Standing in a narrow walkway, Colleen Turzynski looked at her late mother - in a black-and-white photo - at the Mount Vernon Columbarium yesterday.
She placed a few roses near her columbarium niche and a candle on the floor. With her aunt beside her, she continued looking at the photo of Madam Lee Kui Yin.
Soon, her face turned red and the tears flowed. She held a piece of tissue paper in one hand and held her aunt's arm with the other.
"I want to talk to her, but she's passed away. So I'm very sad. I feel very heartbroken," the 26-year-old Polish orphan told The Straits Times. "It's been a long time searching for my mum. I didn't know where she was until this period of time, so I wanted to visit my mum's final resting place."
Ms Turzynski, who is deaf, spoke to The Straits Times yesterday afternoon through a sign language interpreter from the Singapore Association for the Deaf.
She had arrived here hours earlier after more than a day of travelling from New Jersey via Tokyo.
It was the culmination of an even longer journey - a decade-long search for her roots.
Her Singaporean mother, Polish father and grandfather were murdered 24 years ago, when she was just 17 months old.
She learnt the painful truth only when she turned eight, and made her first attempt to find out more about her parents when she was 16. She was raised by her paternal uncle and grandmother in Poland. She had lost all contact with her mother's family.
In April, after reading her story in The Straits Times, three family members responded and she met some of her Singapore relatives via Skype a few days later.
Yesterday, for the first time, she met them in person at Changi Airport. Her aunt, Madam Lee Say Moi, 66, and uncle Lee Tak Nyen, 70, waited about 20 minutes before she came out into the arrival hall. Ms Turzynski hugged her aunt, then her uncle, then her aunt again. Both women had tears in their eyes.
Shortly after they left the airport with two of her cousins, Madam Lee contacted The Straits Times to say that the family would be at Mount Vernon Columbarium at 3pm that day. Previously, they were unsure when they would make the trip, saying it depended on whether Ms Turzynski needed more time to rest.
"I slept for a few hours, then I woke up, and I kept waking up," said Ms Turzynski. "I don't know why, I think it was because I was excited. I couldn't wait to visit my mum, and only then could I feel a little more relieved."
After she arrived at the airport, she went to Mr Lee's Whampoa home, where she is staying during her month-long visit here. The art and design degree student, who is on her winter break, later visited Mount Vernon with her aunt and two other relatives. She said she intends to visit her mother's niche again, as well as her mother's friends here.
"I want to learn about my mum, my mum's past," she said. "Growing up, I was curious and I want to know more about her."
She also hopes to learn more about the deaf community here, and look around Singapore. "It's a nice and clean place... I love chewing gum, but over here we can't eat that so I've left that at home."
None of her Singapore relatives knows sign language but, for now, Ms Turzynski has been using simple gestures and apps which translate English words to Chinese.
She left the columbarium holding hands with Madam Lee, who said in Mandarin: "If she wants to come back to Singapore, I'll leave it to her. If she wants to work here, even better, she can be with her relatives."
This article was first published on Dec 17, 2014.
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