By Charmain Sim
Say “grief” and we usually think of death or the loss of a loved one. Actually, there are at least 40 life events that can trigger grief. They include divorce, health issues, losing your job, moving house, and children leaving the nest. Sometimes, grief is addressed rightly. When it isn’t, its effects can be crippling.
April Chan, 62, knows this firsthand. Her story is rather odd, for instead of a loss, her grief was over a life that was not fully lived.
Grief triggered by sad childhood… April Chan at age four (standing between her parents).
When she was four, Chan was given away to a spinster. Her childhood was dark and depressing. Every day, her foster mother caned and scolded her.
From the age of eight, she was put to washing, marketing and cooking. When she was 13, she came to Christ through a friend. She went to church whenever she could. It was her hiding place, but her situation didn’t change.
“When I was 16, my foster mom passed away. I was happy, but at the same time, I was now all alone. I had to work very hard to support myself,” Chan recounts.
She eventually married at 24 to a man she described as kind but was a gambler. Around that time, she found her biological mother. She went to meet her, eager to know why she was given away.
“My father was a gambler, and because they couldn’t provide for us, my parents gave away seven of their 13 children. When I met my mom, she had already gone mad from losing her children,” Chan shares.
Learning the truth about her past and finding her mother in that tragic mental state triggered Chan’s grief-filled life. She then poured her life into her family, caring for her children and helping her husband make ends meet. She especially treasured the years taking care of her children but there was always a cloud of sadness hovering over her despite attending church faithfully and praying earnestly.
After her husband passed away in 2009, Chan fell into deep depression. She isolated herself, stayed home, watched dramas and cried. When she eventually sought help, counselling didn’t work.
“So much crying and crying, but then nothing happens after that,” she says.
In January 2017, Chan came across an article on the Grief Recovery Method (GRM). Just launched in Singapore, GRM provides systematic steps toward dealing with loss. Chan immediately signed up for the next course. In July, she became part of a small group of women, each dealing with a different kind of grief.
One of her group mates was graphic designer Felicia Tan, 40. A mother of a three-year-old boy, her family is her world, which had taken years to become a reality.
For a long time, Tan and her husband had been trying for a baby. She finally conceived in 2011 and 23 weeks later, she gave birth prematurely to a baby boy. His under-developed lungs failed and he passed away.
“I named him Dominic, which means ‘belonging to God’. I wasn’t a Christian then but I just wanted to name him that,” Tan says.
During this sad time, Tan became acquainted with Christianity through a series of “coincidences” – Christian friends “suddenly” showing up and Christian songs “accidentally” playing on her computer. These caused her to take a closer look at Christianity. One Sunday, she followed a friend to church.
“The pastor’s name was Dominic. The sermon that day was ‘Jesus Born as a Baby’. Of course, I cried like crazy. I later joined a cell group and accepted Christ there,” she shares.
Image: Felicia Tan with her precious Titus and husband.
Six months later, she conceived again. But her twin boys were also born prematurely at 21 weeks and passed away. Broken, she turned to writing. She wrote and published a book about her ordeal after her first child, and did the same after the twins.
It took two years of waiting on God before she finally conceived for the third time. Though it was a high-risk pregnancy, Tan was assured that God would walk with her through it. In June 2015, Titus was born.
Through writing and church support, Tan was able to deal with her grief over her first three children. Even so, when she learned about GRM, she signed up.
“I felt that I had dealt with the miscarriages and losses. But I still had this tingly feeling, maybe because of my grandmother’s passing.
So I thought it’d be good to attend the course as it was supposed to help cover all areas of losses,” she says.
Through GRM, Chan, Tan and their group mates walked through their grief, as unique as each was, with practical steps toward letting go and moving on. They were given homework to do, and when they met, they shared openly and honestly without judging, only giving support. One of the assignments was recording every loss in their life on a chart.
“When you chart the graph specifically, you do it very consciously,” Tan explains. “You become aware of just how many losses you’ve experienced throughout the years. Writing it down helps me to embrace and come to terms with my losses. Of course, I still have regrets. But I’ve learned how to move forward,” she shares.
Chan stresses that recording the losses is crucial, although she was initially hesitant to do it.
“I was carrying 30 years of grief. I didn’t know how to write down all my losses and share them with others. The facilitator was kind enough to sit through that session with me alone and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I decided to go through with the rest of the programme because I didn’t want to carry the grief anymore.”
One GRM activity that affected Chan the most was writing a letter to her late husband who had passed away from cancer.
“I never got to say goodbye to him. He was in the hospital and I was at home packing clothes and things for him. By the time I got to the hospital, he was gone. Through writing the letter, I was able to say goodbye to him, tell him I forgave and still love him in spite of everything.” Chan also wrote a letter to her mother.
Today, Chan and Tan are free from the shackles of grief. They also hold the tools that they can use to deal with any future loss.
Chan and Tan encourage people who are dealing with grief to seek help and the right kind of support. And to keep praying and trusting God for His leading. To Chan, coming across GRM through a newspaper article was a real godsend. “Now I’m free from 30 years of grief. I never used to smile. But look at me now!” she beams with joy and gratitude. “God is really great!”
First Published: Asian Beacon 50# 2 April-June 2018
(Grief Recovery Method is run b y Whispering Hope Singapore. Although the programme is not explicitly Christian, the facilitators in Singapore are believers who have personally walked through grief and now seek to help others. You can reach GRM at: firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.facebook.com/whisperinghopesg.)