When raising children in Singapore, many parents try to pick the best schools for their kids.

Some move just to get a better chance to get into the school of their choice, or pick enrichment classes for their children just to give them a leg up in today’s demanding world.

We start planning for our children’s future from the time they are born, nurturing them to be resilient as society advances; and we expect our children to live long after we’re gone.

Tragically, some do not.

Tanjong Pagar car crash takes young lives

Last Saturday’s Tanjong Pagar car crash showed us that sometimes life can be cruel.

The deaths of five young men – all of whom were only in their twenties – shocked Singapore out of the festive spirit.

At 5.40am on Feb 13, the second day of Chinese New Year, a BMW M4 Coupe driven by Jonathan Long, 29, slammed into a vacant shophouse on Tanjong Pagar Road and burst into flames.

He and his four friends – Eugene Yap, 29, Elvin Tan, 28, Wilson Teo, 26, and Gary Wong, 29 – died on the scene. Jonathan’s 26-year-old fiancee, Raybe Oh, who ran into the flames to try to save him, suffered burns on 80% of her body and is now in critical condition in hospital.

This tragedy is devastating news to receive anytime, what more during Chinese New Year. Especially so for the family of these victims.

Remembering the Tanjong Pagar accident victims
Image source: Facebook / Ariffin Jamar

Wilson’s father, a school bus driver, told The Straits Times that he “nearly collapsed from shock and grief” when he was told his son had died in the accident.

“My heart completely sank. I knew that was it. My son is gone. I had never thought something like this could happen. I completely broke down. I have lost something that is more important than my own life. I cannot accept it.”

The night before the accident, Wilson had promised his mum that he would not stay out too late “as the family had to visit Mrs Teo’s father for Chinese New Year the next day”.

In tears, Mrs Teo, 56, told The Straits Times: “He was so young. Such a good child and he is gone like that. He went out one night and he never came back… I keep hoping this is not real. That night, we left our front door open, hoping he would come home and call me ‘Mum’ once more. If he had come home, it would have all been fine.”

Her son doted on her, she said. He would take her for hotpot every year on her birthday and always shared his problems with her.

Wilson’s sister, an undergraduate, said: “He was always very caring towards me. When I was down, he would always tease me to cheer me up. He always said he loved to see my reaction when I was annoyed but I know that it was just his way of showing love.”

“I always saw him as a role model. He wanted to achieve a lot of things in life. He wanted to give my mum a better life. He said he would protect her forever. I want everybody to remember him as a nice person… He always knew his limits… He was the pillar in my family. There was never a day that I thought he would not be by our side.”

Tanjong Pagar accident victim was ‘a good child’, says mum

Tanjong Pagar accident - Cherish what you have
Image source: Shutterstock / phloxii

How Wilson’s family described him suggests to me that he had a loving family and was raised as best as his mum and dad knew how.

However, there’s only so much parents can do and only so far we can go to keep our children out of harm’s way.

When they are toddlers, we can stop our children before they run too far. When they are tweens, we can set parental controls on their gadgets. When they are teenagers, we can still set curfews against staying out too late.

As parents, we will always want to protect our kids by cushioning the impact of trials and tribulations of the outside world. We dream of our home as a safe haven from the dangers outside and we promise our children that they will be safe in it.

But what happens when our children grow up and leave our so-called “safe haven”?

Earlier this month, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Jethro Puah, 15, died after an accident at Safra Yishun.

Jethro had lost his footing during a high-element activity and was “suspended by the safety harness” in mid-air. As he was being lowered to the ground, the teen lost consciousness, and was unresponsive when the police arrived. He died the next day in hospital.

His father, Tony Puah, gave a eulogy at the wake and said he and his wife Jehanne were thankful of the time spent with his son and the great memories Jethro had left behind.

“Jet would without fail thank me for fetching him – I fetched him to schools, lessons, tuition and Church activities, everywhere! Every night I would knock on his door to hug him and wish him good night and he would give me a big smile. My son has never worried me; in terms of his academic ability, he has proven again and again every year since Primary 2, getting awards for Good Character and as Top Performer,” Tony said.

Tony would not have expected that it would be the last time he saw his son alive when he sent Jethro off to his school activity that day.

A Facebook post by Michael Han beautifully sums up how parents can deal with the fear of “letting go”:

“Indeed, there is a season for nurturance and a season for letting go. A season to hold their hands as they learn to walk and a season to let go as they journey on their own. Alas, as uncertainty, like unsteer’d boats, is part and parcel of life, so is love, though imperfect, is part and parcel of our time spent with them. And while they are still with us, let us never forget that.”

Teach our children to make good choices

Tanjong Pagar accident - Cherishing each other
Image source: Shutterstock / Treetree2016

Just imagining myself having to go through what the Teo and Puah families are experiencing now gives me great discomfort. I’m a mummy to two bubbly and chatty preschoolers and it would make my home – and my heart – feel empty without their presence.

However, I know it’s impossible to have them by my side forever.

The best we can do as parents is to bring our children up the right way, teach them and keep reminding them what is good, and what is not.

We should not force them to do something against their will or stop them from who they want to be or who they want to be with, but we should not be totally unconcerned with the people and situations our children surround themselves with.

This parable comes to mind:

A man walked into a blacksmith’s shop and looked around, captivated by what the blacksmith was doing. After leaving, the man realized that although he did not physically participate in the blacksmith’s job, he still smelled of soot and smoke.

The man later went to a perfume shop. He walked in, intoxicated by the multiple scents wafting through the air. When the man left the shop, he realised that although he did not buy any perfume, he departed with the most pleasing fragrance.

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Our friends have a direct impact on the way we behave and carry ourselves. When we surround ourselves with good company, we eventually begin to emulate their behaviors and attitudes. Likewise, when we surround ourselves with bad company, we risk justifying their actions or worse, modelling their behaviour and losing pieces of ourselves.

No matter how well we bring our kids up, their choices are their own. And the consequences that come with it.

Often, we are still able to walk with them, grieve with them in their losses and celebrate with them in their victories. We are able to provide counsel, comfort and a refuge in their times of trouble.

Sometimes, we are not, when family ties estrange or when terrible tragedy, like the Tanjong Pagar crash, strikes. Then, we are left to pick up the pieces, in anguish over our grief and angry at the senselessness of it all.

No parent would ever want to see their child go before them, but such is the nature of life – we never know what will happen tomorrow.

How do we protect our children? How do we make sure that our family is safe when they leave the refuge of home? Truth is, we can’t. Not all the time. And not forever.

But we can cherish them. Make our moments with our loved ones count. Celebrate with them today. Appreciate them now. Every. Single. Day.

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