa Teng’s “You Matter the Most” layered with her heartbeat, which had been separately recorded with a digital stethoscope. The final product, put together by the music therapist, was saved on a piano-shaped USB thumb drive and gifted to Madam T’s daughter.


The Department of Palliative Medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital is currently conducting a study, supported by Temasek Foundation, to gauge the benefits of Creative Arts Therapy on patients’ overall well-being and quality of life. The tertiary hospital aims to eventually incorporate music and art therapy into chargeable standard care in order to bring about the sustainable provision of music and art therapies to patients.

Photo: Tan Tock Seng Hospital

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