New graphic novel aims to encourage more conversations about death

Although more Singaporeans are getting comfortable discussing end-of-life matters, most still find it taboo.

Shannon Kuan

Weird talents include playing the violin, but with a ukulele and a clothes hanger.

Published: 1 April 2021, 12:02 PM

Most of us may be uncomfortable talking about the topic of dying, what more planning for the eventual death of yourself or your loved ones.

While it is understandable why death may be seen as taboo or too serious of a conversation to have, the new graphic novel commissioned by the Lien Foundation titled All Death Matters hopes to spark more “die-logue”.

Focused on end-of-life and palliative care, All Death Matters is based on a fictional narrative of a young doctor and his experiences working with the terminally ill. The 72-page comic follows his encounters with patients from different backgrounds as he shares his own thoughts and process with taking care of them.


The novel is inspired by experiences and insights from real-life healthcare professionals in Singapore. PHOTO CREDIT: BOFU SHAW VIA UNSPLASH


49-year-old James Tan is the comic artist and art illustrator for All Death Matters.

James shared: “My grandmother in her 90s was sick a couple of years ago. During her end of life when she was refusing food, I saw how terrible it was that she had to go through pain that was not being eased.

“I also recently discovered that one of my 80-year-old relatives had lung and liver cancer. The doctor was saying that someone in their 80s could not receive treatment… so he was sent to a hospice for palliative care to ease his pain.”

Knowing that this is a constant issue that many deal with, James hopes to shine light on end-of-life matters and help those who have loved ones going through something similar.


Healthcare workers can also learn more about handling the spectrum of emotions that accompany such scenarios, while providing the best level of care. PHOTO CREDIT: TIMA MIROSHNICHENKO VIA PEXELS


When asked to choose between saving a terminally ill loved one at all costs versus providing the best care for them to go peacefully, people may be unsure on what to pick; especially if the one that’s ill never expressed what they wanted.

He hopes that the novel will educate on the topic, and that its being in comic form makes it more accessible and easier to understand, leading them to ponder and engage in conversations on these matters.

James said: “I hope readers will have a better insight to some of the dilemmas and questions surrounding end-of-life care. Death is still a taboo topic and you don’t really think about it. But when the time comes where you have to, you might not be in the best position to articulate your thoughts.”


James himself had a discussion with his own parents about their end-of-life plans, and encourages others to do the same. PHOTO CREDIT: RODNAE PRODUCTIONS VIA PEXELS


He understands that not everyone can see eye to eye and decide on who gets to make the best decision about someone else’s life. But if discussions with the sickly are had beforehand, such situations could be avoided. The graphic novel could thus serve as a medium to have these conversations.

“Life and death is a continuum in a sense. They both contribute to the whole life cycle. You can’t be talking about a good life before talking about a good death. Living well and leaving well are both as important a topic,” James said.


James had previously collaborated with the Lien Foundation on another comic book two years ago. All That Remains was inspired by his late mother-in-law with dementia. PHOTO CREDIT: ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE ASSOCIATION


The graphic novel is the latest project in the Lien Foundation’s ongoing Life Before Death initiative to improve care for the dying in a rapidly-ageing Singapore, seeking to spark “die-logues” through digital media, art, design, film, photography and research.

All Death Matters will be available for loan at all public libraries from mid-April onwards. The Lien Foundation is also giving away 100 copies of the publication to interested members of the public here from now till Apr 4. Click here for more information.

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