Son was stressed, dad was sick

SINGAPORE - Before he became wheelchair-bound, he was a very fit elderly man who ran a marathon even when he was 60 years old.

But Mr Soong Ah Chai's active lifestyle came to a standstill when he was diagnosed about a year ago with Parkinson's disease.

The 65-year-old man's second son, IT support staff Soong Sheng Long, 30, became his main caregiver.

Saddled with his own problems, the younger man later told a close friend that his father had mentioned to him about ending both their lives together.

He tragically carried out his father's wish on March 24. Both fell to their deaths from the 17th storey of Block 605 at Clementi West Street 1.

In his findings yesterday, state coroner Marvin Bay said that the pair were killed in a joint suicide after they fell from the 22-storey point block.

He added that it was most likely that the younger man helped his father to end his life before climbing over the parapet and plummeted to his death seconds later.

Investigation Officer (IO) Inspector (Insp) Kevin Lee Ming Woei told the court yesterday that the younger Mr Soong became the head of his household after his elder brother moved out to be with his own family.

The younger man, who shared the flat with his mother and younger sister, had to take care of their ill father.

Before his death, he had confided in his close friend that he was very stressed at both work and home.

The younger Mr Soong was stressed following his promotion to team leader and the added responsibilities that came with it. Insp Lee said that the younger Mr Soong was not confident that he was up to the job.

The court heard that on the morning of the tragedy, the older Mr Soong had fallen at home and suffered a cut on his brow.

Upon seeing this, the family's maid decided that she wanted to quit as she could no longer cope with caring for the elderly man.

Because his mother had to take the maid to the maid agency, the younger Mr Soong had to take urgent leave from work to take care of his father.

Coroner Bay said that this incident was a "likely catalyst" to the tragedy.

Before falling to his death, the younger Mr Soong sent his direct work supervisor an e-mail with a header that read "Not fit for duty".

The message that followed went: "Sorry, I failed as a lead. Find someone else."

He created a chat group on WhatsApp and added his mother, elder brother and younger sister to it. Entitled "I chose the easy way out", he sent out two messages: "Sorry" and "Forgive me".

TOO LATE

His brother tried to contact him after receiving the messages and their mother also told her older son to rush home to see what was happening.

But it was already too late. The brother was on his way home when he received a call from the police, informing him about the incident.

Officers recovered his younger brother's mobile phone in the family flat on the seventh storey.

In it, they found a note that was created minutes before the tragedy: "Sorry I never grew up. Sorry I have no desire to move on with my life. Sorry that I only have running as my option. This is the only way I am in control of my life."

Two closed-circuit television clips taken from a lift at their block were played in court yesterday. They showed the younger Mr Soong entering the lift with his wheelchair-bound father.

At around 2.24pm, a witness heard two loud thuds a few seconds apart. He saw the older Mr Soong lying at the foot of the block. He also saw the younger man on the roof of a sheltered walkway.

A paramedic who arrived at the scene not long afterwards pronounced the father and son dead at 2.45pm. Their autopsies revealed that they died of multiple injuries, consistent with those sustained from falling from height.

Said Insp Lee: "(The younger Mr Soong) was a very quiet person... who usually kept his troubles and problems to himself as he did not wish to burden his family.

"As such, (they were) not aware if (he) had any troubles."

ashaffiq@sph.com.sg

 

HELPLINES
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800

Father and son close before disease set in

About three years ago, a neighbour saw him doing a vertical run up and down the point block where he lived.

Mr Soong Ah Chai, then 63, even ran up to the 22nd storey, the highest storey, where the neighbour is living.

Said Mrs Tricia Tham, 62, a teacher who works with special needs children: “He was with a backpack and he was panting away and all sweaty. He knocked on my door and when I opened the door, he said, ‘You ah, is this the seventh floor?’”

Shocked, Mrs Tham said no and proceeded to redirect him down via the lift.

She said: “At the point in time, it didn’t occur to me that he had health problems and he’s losing direction.”

From then on, Mr Soong, who suffered from Parkinson disease, deteriorated rapidly.

It came to a point where he needed a maid to follow him around.

When she met him again about two years ago, she also realised that his motor skills were compromised.

Said Mrs Tham: “When I asked his wife, she said he’s not as fit anymore.

“About a year before the incident, I heard that he was in and out of the nursing home. I heard it from his wife. All of them were working, and there’s no one looking after him.”

Another neighbour, Mr Mazlan Onn, 52, a customer support officer, said that he had seen Mr Soong walking in a daze more than a year before the incident.

He had also heard from other neighbours that Mr Soong often shouted at his second son, Mr Soong Sheng Loong, 30, while his wife would defuse the situation.

WASN’T LIKE THIS

But it was not like this before the onset of the disease.

Mrs Tham said she had seen father and son heading out for a jog together on Sundays about 10 years back.

Recalling when Mr Soong’s sons were still very young, she said: “They were very close. Mr Soong was always with his two boys, running around at the playground.”

Another neighbour, Mr Reuben Tham, 32, who works in the banking industry, said he used to bump into the younger Mr Soong about twice a week.

He said: “I’ve seen him before, going for a run on his own.

“Since about two years ago, his father does not jog with him anymore.”

chaihyn@sph.com.sg

Caregivers need care too

Caregivers need to know when and where to get help and support when they feel stressed.

They should talk about their issues in coping, go for professional counselling or get support from community resources, friends and family.

Ms Christine Wong, the executive director of the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), said that family members and friends need to understand stress associated with caregiving and try to provide support to the caregivers.

They can, for instance, take turns to do the caregiving, to give the caregiver a break.

They can also give financial support, or assist the caregiver in obtaining professional help or resources to cope with caregiving.

Ms Wong said: “A caregiver’s job can be a 24-hour job that can be very tiring — physically, emotionally and even financially.”

 

HELPLINES
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800

ashaffiq@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sep 17, 2014.
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