Dealing With Death and Loss
By TAN Kee Wee
(MediaCorp 938LIVE’s Money Talks, Thursday, 16 October
2008, 7.50 am and 7.20 pm)
When stock markets began its plunge a few weeks ago,
it was seen as a great opportunity to buy. It spurred wave
after wave of bargain hunters to rush in, hoping to make some
money. Instead, all they got were bloody noses.
As prices continued to slip, many investors were left
in a state of shock. Soon, across trading floors, phones
stopped ringing. Clients were not even calling up their stock
brokers to seek advice and reassurances.
It is the classic situation whereby investors are not
able to face up to their losses. For them, the natural way to
overcome the pain of losing money is to refuse to recognize the
extent of their losses.
From struggling for breath a few weeks ago, many investors
began to breathe quietly and felt numb. This numbness usually
occurs sometime before the last phase, or the capitulation
phase. That’s when investors finally give up, and dump all
their stocks at whatever prices.
For investors who still have the money, this
capitulation phase is important because it’s a
once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy. Because it usually marks the
lowest point for prices.
The trick is to know when this capitulation phase is
upon us. It’s certainly not this week, with the markets still
so energetic. It could be next month. It could be next year. No
one really knows.
But what we do know is that the market’s frame of
mind, right to the capitulation phase, is very similar to the
frame of mind of a man who has just been told that his illness
is incurable, and that he would die.
The noted expert on death and dying, Dr Elisabeth
Kubler-Ross, identified the stages that dying people typically
experience. These stages do not necessarily progress in a
specific order. But, they are real.
In the first stage, there is usually numbness, denial
or disbelief. The second stage is when the dying patient is
angry and starts to blame others. Then there is the stage
whereby the dying patient would bargain with his god for an
extension of his life.
As the end approaches, the second last stage is marked
by depression, weeping, and immense sadness. Then comes the
final stage. This is one of acceptance or coming to terms with
Like the investor who finally decides to dump his
stocks, this final stage is also a liberating time for the
patient. Once death is accepted, and when death is seen as a
part of life, he will be at peace. He will feel as if a great
weight has been lifted from him. He will see more clearly. And
he will begin to look forward to his next journey.
Unfortunately, not all dying patients get to reach
this final and peaceful stage. All patients should really. One
of the main aims of hospice and palliative care, which is a
branch of medicine helping patients cope with terminal
illnesses, is to guide patients towards this peaceful
Because once we reach this peaceful stage, we’ll
recognize that it’s not how long we live that matters. It’s the
quality of our life that really matters.
In the face of death, we should not just respond to it
by breaking into tears or poetry, or just take drugs to dull
the pain. That would not be right. The principle of hospice and
palliative care teaches us that the right antidote to death and
dying is life and living.
In other words, we’re to go home, love our children,
try not to quarrel, eat well, feel the rain falling on our
heads, and laugh as often as possible, especially at
The principle of hospice and palliative care can also
teach something to investors who have lost money recently. The
right antidote is not to grieve over the money lost, which we
imagine would give us happiness. The right antidote is to find
our happiness through other means.
For every minute we spend grieving over our loss, is a
minute of happiness we want for ourselves and will never get