Fear is an irrational thing.
Today, I called my daughter. I don’t usually do that. But I did.
She sounded quizzical when she picked up the phone, because I don’t usually call her in the middle of the afternoon. After a moment of confusion, she started chatting happily. I asked her about her homework and she told me about the mundane day she had at school and how excited she was over our lunch plans tomorrow.
I listened, and I smiled to myself but inside, my heart was aching.
Partly from hearing her voice, but mostly because I was realising that somewhere in Singapore, a parent can’t do what I’m doing anymore.
Tragedy at River Valley High School
By now, most of us would have heard about the tragic news at River Valley High School. A Secondary 1 student was killed and a Secondary 4 boy has been arrested for his murder.
CNA reported that the victim, a 13-year-old student, was found in a toilet with multiple wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. An axe was seized by the police as part of investigations.
The Straits Times spoke to a parent – a 43-year-old who works in the IT industry – at about 3pm who told the newspaper that he had rushed to the school after receiving a message from his Secondary 1 daughter that said there was someone allegedly wielding an axe in the school.
The Ministry of Education and RVHS said they were “deeply saddened” by the loss of one of their students and are extending their “fullest support to his family during this difficult time”.
“The school has also reached out to students, parents and staff to provide counselling support and the necessary assistance to ensure their well-being,” they said in a joint statement.
On social media, the speculation has already started. People are posting things that they’ve “heard” from someone else, which, without verification from the authorities, would be irresponsible to repeat.
Right now, there is too much we don’t know.
We don’t know the incidents leading up to the confrontation that left one boy dead and another arrested for murder.
We don’t know how the family of the victim will ever be able to deal with this.
Give the family space
There’s so much we don’t know and we cannot help speculating – it’s our human nature to be curious and concerned, especially when it is a violent incident in relatively safe Singapore.
It is one thing to read about a gangfight between adults, but when someone loses his life in what is supposed to be a safe haven for our children, it disturbs us on a fundamental level.
How do you even start to process a thought as heinous as this? That you could say goodbye to someone you care for, not realising that it might be the last time you talk to the person.
We deal with this in the wake of sudden tragedies like car crashes, fatal falls or personal accidents. The suddenness leaves us breathless, unable to process what happened.
It cuts even deeper when it is of a child.
This tragedy saps the bones of strength and drains the soul of meaning. And no matter how much we say “this has never happened before!”, it has now happened once.
And once is already too much.
There’s nothing we can do but to send thoughts, prayers and condolences — scant comfort to a parent who has lost a child.
Let’s give the family space to mourn, and to allow their support system to gather around them like a protective blanket, to help cushion the unbearable blow.
Don’t let it come to this
For us, as a Singapore society, let’s look to ourselves to ensure that this never happens again, so that our children can be safe in schools, at home, wherever they go.
Not just from physical harm, but from the mental, emotional burdens that maim us on the inside long before a hand is raised or a weapon is wielded.
We’ve all heard stories of bullying, and how our teens are facing stresses and not being able to deal with the pressures in their young lives.
We’ve talked about our young Singaporean men having to deal with the spectre of toxic masculinity.
All these might have nothing to do with the tragedy at RVHS today.
But there is no denying that this is the reality that our children are growing up in. Of living with stress and pressure and having no way to release it.
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There are too many things we don’t know about what happened in that school today.
But there is something I do know. During times like these, we automatically reach out to those we take for granted – to do something for them to remind ourselves what we are here for.
I didn’t tell my daughter about why I called. I just let her natter on. I didn’t tell her about the irrational fear that made me pick up the phone.
After I put down the phone, she spammed me with 50 emojis (I counted) and gifs and reminded me in no uncertain terms that I had to finish work early so that we could play computer games together tonight.
I replied with a single emoji smiley.
I’m not going to miss that for the world.
If you are feeling distressed, or know someone who seems troubled, get help immediately. Talk to somebody. Here are some helplines:
National Care Hotline: 1800 202 6868 (8am-12am daily, from 1 Sep 2020)
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444
Institute of Mental Health: 6389 2222
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385 3714
Tinkle Friends (for children): 1800 2744 788
TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800 377 2252