All I want for Christmas is a family reunion

The fact that Madam Lee Su Hui was living just 2km away from the woman for whom she had been searching for more than two decades is enough bring tears to her eyes.

The 48-year-old housewife was adopted as a baby by a well-to-do childless couple.

And the woman she was searching for was her birth mother.

On Thursday, through the help of voluntary group Crime Library, she located the Mei Ling Street home of her birth mother, Madam Kwek Aye Tee, not far from her own home in Queenstown.

But her hopes were dashed when neighbours told her that Madam Kwek had died after a fall in the kitchen about seven years ago, at the age of 72.

"I knew she would be about 79 or 80 if she was still alive today, so I prepared myself for the possibility that she might not be around any more. Still, there was that sliver of hope," she says.

Now, Madam Lee is pinning her hopes on finding her biological siblings, who, she hopes, can tell her more about their mother.

A neighbour told her that Madam Kwek's wake was managed by the latter's son, whose wife worked in a hawker centre.

Madam Lee says she longed to re-connect with her birth mother ever since she was about seven or eight years old, when she found out she was adopted.

"The moment I found out (about my adoption), I wanted to know... who my real parents were, why I was given away, what they looked like.

"I always felt like my life was not really connected, that I didn't have a complete picture, and that there was a head to the story... like a page was torn off," she says.

The unanswered questions affected her emotionally and psychologically, and left her feeling "unbalanced".

As a child, she says she was teased and bullied by her primary school classmates, who taunted her for being adopted.

"They would pull my hair or take away my stationery, and I remained pretty much friendless until I was in primary 4," she says quietly, her eyes lowered.

Questions about the first chapter of her life swirled around her mind incessantly, but she never dared to seek answers.

Her adoptive mother, a teacher, was always uncomfortable about revealing information about Madam Lee's birth parents and the adoption process - which is why she put the search on hold.

"I tried to explain that they were two different things; my bond with her and my desire to look for my biological mother, but I wasn't able to convince her," she says.

When Madam Lee was in her early 20s, she begged her adoptive mother for information about her roots.

The latter reluctantly relented, giving her the names of her birth parents, and the address of her first home, where she was picked up.

She also explained that it was poverty that drove her birth parents to give her up.

"I visited the place in Geylang, but they had moved away," Madam Lee says.

When her adoptive mother died about three years ago, the desire to reconnect with her birth family became more intense.

But she had no other leads until last week.

Madam Lee recounts the visit to her mother's HDB rental flat, her face crestfallen.

"The neighbours told me she came home late every day, and worked until she was in her 70s.

"It's distressing to see that she lived in the rental flat... clearly, she had challenging economic circumstances," she says, adding that she does not know exactly what Madam Kwek worked as.

She is filled with regret about the things she will never be able to tell Madam Kwek.

"I wanted to meet her, see her, and tell her that she was very courageous to have made the decision to give me up.

"Knowing that she lived in this sort of housing... I'm guessing she had little education. And yet she was far-sighted enough to think about the future well-being of her child. I wanted to thank her for doing right by me, and for her sacrifice," she says.

For now, Madam Lee is looking for her surviving siblings.

"Over the past week, my birth mother went from becoming just a name to someone very real.

"I owe much of what I am today to my adoptive parents, but I would still like to honour the people who gave me my first breath and created me.

"Hopefully my siblings can confirm if she is dead or alive... and tell me how she lived in the years we were apart," she says, her voice breaking.

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