“I questioned God when my daughter died, and wanted to join her…”

After her daughter’s death sent her into the depths of despair and teetering on the brink of suicide, discovering she wasn’t alone became a lifeline for a 90-year-old.

I questioned God when my daughter died
Image source: iStock.com

The statement “No parent should outlive their child” encapsulates the profound mental anguish and indescribable grief that follows a bereaved parent for a lifetime.

Living out that painful reality is 90-year-old Mdm Fang (pseudonym), who lost her 67-year-old daughter to Covid-19 last year. Widowed for 20 years with three children, Mdm Fang shared a tight bond with her late daughter, who had been her main caregiver.

“My daughter was incredibly kind and caring, always looking after me and actively helping others. She was also deeply involved in church. Her funeral drew people of all ages and from all walks of life, a testament to the impact she had with her kindness. I couldn’t comprehend why God would take away someone so good. I felt it should have been me instead,” shared Mdm Fang, a member of a Methodist Church.

For months, sleep eluded Mdm Fang, food lost its joy, and memories of her daughter dominated every waking moment. Tears filled her days, from dawn till dusk, and lingered into the night. “I wrestled with God, questioning why he did not take me instead,” Mdm Fang recalled, pausing to sob uncontrollably into a handkerchief.

Overwhelmed by grief after her daughter’s death, Mdm Fang spiralled into deep depression. Her incessant crying at home strained her relationship with her daughter-in-law, who was working remotely at that time. With nowhere to go, Mdm Fang sought refuge at an MWS Active Ageing Centre (AAC) in her neighbourhood.

“The staff noticed that she was showing signs of depression, crying every day and constantly expressing a desire to reunite with her late daughter,” shared MWS Senior Associate Chaplain, Sally Tan, who stepped in to offer pastoral care and counselling support to Mdm Fang after being alerted by the Centre staff. “I met with her regularly and listened to her. I also shared comforting Bible verses and we prayed together.”

While the sorrow of losing her child will last a lifetime, more than a year on, Mdm Fang is in a better place emotionally.

A listening ear, a caring heart

Social isolation and loneliness mark the lives of countless seniors like Mdm Fang. In their silver years, older adults may grapple with challenges such as the loss of loved ones, health issues, financial strain and cognitive decline. These struggles may reduce social connections and lead to loneliness, leaving them feeling stuck in a place of pain.

Social isolation extends beyond solo living. A 2021 study in Singapore revealed that even elderly individuals residing with family or friends can experience social isolation.1 More than half of those feeling socially disconnected said they lacked a support figure, the study found. Take Mdm Fang, for instance, who despite living with family, grappled with deep social and emotional disconnection, intensifying her loneliness. This underscores the need for genuine engagement, understanding and companionship in countering social isolation that can lurk even in the most bustling of households.

Research has shown that social isolation and loneliness carry substantial risks for both physical and mental health, including suicidal ideation. Recognising the signs, extending a listening ear and providing support are crucial in preventing suicide.

For Mdm Fang, it was a supportive community—from church friends to staff at the MWS AAC—that played a vital role in dispelling her suicidal thoughts. Their caring presence and willingness to listen provided a sense of comfort and validation to her, knowing that she was not walking the path of healing alone. Their empathy and support were a lifeline of hope and resilience for Mdm Fang during a time of deep despair.

“The staff and friends from the AAC and my church regularly called to check on me, offering comfort and encouragement. The AAC members would also take me out for meals. It helped ease the burden and loneliness of my grief and loss,” shared Mdm Fang, who has since moved out of her son’s place and currently lives alone.

Sally stressed: “For seniors who are isolated like Mdm Fang, a listening ear and a bit of care can make a profound difference. A simple phone call lets them know that someone cares.”

Navigating life after loss

Encouraged by the AAC staff, Mdm Fang began participating in a range of social activities. Board games, art workshops and cooking demos served as meaningful diversions for Mdm Fang, while creating opportunities for social interaction and cognitive engagement to keep loneliness and cognitive decline at bay, shared Sally.

With time and a strong support network, Mdm Fang’s grief has mellowed. “During our initial meetings, Mdm Fang was severely depressed, and her conversations revolved around her late daughter. She seemed trapped in hopelessness and emotional turmoil,” recalled Sally. “However, through joining Centre activities and making new friends, Mdm Fang has gradually found solace and uplifted her emotional state.”

She added: “Suicidal thoughts often arise when individuals feel lost and isolated, lacking support. The inability to envision a better future leads them to contemplate giving up, especially when dealing with sensitive issues like family conflicts. Many keep these struggles private due to shame, but building trust and closeness can encourage them to open up. Our approach involves providing hope, painting a positive picture of possibilities, and assuring them that there is a way out.”

Today, while Mdm Fang is still grieving, she is thankful to God for providing the people around her as a source of comfort and companionship. “I am very thankful to my friends from the AAC and Pastor Sally for their care and concern,” she said. “Their support has been a guiding light, reminding me that I am not alone in this journey.”

If you feel that you are unable to cope and have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, please contact SOS 24-hour hotline 1767, or their 24-hour SOS CareText via WhatsApp 9151 1767. If you feel you may be at immediate risk of harming yourself, call 995 or approach the A&E department of your nearest hospital.

Seniors like Mdm Fang, who grapple with social isolation and loneliness, are prevalent. Research has shown that loneliness’ toll on health is akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It can lead to premature mortality and diminish the overall well-being and quality of life of older adults. Make a meaningful impact by volunteering as a befriender at an MWS Active Ageing Centre. Email volunteer@mws.sg or visit https://mws.sg/volunteer/ for more information. Alternatively, if you wish to support active ageing activities for isolated seniors, please donate at https://mws.sg/give/.

1  Barrenetxea J, Yang Y, Pan A, Feng Q, Koh WP. “Social Disconnection and Living Arrangements among Older Adults: The Singapore Chinese Health Study”, Gerontology, 2021.

By the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) Communications Team.