When news of a six-year-old girl’s tragic death was reported last Tuesday (Jun 4), the Internet’s collective heart broke for the distraught mother.
Little Christina Goh had fallen from an open kitchen window of her family’s 11th storey flat in Ang Mo Kio.
However, when it was later revealed that she had been left alone at home and her mother had forgotten to lock the window grilles before leaving the house that afternoon, the tide of public sympathy turned swiftly and overwhelmingly against her.
Netizens did not hesitate to excoriate the mother for leaving a young child unattended for a period of time. They heaped judgment on her parenting skills, and blamed her for what they saw as an avoidable tragedy. Some even called for her to be charged with child abuse and neglect.
Comments ranged from the considerably neutral “why would any parent in their right mind leave a young child alone?” variety, to the outraged finger-pointing “it’s all her fault” / “she asked for it” type. One particularly antagonistic commenter said: “If she really need to… finish her studies, why did she give birth… she should study first before getting married and giving birth”.
Christina’s mother, Mrs Goh, had been on her way to Nanyang Polytechnic, where she is currently pursuing a nursing diploma, on the day of the incident. She had quit her previous job as a waitress to enrol in the course, in the hopes of providing a better life for her children.
On any given day, she would have left Christina at a childcare centre before heading to class. But on that fateful Tuesday, the centre was open for only half a day. As such, Mrs Goh had no choice but to leave her daughter at home. Her husband was at work then, and her older son was at a student care centre.
By the time Mrs Goh arrived home after class that day, it was too late. She found the kitchen windows open and when she looked down, she was greeted by a devastating sight – the lifeless body of her daughter, surrounded by paramedics.
I’m not a mother myself, but I don’t have to be one to know that at that moment, Mrs Goh probably felt her knees buckle, her heart constricting painfully and her breath coming in ragged gasps, as she struggled to take in the unthinkable.
At that moment, a part of her was probably thinking: “This can’t be happening; it’s all wrong – a child should not die before her mother.”
At that moment, she was probably beginning to understand what people mean when they say that losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent.
In the days, months and years to come, the bereaved Mrs Goh will never stop being haunted by the choice she made to leave Christina alone at home.
Was it a short-sighted decision with the most grave, horrific and irreversible consequences?
Yes – and it is a mistake that she will regret every single day for the rest of her life. With a bit more care and regard for basic home safety precautions, such as ensuring that all window grilles are locked when a young child is present, a tragic accidental death might have been avoided.
But are the strident comments denouncing her as a parent from hell really warranted, especially in her time of great grief?
It’s tough being a parent, and if anything, Mrs Goh’s determination to better herself in order to give Christina and her brother a shot at a better future is a testament of her love for her children.
Instead of showing compassion for her profound pain and sharing our condolences for her unimaginable loss, we are all too quick to criticise her, pointing out all the ‘right’ things she should have done in her situation – such as skipping class or going in late, and asking her neighbours to help look after Christina that day.
These may all be valid suggestions, but they also point to the fact that hindsight is always perfect – it’s easy for us to know what to do only after something has happened. And I daresay these are the very decisions Mrs Goh is beating herself up about not making, without the rest of us piling it on as well.
No parent would ever want this sort of thing to happen to their beloved child. And no matter what the circumstances were that led to her tragic loss, Mrs Goh’s grief is real and deep. So, what is the point in us kicking her when she’s down?
If anything needs to be said on social media, let it be words of empathy, as thankfully, many others have expressed, to help Mrs Goh and her family come to terms with Christina’s death.
Because for a parent who has to live with such guilt for a lifetime, she may well be suffering a fate worse than death.