Mon, Jul 12, 2010
The New Paper
Grief-stricken mum breaks taboo

THERE is a Chinese custom that the old should not send off the young. That he who is white-haired should not have to bid farewell to one far from greying.

That it is taboo for the parent to be there for the final journey of his dead child.

Yesterday morning, cold custom was cast aside by overwhelming grief.

A mother who should not have been at the crematorium went against the weight of tradition - for those extra few precious, additional minutes with her dead daughter.

It was the day of the send-off.

Earlier, the mother had clung to the side of the hearse carrying her daughter's body, her face contorted in pain.

No one and nothing could tear her away from her dead daughter's side.

Weeping inconsolably, the woman, who appeared to be in her 60s, flung her body against the side of the hearse, her wailing a sorrowful counterpoint to the toneless chants of Buddhist monks in the background.

Shared grief

Other mourners stood watching, sharing her grief, sympathising, sobbing silently.

Passers-by in the otherwise quiet Hougang neighbourhood stopped. They were riveted by the sight of one whose private pain was so intense that it could not be contained.

A few shook their heads. They knew the woman's story.

And they understood. In just eight months, this mother has mourned the loss of two young lives - that of her son-in-law, and then his wife, her youngest child.

Those closest to her were intimate with the turmoil she went through ever since son-in-law Vernon Leong Jun Wei, 31, was found dead on the driveway of the Hilton Singapore on Nov 4 last year.

Just hours earlier that night, she had been the celebrated guest, a VIP, the proud parent of bride Kerin Peh Li Ling at her grand wedding dinner at the hotel.

Hours before dawn the next day, her 28-year-old daughter lost her husband, and she, a son-in-law. Hours before dawn on Monday morning, she lost her daughter.

Ms Peh was found dead at the foot of Block 540, Hougang Street 51, where her family lives.

Her wake was held for the past four days at the void deck of an adjacent HDB block.

A steady stream of visitors turned up every night to pay their respects.

How was the family faring? What could it have been like mourning death in such tragic circumstances? Most at the wake were tight-lipped. Neighbours would only say, ashen-faced, that Ms Peh was the prettiest of the three daughters.

Ms Peh's family members had declined to speak to the media.

But Ms Peh's mother relented, only slightly, when approached by Shin Min Daily News while she was with her grandson at a nearby playground on Wednesday.

She said in Mandarin: "I'm more calm now, but I'm still very sad. My heart aches whenever I think about it."

Calm turned into a crescendo of grief when the time came for the final farewell yesterday. As the time of the cremation drew closer, as the last rites were being performed before the trip to the crematorium, Ms Peh's mother broke down.

The Buddhist monks chanted prayers. The elderly woman wasn't listening. She sank into a chair, her body doubled over into the arms of a relative.

Later, when the coffin was moved into the hearse, she again burst into loud wails and had to be restrained by relatives and friends. She settled down only when the hearse started moving off.

As it slowly made its way out of the open-air carpark, she went with it, holding on to the vehicle, pressing her face against the glass windows that separated her from the daughter she gave life to and raised.

She wept silently.

When the cortege reached the main road, the urgency of grief took over. She refused to let go of the hearse.

She had to be pulled away by relatives and led to the bus hired to take them to the crematorium.

In the bus, she knocked her head on the seat in front of her, as she bent over in pain. Then, suddenly standing up, she leaned forward and reached out, looking as if she was trying to call out to her dead daughter.

At Bright Hill Crematorium, where the group of about 40 mourners gathered half an hour later, only one of Ms Peh's elder sisters and a male friend took part in a final prayer session led by a monk.

Rushed forward

Ms Peh's other sister and mother were too distraught to participate. Both rushed forward as the coffin inched towards the furnace.

Ms Peh's sister crumpled into a heap on the ground and was immediately surrounded by friends and family members. Her mother had to be led to the side by a relative.

Whatever questions, doubts and dark shadows that must have occupied Ms Peh's mind in the period between her husband's death and her own will go forever unanswered.

The pain that seared her once love-lorn heart lasted eight months.

Yesterday, Ms Peh's pain, her intolerable grief, became her mother's to bear.

And so, inexplicably, the mourning continues.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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