Caregiver of mentally-ill wife: 'I prayed that she would die before me'

TRIBUTE: Mr Raymond Anthony Fernando with his wife's favourite toy bear. He is working on a book titled She Said Goodbye, With A Rose, as a tribute to his wife.
PHOTO: Caregiver of mentally-ill wife: 'I prayed that she would die before me'

SINGAPORE - "People told me I gave my wife unconditional love, but it was her who gave me unconditional love."

That is what Mr Raymond Anthony Fernando, 64, says about his wife, Madam Doris Lau Siew Lang, 61, who died on the eve of Good Friday.

"Despite her mental illness, she would make extra effort to cook my favourite dishes - prawn mee soup, laksa and chilli crab - and attended to me when I was sick," he says.

He and his wife were the public face of schizophrenia in Singapore for a long time, coming into prominence after he wrote and published a book, Loving A Schizophrenic, in 2005.

He often writes in to the press about mental health issues.

Madam Lau succumbed to pneumonia after being admitted to hospital earlier this month.

When we caught up with Mr Fernando last week, he was mourning the loss of his wife of 40 years.

They met as pen pals in the 1970s. Touched by her sincerity, he decided to marry her, despite family objections and knowing about her illness.

He says: "Even if I were to live my life again, I would still marry her. Maybe even more so, to protect and to take care of her."

Even at the end, he was by her side.

He says: "She couldn't talk and kept pointing up, as though she knew she was going away.

"I was very sad she couldn't talk to me. I just held her hand. But I was happy I was with her during her last moments."

Next   Next   Relief

Relief

When we were at his three-room flat at Ang Mo Kio, he was getting rid of her old medicines.

She took 50 pills a day. Besides schizophrenia, she had rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and high cholesterol.

He admits that there is relief from the constant worry that characterises life as a caregiver.

He says: "I no longer have to worry about her. I no longer need to give her the medicine. I can have a bit of a social life. I'm not happy, but relieved of a lot of stress.

"I prayed to God to take Doris first. Imagine if I go, there will be no one to look after her."

Even though he was struggling mentally and financially, he never thought about leaving.

But the relief is poor salve for the pain of losing the woman he loved.

He says: "I can cope during the day. But the nights are the hardest. I've been crying every night."

What has been keeping him going are the tributes to Madam Lau coming in through various channels, including Facebook.

He is also encouraged by the people who turned up at his wife's funeral.

He will keep going for her sake, and speak up for sufferers of mental illness and their caregivers.

Next   Next   Tribute

He says: "If I stop, it will be a huge injustice to her. In fact, I will be even more intense now. I'm on a mission. Doris set me on this crusade."

He intends to later set up a fund in Madam Lau's name to help people with mental illness.

As a tribute to her, he is writing a book titled She Said Goodbye, With A Rose. A rose fell off the coffin on its way to the cremation. He believes it was her way of reminding him that she still loves him.

He says: "It is her suffering that has made me love her.

"If she had been well and sundry, I may have taken her for granted."

chaihyn@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 27 in The New Paper. Get The New Paper for more stories.