Together, they fought her schizophrenia

Mr Raymond Anthony Fernando with his wife, Madam Doris Lau Siew Lang, who had been battling schizophrenia for 40 years. He is a staunch advocate for people with mental illness.
PHOTO: Together, they fought her schizophrenia

SINGAPORE - Their first date was on a Good Friday, 40 years ago. So when Madam Doris Lau Siew Lang drew her last breath on the eve of the same day, or Maundy Thursday, husband Raymond Anthony Fernando, a Catholic, knew it was no coincidence.

"I think God really had plans for her life," said Mr Fernando, 64, who paid tribute to his wife in an obituary in The Straits Times yesterday.

He had helped Madam Lau, who died at 61, battle schizophrenia for 40 years.

Mr Fernando, a well-known advocate for people with mental illness, wrote: "Even though schizophrenia had ravaged a big part of your life, Doris, my biggest joy was helping you in your recovery, seeing you so happy and contributing as an active member of society through your literary skills.

Madam Lau, a former secretary who wrote books on mental illness, was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital on April 9 for pneumonia, he told The Sunday Times.

"She couldn't take her medication and that was when she had a relapse of schizophrenia," he said.

"That was the saddest part because she couldn't talk to me properly."

The couple, who married in 1974, have no children.

It was in the last 10 years that Madam Lau started having multiple medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes and incontinence, which caused her to be home-bound, he added.

His wife's death is a shock but Mr Fernando said it gives him greater motivation to continue his involvement in mental health issues.

"It would be an injustice to Doris to give up now," he said. "I want to speak up for marginalised groups like the elderly and ex-prisoners too."

Mr Fernando, an author who writes regularly to the ST Forum Page, often gives talks at places such as the Institute of Mental Health. He and his wife have written more than 20 books in all, some written individually and others co-written.

One of Mr Fernando's best-sellers is Loving A Schizophrenic, based on his life story. It has sold 4,000 copies. He wrote then: "Many people have asked me how I could love a schizophrenic... I don't necessarily like what the illness does to her but it is her that I love."

Mr Fernando, who knew of his wife's illness when they got married, said yesterday: "The over 30 years of marriage were very tough - she had 14 lapses in those years."

"But I want society to accept people like Doris. She's an extremely kind and giving person, and she taught me how to love unconditionally."

The wake is at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Upper Thomson. A funeral mass will be held there tomorrow, followed by cremation at Mandai Crematorium.

ateng@sph.com.sg

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 20 in The Straits Times.

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