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... stories, adventures and all things related to life in Singapore and Southeast Asia by AWA members

2024: A Year of Transformation and Hope?

Editorial by Suellen Lee

With a few months left to go until the end of 2023, I had posed the following theme to our writers for the AWA Magazine’s first issue of 2024: “Finding Confidence and Clarity of Purpose.” An apt theme, I thought then, as it was inspired by the fact that 2024, according to the Chinese zodiac, is the year of the Dragon, the mythological creature that, in Chinese culture and tradition, represents strength, power, prosperity and resilience. It is for this reason that dragons were associated with Chinese emperors and are often depicted as guardians of imperial buildings and temples. 

Fast forward to today, January 2024. As I sat down to work on this issue, I realized that the theme felt disconcertingly pollyanna-like and out of tune with how I was actually feeling about life. While the idea of ‘confidence and clarity of purpose’ definitely resonated with my personal aspirations, the way  it was worded did not initially feel “right.” I had to give it a good, hard think.

I thought about the fact that a number of  friends in the past few months lost an otherwise healthy, but senior, parent rather suddenly. Their grief felt so close to home as I, too, have senior parents who are prone to falls and age-related slow-downs. I also have elderly in-laws over the age of 80 and when we traveled to Bali with them this December, it was apparent that their mental and physical capacities were not quite what they used to be. 

My father-in-law, for example, absent-mindedly lost one of his hearing aids while going through a rather crowded immigration queue. Then one night during the holidays, my mother-in-law suffered such prolonged and agonizing back pains that we ended up taking her to the emergency room. 

Sadly, Bali will probably be our last adventure with my in-laws.

A woman walking through a flooded road carrying an umbrella and 2 bags
What the beginning of 2024 felt like for me!

While I am grateful that my own parents are still able to accompany us on family holidays, their days are also numbered. The fact that several friends lost a parent recently feels like a wake-up call to be prepared. Do I know, individually, what my parents’ last wishes are? Have I asked them what kind of funeral they would like? Google “end of life planning” and one will realize there is much to think about (yes, beyond end-of-life medical care!). If in doubt, apparently one can always consult a “death doula”!  How in the world am I supposed to find, “confidence and clarity of purpose” with the topic of death on my mind? 

I laugh at my optimistic self, the self that perhaps wants too desperately to look like everything is OK on the outside. Particularly as a psychologist, a professional role I hold that seems to have “answers.” But seriously, life sometimes throws me into little emotional spirals where I truly feel as lost about life as when I was in my twenties.  No amount of knowledge and experience is an antidote to the underlying anxiety we all feel about death. 

Ah, death. It’s a universal phenomenon - we rationally know everything and everyone comes to an end someday - and yet we struggle to talk about it. As I write,  I’m having second thoughts about publishing this at all because death anxiety isn’t exactly a comforting notion. And yet death anxiety IS relevant to this issue’s theme because our encounters with endings and the feelings of grief, while expectedly distressing, can also be portals - invitations in fact - to a journey towards finding purpose, clarity, and, possibly, confidence. After all, the dragon symbolizes resilience, another word for strength in the midst of adversity. 

I was careful to choose my words there, recognizing resilience to be a quality that is not so much about having strength, but the ability and willingness to find strength in the face of adversity.  Yes, even in the face of death anxiety. These words give me hope. They are reminders  that finding confidence and clarity of purpose in the midst of whatever struggles we find ourselves in - internal or external - is a process.

As I move through the initial apprehension about initiating and facilitating the necessary end-of-life conversations in our family to prepare for the inevitable, I realize that by calling death by its name I transmute the fear that it holds. I make it a reality that I have to face, not something I can avoid, dabble in dribs and drabs, and put off for another year. It becomes clearer to me that this is a goal to lean into and, that, surprisingly, gives me a sense of purpose. 

It is this clarity of purpose that gives me confidence in one of the directions I need to heed this year. As I muster the courage to face these fears, I can transform them knowing the purpose behind them. Perhaps, indeed, this is what the symbol of the dragon means for me in 2024 where the theme of finding clarity of purpose is really about the journey. I was not that confident when I started writing this piece even though I had an inkling about where it was going, but now that I’ve reached the end, it’s clearer to me what my intuitions were saying. 

Here’s to 2024 and finding that increased sense of purpose!


Suellen moved from San Francisco, California to Singapore in 2019 with her husband, three sons, and geriatric cat. They have since added another furry member to their family, a "Singapore special." She runs, sometimes writes, and is a California licensed Clinical Psychologist with a part-time practice in Singapore.


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AWA members are women who come from many countries and life experiences but they all have one thing in common — they have chosen to live in Singapore. Some members are new to Singapore,  while some have been here a long time or have returned to Singapore after time away. Our magazine - written and curated by AWA members - focuses on a diverse range of topics including wellness and family, travel tips, cultural events and information, and other helpful tips around navigating and experiencing life in Singapore to it's fullest. 

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