'Son, you can go peacefully now'

Mr Tan Cheng Chuan (right) at his son's wake.

SINGAPORE - The father looked down at the coffin which held his son’s body and laid an arm on the glass cover.

Speaking quietly in Hokkien, the father told his son: “You can go peacefully now. I’m well taken care of. Don’t worry about me.”

What made it more poignant was the fact that Mr Tan Cheng Chuan, 68, had not seen his son for 32 years.

And more tragically, he was the one who had thrown the intellectually disabled Tan Poh Ying from a height of eight storeys in 1982.

The child, who could not speak, then 11, was thrown out of the family’s kitchen window and hit a tree on the way down.

He was paralysed from the waist down as a result.

He died last Thursday, at the age of 43, from complications of his spine and kidneys.

The elder Mr Tan, who suffers from schizophrenia, was charged with attempted murder, but was acquitted and ordered to be placed in a mental institution, where he has been living since.

On Saturday, after getting permission from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), the father, looking frail, set eyes on his son for the first time since the chilling incident.

He arrived in a cab, accompanied by a nurse, and immediately made his way to his son. Pain was etched on his face during the few minutes he stood quietly beside his son’s coffin.

He was joined by his wife, Madam Teo Kiu Wah, 65, and his younger son, Mr Tan Poh Kim, 40, making it a reunion of sorts for a family torn apart three decades ago.

After the incident, the disabled Poh Ying was sent to live in welfare homes. Younger brother Poh Kim completed only his Primary 6 education and today works as an odd-job labourer, earning $30 a day.

It was clear that the reunion was emotionally charged. Madam Teo’s swollen eyes suggested that she had been crying constantly. She had also yet to go home for a rest, said her surviving son.

Tempers flared briefly when the father suggested that he find a way to move back with his wife and son.

The younger son shouted: “I don’t even have a home. My mum and I are now staying at a friend’s flat. How do you expect us to look after you?”

The family spoke quietly to each other after that.

After a while, the old man shuffled away, to be taken back to IMH by taxi.

Before leaving, he told this reporter somewhat weakly that despite last seeing his son as an 11-year-old, he could still recognise him. He added sadly that what happened three decades ago had not been intentional.

Undertaker Roland Tay is sponsoring the cost of the wake and funeral.

He said: “When Mr Tan approached me, he wanted only a straight funeral for his brother due to financial difficulties.

“But after hearing about his brother’s suffering, I was touched. My mind was telling me to let the father be reunited with his son and family.

“The wake is held so that prayers and chants can be conducted for him (Mr Tan Poh Ying) since he had suffered so much since young.”

chaihyn@sph.com.sg

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