Wife's death left a void in his life

Wife's death left a void in his life
Mr and Mrs Lee in 2003.

For a week after his wife died, Mr Lee Kuan Yew fussed over her photographs on the wall of the living room at their Oxley Road home.

He placed pictures of their favourite moments together at the foot of his bed and by the treadmill which he used every day. A few days later, he would move them around again.

He repositioned his grey plastic chair at the dining table to have the best view of her pictures on the wall. As he ate his dinner, he listened to classical music, which she enjoyed - her favourite composer was Johann Sebastian Bach.

But nothing seemed to comfort Mr Lee in the days after Madam Kwa Geok Choo, his wife of 63 years, his best friend and confidante, died on Oct 2, 2010.

He slept erratically. A memory would bring tears to his eyes. When her ashes arrived at Oxley Road in a grey marble urn three days after the funeral, he wept.

It took three months before he began returning to normal.

"Slowly, he accepted that Mrs Lee was gone," said his youngest and only surviving brother, Dr Lee Suan Yew.

It was nine months before his health stabilised, said his only daughter Wei Ling.

His day started at 9.45am or so with breakfast: a piece of cake, a mug of Milo and a glass of whey protein drink.

He would then brush his teeth and take a stroll on the treadmill for at least 15 minutes - two things he did without fail after every meal.

The next few hours would be spent clearing e-mail on his desktop computer and catching up on current affairs. He read newspapers in three languages: English, Chinese and Malay, as well as magazines such as Time and the Economist.

Lunch at around 2pm would be a simple meal - chicken soup and tofu, for example. After that, he would go to work.

Although he retained his Istana office after stepping down from the Cabinet in May 2011, he no longer concerned himself with government matters. Rather, he spent his time reading up on topics that interested him, such as population issues and language education.

Occasionally, he met visitors such as former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, his old friend and former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and the advisory board of French oil and gas giant Total.

Until the end of 2012, he would swim for up to an hour every evening. He had to stop when his doctors wanted to avoid the risk of lung infection.

He also had two-hour Chinese lessons every weekday at the office with one of several tutors, discussing current events and topical issues in Mandarin. Sometimes he would continue with his Mandarin lessons even when he was in hospital.

He would usually get home at around 9pm and he would spend a few moments looking at his wife's urn in the living room.

He kept to his new routine in the disciplined way with which he had led his life. But he told his friend Dr Schmidt, who visited in May 2012, that his wife's death had left a deep hole in his life and nothing could fill it.

After Mrs Lee died, elder son Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister, and his wife Ho Ching began visiting Mr Lee on Saturday afternoons whenever their schedules allowed, to keep him company.

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