How to Take Care of Yourself When Your Loved One Is Dying

Professional caregiver Mickey Kwok Keung Li shares his inner reflections on love, life and death.

In 2013, Mickey Kwok Keung Li was working as a full-time sales and marketing officer while tending  to his bedridden mother as a primary caregiver for 10 years. It was a prolonged battle and a turning point for Mickey. “When she passed away, I felt relieved, but I was weighed down by the guilt of not being able to provide her the best care because I was unequipped to handle the situation,” he recounts.  

Determined not to let others suffer as his mother had, he gave up his comfortable office job to train as a patient care assistant at a local hospital, tending to hundreds of patients while completing a healthcare worker course. He became qualified as a professional healthcare worker two years later. “My goal was simple; I wanted to help others with the techniques I had learnt,” Mickey explains.  

Now in his 50s, Mickey has stayed on since. “When I first started, my friends questioned my capability,” he laughs. Their concerns were not unfounded. As Mickey later realised, caregiving was by no means an easy task. “The strain of caregiving can be overwhelming at times,” the home-care aide admits. “In fact, there are a host of mental health issues that are not being properly addressed  within the industry.”  

With experience spanning over half a decade, Mickey has witnessed the lows and woes of caregiving. The morning before our interview, he had just bid goodbye to one of his long-term patients. He shares that men in general find it difficult to communicate their feelings when dealing with loss. “No one wants to cry in front of others,” says Mickey. Having worked extensively with the dying and the bereaved, he’s learnt to accept the situation as is and contextualise. 

Image by Aron Visuals

“We are all going to die,” Mickey says, “the ‘when’ and ‘how’ are factors out of your control, but you can choose to adjust  your mindset. Instead of focusing on a loved one being gone, think of how you’ve enriched their lives during their final stretch and that they are now free of pain and suffering,” Mickey advises. 

“Grief is a natural reaction to losing someone you love. But you can also be happy for them, and give him or her your blessing,” he continues.  Mickey views the ability to focus on the positives as paramount for family caregivers to live a meaningful, fulfilled life ahead. 

His optimistic attitude, paired with his compassion and expertise, have propelled Mickey to be one of the top male caregivers in a traditionally female-driven industry. Through his narrative, he hopes to shift the lens in which we view caregiving. 

“Many families do not want their sons to join the home care sector because it is seemingly an  unpromising career,” Mickey points out. The caregiving sector is generally perceived as low-pay and low-status — a stigma that puts young people off from pursuing a caregiving career. The result: a looming manpower crunch.

Image by Joseph Chan

By 2066, the average life expectancy for Hong Kong citizens will have risen by more than five years to 87.1 years for men and 93.1 for women, Mickey says the workforce gap needs to be duly addressed as more people are reaching the age where they will require support in residential care. 

Mickey urges families to set aside their concerns and encourage more young people to get involved in caregiving by highlighting the benefits. Drawing from his personal experiences, Mickey says, “parents should understand that one day, when they grow old, they would likely receive better care if their sons and daughters were better informed and equipped with the right knowledge and expertise.” 

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of features highlighting the highs, the lows, and the complicated that come with caregiving. If you, too, would like to share your stories with our community of caregivers, do shoot us a message via Facebook.

Feature image by Priscilla Du Preez