Spirit of Hong Kong

Spirit of Hong Kong Awards nominee starts charity and learns that embracing death can lead to peace in our lives

Deaths of fiancé and mother in less than a year set Heart-to-Heart Life Education Foundation chief Christina Li Yan on a path of self-discovery

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 9:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 10:15pm

Christina Li Yan truly knows the depth of the pain caused by bereavement.

“When my fiancé passed away in 2009 … he died suddenly of cardiac arrest after playing soccer, I was so devastated,” she said.

“Andrew had been in good shape. I wasn’t prepared at all [for his death]. I felt it was the end of the world – I had suicidal thoughts.”

Li suffered more heartbreak when her mother died nine months later.

Overwhelmed by the loss of her two loved ones, she sought counselling support. However, Li was unsuccessful in finding any professional practitioners in Hong Kong who specialised in grief counselling, while help provided by the city’s NGOs was far from adequate.

“I was told to wait for three months before I could see a counsellor,” she said. “They had limited resources.”

Believing many bereaved individuals such as herself needed timely care services in their darkest moments, Li, who had training in counselling, formed the Heart-to-Heart Life Education Foundation.

Established in 2013, the charity aims to educate the public about embracing death.

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“Death is a natural part of life,” said Li, adding that her personal experience of getting over her grief had enabled her to help dozens of others who lost loved ones.

She has been nominated by Social Ventures Hong Kong for the Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards, in the Community Contribution category, which honours people who give back and help those less fortunate.

A business executive by profession, Li continued to bring best commercial practice into the charity she had set up. The founder also organised public exhibitions, and activities to engage with the local community.

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One such event was the Yu Lan Run held in August 2016 on the day of the Yu Lan Ghost Festival, during which participants took an evening jog in the Central and Western District – a neighbourhood known for a cluster of funeral supplies shops, and casket retailers in the backstreets.

“We wanted to break the cultural taboo of death and promote positive thinking,” Li said, noting that some people in Hong Kong still shy away from talking about death.

Apart from community education, the foundation also organises visits to palliative wards, hospices and care homes for the elderly, to provide counselling and support.

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Li, who plays the violin, is a member of a band that performs for the elderly during the visits, with Canto-pop and jazz among their repertoire.

“We play music to give comfort to the elderly and the terminally ill,” Li said. “We keep exploring ways to help.”

Li is also an advocate of dying in a place of choice, as a part of end of life care.

“I talked to many of those in hospice care. They said they wanted to die at home,” she said. “That’s what ‘Rest in Peace’ and palliative care really mean.”