An Unending Bereavement.
Madam Tan was an elegantly coiffured 65 year-old when I first saw her. She wore a blank expression as she walked into the room with a close friend who had accompanied her. I briefly introduced myself to break the ice, and then jumped straight into an exploratory question on the purpose of their visit. Mdm Tan immediate disconnected eye contact and looked down at the carpet. 30 seconds later, Madam Chong, her friend, answered my question. Throughout the session, Mdm Tan remained absolutely quiet, and I was beginning to wonder whether she had been coaxed against her will to see me by her friend. Eventually, Mdm Chong painted for me the tragic background to Mdm Tan’s problems.
Mdm Tan was a widow from a young age, and had singlehandedly brought up her only child, a son, who was a medical doctor. Twenty years ago, a year after Jason got married, he and his wife, Sybil, were on spring holiday trip in New Zealand; their belated honeymoon. The day before they were due to return home, a truck had smashed into their car head on, while it was attempting to overtake a vehicle on the opposite side of the road. Sybil and Jason were killed immediately. Mdm Chong went to New Zealand with Mdm Tan to identify her son and daughter-in-law. Their faces were unrecognizable. A DNA test was done for a match. They brought the bodies back, and immediately she had them interred. Mdm Tan could not bear to organize a funeral. Her grief was unabated for the last twenty years or so. She kept her son’s bedroom and study undisturbed all this while, and nobody was allowed into those rooms. She lived alone with a househelp, and except for Mdm Chong’s occasional visits, no one else called on her.
Her social involvement was quite wide prior to these sad events: she was on the board of several well known local and international charities, and would be invited to important functions from time-to-time. Since her son’s demise, she had terminated all her commitments and had ceased all contacts with her friends and relatives. She gave up her television set and landline, and even though she possessed a mobile phone, she rarely switched it on. Her accountant handled all her household bills and finances. When Mdm Chong visited her, she hardly communicated, her friend did all the talking; bringing her up to date with the latest news from her friends and relatives. Once in a while, Mdm Chong would drive her out for a visit to the Botanical Gardens, one of her few favourite spots. Mdm Chong was at her wits’ end to know how she could help her friend rise above her depressive grieving and voluntary mutism.
After listening to Mdm Chong, I turned to Mdm Tan and offered my condolences on the deaths of Jason and Sybil; two young people with a bright future ahead of them, their lives snuffed out suddenly. Then, very briefly, I related to her how I had felt and what my regrets were loosing my father when I was 18 years old. For the first time that afternoon, tears began to form in her eyes. I thought to myself, perhaps there is some hope, if she was able to give some emotional expression to her sudden and tragic grief.