Till death do us part

It’s a month since dad left us on 17 January and as we grieve, we are grateful for the love and support from friends, our extended family and the church family.

Mum and dad at JB's iconic Istana Gardens
All grief is personal.  One may grief differently from another.  Some may take longer than the other.  While each one of us held up a brave front, it doesn’t diminish the grief we feel for the loss of someone as dear as our dad.

Some well-meaning people asked me, “How’s your mum?” and my reply was a frank, “I really don’t know.”  I understand that they mean well and were showing concern but I cannot possibly know what a widow goes through at the loss of her spouse.  

All I know is that it’s something deeply personal.  Imagine the adjustments as mum deals with the absence of her life partner of more than 60 years.  Unlike some couples who may have drifted apart over the years, mum and dad continued to share a caring relationship, well into their advanced age.

Since dad underwent his angioplasty in 2010, mum paid particular attention to dad's healthcare, catered to his choice of food and tried to be creative with her cooking when she observed that he was losing his appetite. 

Mum and dad seated on the steps of the Grand Palace
at Istana Gardens
I remember a time when dad had a bad bout of persistent coughing and one night, he carried his pillows over to sleep in the guest room to avoid keeping mum awake with his coughs.  He was being considerate to mum but guess what?  Mum came to me, concerned that when dad moved out of their room, she could not keep an eye out for him during the night!  This is just an example of their bond, and the mutual care and concern for each other.

Looking back, mum and dad have stuck together through ups and downs even from the very start of their relationship.  Many years ago, while looking through old photo albums, I observed the absence of mum’s eldest brother in our parents’ wedding photos.  Curious to find out more, I boldly asked my parents and discovered the sad story about how mum’s brother did not approve of dad as a life partner for her!

Mum, a pretty young lady in 1952
It was interesting that while mum’s parents approved of dad, her eldest brother did not.  I guess dad’s reputation as a popular guy with the nursing fraternity might have caused uncle to think that dad was not good enough for his sister.  I suppose it also took one rascal to know another – and uncle, who was a colleague in the then Johor Baru General Hospital (JBGH) – was aware that dad was nicknamed, The Dancing King, for obvious reasons.  We have many old photos of dad dancing in the nurses’ hostel but the exciting end to this saga was how dad ultimately chose mum, a non-dancer, as his life partner!
Mum shared with me, interesting anecdotes about their dating days and one that I vividly remember was when mum rode pillion on dad’s motorcycle.  At that time, grandfather and his family lived in hospital quarters at Jalan Sungai Chat, a semi-detached house opposite the English College (now demolished but new shophouses, Nong Chik Riverside, occupy that same site).

When mum and her eldest brother started working at the then JBGH, they commuted to work by bicycle and uncle would ride with mum, unless they had different work shifts.  In those days, there were no street lights but it was a relatively safe route between their home and the hospital.  Relatively safe because mum said one night, when she was riding home alone in pitch darkness, she realized that someone on a bicycle was following her!

This pervert suddenly rode alongside with mum, reached out his hand and stroked her cheek!  Mum screamed in shock but managed to pedal home safely and she remembered how she flung her bicycle to the ground, ran indoors and burst in tears!

A precious photo of mum and dad taken
at great-grandmother's house
Since that terrifying incident, mum was always escorted to and from work.  When mum and dad started dating, mum would ride pillion on dad’s motorcycle.  One night as they were riding home, mum said the bike lurched over an unfamiliar bump.

And when dad reached their destination, he suddenly realized that he was riding alone because mum had bounced off when the bike hit that bump!  Dad was of course, finally forgiven for his negligence and having learnt his lesson the hard way, he made sure that such neglect never occurred again!

Mum shares a special bond with her aunt, grandma’s youngest sister who is just four years older than mum.  Grand-aunt Sim and mum were dating about the same time and I saw from dad’s collection of old photos that they used to double-date at JB’s iconic Istana Gardens.  Dad’s trusted old camera was well used with the tripod stand to capture photo mementoes of their double-dates in the park.

Grand-aunt also used to sew dresses for mum and the evening gown that mum wore at the wedding banquet was sewn by her.  After grand-aunt and grand-uncle Leong were married, they lived in Singapore.  When we visited them a few years ago, I discovered a rare photo from their album that grand-uncle took of mum and dad at great-grandmother’s house in Jalan Lumba Kuda.  It’s such a precious photo because it captured a playful side of our parents in a carefree era, long before we were born!

Mum and dad's formal wedding photo
kept inside their wedding certificate
Nonetheless, our grandparents accepted dad as their first son-in-law and our parents’ wedding was a grand affair with a dinner banquet held at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.  In those days, it was the norm to invite restaurant cooks to set up their kitchen at the event venue to serve the meal and our parents’ wedding banquet was hosted on the badminton court adjacent to the bungalow.

I’m sure every married couple have their share of challenges and while our parents were imperfect, they complimented each other in a unique way.  While she looked fair and pretty, he was dark and mysterious.  No one could tell what was dad’s race and I was oblivious about it until I was older and often quizzed with blunt questions like, “You orang apa?”  It got to a point when it seemed rude so I further confused these nosey people by replying, “On paper, I’m Chinese.”

For a long time, I did not know that dad was brought up by Christian missionaries in an orphanage and given a Chinese name but even from old photos, dad certainly looked non-Chinese.  As a result, my siblings and I have our share of fun with people who are curious about our ethnic origins.

Notice the red banner above!
As we sorted through dad’s things, we discovered his mementoes and I was deeply touched that dad kept birthday and Father’s Day cards from me.  Among them was a cute birthday card that mum wrote him in 1996 where she signed off, “Love, Lucy.”  This reminded me of how dad used to enjoy the old TV series “I Love Lucy” that featured the madcap Lucille Ball and we too learnt to enjoy this crazy comedy series.

Another of dad’s mementoes were separate pages torn out of dad’s pocket diary that marked important dates like the birth of my sister, Pearly, and me – complete with time of birth, weight and our full names!

The page that recorded my birth was particularly special because dad recorded that on October 12, he was admitted to the Officers’ Ward for hepatitis and on October 13, mum was admitted to the maternity ward.  I turned the page and saw how dad recorded on Monday, October 14, mum delivered me, female at 5.20am and I weighed 7lb 11ozs at birth!  This was the record of what my parents told me about that day I was born, when both mum and dad were in the JBGH but lying in different wards!

A sight I miss seeing at home
One of the pages listed what looked like a school report, in mum’s handwriting, with scores for subjects but we couldn’t figure out whose report it was.  What struck me was the red banner pasted above.  The date on that page in 1956 was 26 October (dad’s birthday!) and the banner read: “Today is my husband’s birthday.”  It appears that it was a reminder on this page from mum or dad’s pocket diary or did they share the same diary?  Still, it was a beautiful insight into the love they shared back in the 1950s!

At the passing of his grandfather, Andrew, our nephew in Perth, posted several photos in Instagram with interesting comments.  One special shot was of mum and dad at home, seated and reading in companionable silence.  Their restful posture with Trixie, the sleeping pet between them, was typical of how they shared time together in their retirement.  This is a sight I miss dearly because each time I look at dad’s chair now, it’s empty.

"...In sickness and in health..." mum and dad
in Dr Yap's waiting room on Jan 14
Andrew, now a young father, also posted a photo that I took of our parents seated in Dr Yap’s waiting room on 14 January 2016.  He commented that in an age when the world took marriage vows lightly, here is a portrait of how his grandparents were keeping their vows, “…in sickness and in health…”  They were indeed, living out their vows as they accompanied each other to consult the doctor.  This poignant photo was among the last I took of our parents in the doctor’s waiting room.

In an attempt to answer that question, “How’s your mum?” I should say something like, I believe that while mum is missing the presence of her beloved husband, she is at peace.  I know she has done all that she could as a wife to cherish and care for her husband, even to the very last.  For every married couple, the reality is one will leave before the other and the final separation will always be painful.

We just praise God that our parents shared an eventful life together and were blessed with a family, complete with children, grand-children and great-grandchildren who live in three continents.  The way ahead will be different without dad but I trust that the legacy of our parents’ married life will be an inspiration to couples as you cherish each other in your life-long journey together.


  1. perfect parents you have. I admire them..I remembered a lady who looks like yr mum. Her dter should be born in 1972 and studied in SIGS primary together with my dter Mei Fong. They have lost touch. Does it ring a bell to you.

  2. Thanks for your comments about our parents but they were ordinary people who gave us an extraordinary life! My mum's last child was my brother who went to St Joseph's School so I'm afraid I cannot help you will tracing your daughter's friend from SIGS.