When I read The Pride’s recent story calling for more empathy and understanding towards the mother of the dead Ang Mo Kio girl, it made me recall my own situation of having been left alone at home when I was young, too.
I was about four or five years old at that time, but I still remember the terror I felt when I realised that I was alone in the flat. I had woken up in the darkened bedroom, with my mum nowhere in sight, so I ventured into the hall where there was light.
I thought I had been abandoned; I was told later that I was only left alone for around 10 or 15 minutes, but it had felt like an eternity! I cannot remember if I knew my babysitter’s house number at that time, but there were no handphones then and my parents might not even have had any pagers in that era.
My mother had not woken me up when she had to leave for work because I was sleeping so soundly. Besides, she had already called for my babysitter, who lived in the same block, to come up to look after me.
Back then, my parents were both working hard to make ends meet for our family. My mother had to do shift work, plus keep house at the same time. Family-friendly practices at work are still quite a recent development, so decades ago, I think my mother really had no choice but to leave me at home alone until my babysitter arrived. She had not expected that I would wake up before she showed up.
So, despite my mother’s good intentions, I found myself inexplicably alone in a quiet house at night. I started shouting for my mummy and crying loudly. I opened the door and peered through the grilles of our gate, hoping that my mummy would appear. If I could have opened the gate and ventured out to look for her, I would have.
Finally, my babysitter arrived and comforted me through the grilles. I can’t remember now if she had accompanied me like that until my father came home, or if she had the keys to my house and came in to be with me.
Years later, during an inner healing session at church, this was one of the memories that I had to process. After talking about it with my mother, I understood what had actually happened then, and now, as an adult, I do not blame her – I really think she tried to make what was, to her, the best choice in those circumstances. In fact, I’ve told her a few times that I am not sure if I would have done as well as she did, knowing all the things that she had to cope with at that time, and with her being much younger than I am now.
So, let’s not blame the bereaved mum or dad for something that has already happened, and which they deeply regret. The “what could have been” or “this is preventable” comments are, I believe, a reflex reaction of people identifying with the family’s loss. However, they are not a consoling or empathetic response. It’s heartbreaking enough, and I hope that the family will find forgiveness from themselves, and each other, and be able to move on.
And for parents who find themselves in a similar crunch, it would help and be a great relief if their employers or schools would allow them to bring their kids along to work or school in such exigencies.
Lynn Kiyomi Tan
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