The one conversation we all need to have this National Palliative Care Week 

By Sarah Cannata

Ever talked to a loved one about their end-of-life care?

Ever had a conversation about your own end-of-life care?

While 82 per cent of Australians feel that talking about their own death and dying is important, at the end of the day, we’re not commonly having these conversations. Indigenous Aussies are not having these discussions either for different reasons.

This National Palliative Care Week (May 20 to 26), a host of prominent Australians including celebrated chef, Kylie Kwong, are campaigning to encourage us to talk about end-of-life care. From her own experience with her mother, Kwong says that there was only one ingredient missing from the delicious feasts her mum served the family while cooking up a storm when she was younger: the conversation about dying.

Chef, restaurateur, author and TV presenter, Kylie Kwong.

“We were a young family and I guess Mum was not even considering her end-of-life at this stage, as she was only about 40 and she, along with my father, was fully focused on rearing a young family,” says Kwong.

“Fast forward almost 25 years and here we are today, I am 49 and Mum is 76. I kind of organically started thinking about this subject as I finally got my head around the fact that my mother, like all of us, is not going to live forever.”

There it is, the perhaps harsh reality that none of us are going to live forever. It’s part of being human so why do so many of us seem incapable of shifting our mindset and realise that having the conversation with our loved ones can provide us with relief in many cases?

“After we discussed her end of life wishes I felt so relieved, empowered, clear and happy. It was not as ‘intensely sad’ as I anticipated it would be, because we made sure we set up the right environment.”

Kwong says that understanding and accepting that death is inevitable, has made her more appreciative and aware of the preciousness of life. She draws on her Buddhist beliefs in very openly admitting to contemplating life and death, with her own experiences being profound. Kwong’s father died of cancer 12 years ago, one of her uncles died in her arms and Nell, her life partner, experienced what she calls the “unfathomable loss” of the couple’s stillborn son, Lucky.

As for suggested approaches to addressing this topic with loved ones, which can clearly be uncomfortable and intense for all involved parties, Kwong speaks from the heart.

“When I think of Mum not being around on a day-to-day level, my heart saddens immediately. Yet, the alternative for me was to not speak to her about her end-of-life wishes and that made me upset too, because all I want right now, is for my mother to feel at-ease and comforted in the knowledge that her end-of-life is going to be as peaceful as possible and as she wants it to be.

“Think of creative ways in which you are both comfortable, where both people feel at-ease in, to carry out such a personal conversation. The second part of advice I have is to maybe reflect on how you would both feel if you did not have this conversation? For me, knowing and understanding what my mother wants brings both she and I incredible peace of mind.”

The special bond Kwong shares with her mother is evident as she describes how her mum ignited her love and passion for cooking. She says that her mum’s love of cooking and sharing food with others taught her these important messages: that food connects people and makes people happy.

Speaking of happiness, Kwong says that Australia voting yes to same-sex marriage last year was one of the best days of her life.

“To have one’s lifestyle fully acknowledged and celebrated in one’s own country has a profound positive effect on a person’s overall wellbeing, sense of self and where you fit within society. 

“I was so thrilled because hopefully, it will help put an end to the destructive feelings of loneliness and anxiety that are often associated with being gay and the intense ‘coming out’ period in a society that looks down upon different lifestyles… as an individual, I felt so ‘held’, ‘seen’, ‘fully accepted’ and supported by the community at large.”

We couldn’t let this incredible cook and businesswoman go without asking her a couple of questions about running a successful restaurant business (check out Billy Kwong). As for her greatest challenge, Kwong says that it’s balancing the creative with the commercially viable. We’ll leave you with the one piece of advice that Kwong passed on to other women in business…

“Have the courage, self-love and self-respect to follow your dreams and pursue a career which is fuelled by your raw passion, because the energy of this raw passion will equip you with all of the necessary personal skills and fortitude you require to enable you to work through all of the challenges as well as triumphs you shall come across as you run your own business.”

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