Living beyond grief after loss of spouse

Photos show the family during happier times.

FOR Yap Boon Swan, a young widower, the days are long and the nights even longer.

Apart from having to look after a growing child on his own, the 35-year-old also has to cope with the grief and sadness — and perhaps regrets — as he tries to come to terms with the loss of the love of his life.

Yap’s wife, Lim Mei Mei, died six months ago after a bout with cancer. Her positive outlook on life constantly reminds him to double his efforts to move on with his own life after her passing.

For Yap, Lim was his humanitarian lodestar.

“She was the one who always thought about others. She was fantastic in that way and I want to be like her,” he professed.

Yap claims to be a staunch Karma adherent, believing that since his wife had done much good throughout her young life, he must work harder to achieve her level of benevolence in order to meet her again in the next life.

Although saddened over losing his wife, he believes she is still looking over him and this keeps him going.

It’s sad to think Yap could not grow old with his wife. She died of liver cancer on June 11 last year, leaving him and their two-year old son, Kai Xuan, behind.

During an interview, to which he unexpectedly consented in the wake of his loss, Yap admitted he is a person who cares more about his own feelings.

“I often refuse to make decisions but if it were my wife, she definitely would if it meant helping others,” he said.

In his eyes, his wife was someone who always put her own feelings and interests last.

“If she were asked to do this interview to comfort and console anyone in distress, she definitely would not hesitate to accept it,” he added.

Yap and Lim volunteering together in 2016.

From two worlds

The couple graduated from the University of Malaya and were two years apart in age — he is 35 and she was 33. They got acquainted as housemates.

“We were actually from two worlds. I tend to think a lot while she was very simple. I never had to guess what she was thinking. She also wasn’t materialistic and never asked anything from me. She always put herself last,” he recalled.

Lim found out about her illness while working as a chemical engineer.

According to Yap, what she really wanted was to do voluntary work but she thought at the time it was necessary to find a job to support herself.

“Mei Mei left too early. With my job in the bank, she could choose to not work but then, being the independent woman that she was, she would not want to rely on anyone,” related a grief-stricken Yap, who is vice-president of a bank’s Stock Exchange Department.

The couple had their honeymoon in New Zealand and promised to revisit that part of the Antipodes with their child.

“My biggest regret was spending too much time in my career before we got married and though I had more family time after our marriage, Mei Mei fell sick. I wanted to bring her all over the world but it was too late. She never asked for anything but I wanted to give her the world. Unfortunately, I don’t have the chance anymore,” Yap said, choking back tears.

He admitted that looking at the photos and writings of his wife is still painful, saying, “I still can’t hold back the tears during such moments.”

Grieving over his beloved wife is inevitable but Yap also knows she wanted him to move on, be happy and give their child the very best.

“Without our child, I might have given up but our little boy now does not have a mother and needs me. I cannot fall — I’ll take care of myself and bring up our son well as I promised my wife.”

Yap, who loves meat and hates exercise, said he is trying to change his lifestyle.

“I’m becoming more active. I go for jogs and have also joined a night-run club. I want to lead a less stressful life and stay healthy as Mei Mei would have wanted.”

Yap’s sister has compiled a book containing photos, messages and Kia Xuan’s drawings in
memory of Lim.

Bittersweet

The first Winter Solstice, the first Christmas and the first New Year after his wife’s demise passed without too much sadness for Yap. He found solace in the festive atmosphere and the warmth of family. It is only when he is all alone by himself that he feels depressed and lost.

“When I’m driving, sleeping alone at night or not doing anything, the forlorn feelings are the deepest,” he said.

Before his wife died, they did talk about bringing up their child and giving him the best future. But she never stopped him from finding someone new, knowing that her illness was terminal.

At only 35, he knows he still has a long way to go.

He said Lim was afraid he would be lonely, living and raising their son all by himself, but they actually did not talk about it much as they were trying to stay positive during those difficult times.

“For now, my child comes first and my work second. My wife had always been a caring person and for the rest of my life, I will honour her memory by emulating her humanity.”

Lim was a Hepatitis B carrier and for fear that the condition could be hereditary, she went for a check-up before their marriage.

Yap recalled, “Her liver index was high in 2014. She was just given medication without a full examination. We got married in 2015 and she knew I like children. She was afraid to take medication during her pregnancy because she was worried about the side effects and only intended to take it again after giving birth.”

Treatment in China

In 2016, six months after giving birth, Lim was diagnosed with liver cancer — with the discovery of a tumour at least 10cm in size.

The couple decided to go to Guangzhou, China, for treatment.

“We went four times a year and each trip was for about two weeks. I stopped working for half a year and it was only because my team was more or less established at the time that I was able to get away.”

During the course of treatment, there were times when their stay in Guangzhou was originally scheduled for two weeks but often extended to three weeks because of Lin’s unstable health condition.

In May last year, they returned from China after treatment for the last time.

“When we came back this time, we already gave up on treatment. She was in too much pain and her condition was not improving. Chemotherapy was not working for her,” Yap recalled.

At home, they searched for palliative care. And before her death, Lim was only able to bear her pain through morphine.

“She was a very positive person but in the end, her suffering became so unbearable that she wanted to end her life. She couldn’t sit nor sleep. There was no way to make her comfortable — not even a little bit,” Yap lamented.

Because of hypoglycaemia, she needed to eat at night but one day she told him, “Don’t feed me the next time I have low glucose level.”

When Yap saw his ailing wife gradually losing her will to live, he thought he had made a mistake by not giving her anything to eat.

“This was the very first time I had handled this kind of a situation. I was lost. Should I have sought further treatment or considered euthanasia at that time?”

Yap said in her final two weeks, Lim was basically taking morphine orally but she was still alive.

“Could I really have just ended her life like that? If one’s time has not arrived, we are not the ones to make that kind of decision.”

Gone at 33

On the morning of June 10 last year, the morphine no longer had an effect on Lim. She was admitted to hospital about 5am and passed away the next day — at the young age of 33.

Yap said taking care of his sick wife was a tough experience but pointed out that she was struggling and suffering much more than he.

“She had given birth before but she told me compared to her illness, giving birth was nothing.”

He said his wife was not really one who loved children before becoming a mother herself.

“She wasn’t the kind who’d rush to hug a baby. But after giving birth, she became a loving mother. If not for her illness, she would have been personally involved every step of the way in our child’s development.”

After their marriage, the couple lived with Yap’s parents.

His mother also thought Lim was a good daughter-in-law.

“She never bothered anyone for anything she could manage herself. Even before their marriage, she often visited and our relationship was quite close. We all liked her very much,” she said.

Although his wife is gone, Yap still keeps in touch with his parents-in-law. His son is the link that binds their relationship.

Yap often sends pictures of his son to the family group chat.

“Whatever things I think she would want me to do, I will do,” he said.

Yap (second row third right) and Lim (second row fourth right) were active in World Vision’s
30-Hour Famine Camp. Photo taken in 2007.

Common interest

The 30-Hour Famine Camp was the couple’s greatest common interest. Initially, Lim and her twin sister were the ones who wanted to become part of the programme. Yap was pulled along.

In 2016, she was still a volunteer at the camp even after her diagnosis. In March the following year, people around her became aware of her illness and wished her well — in the hope she would recover and continue to participate in the camp held at the end of July. Unfortunately, she could not make it.

According to Yap, his wife often said people should help others in need until they are at least 55 years old. So after she passed away, everyone donated RM55 a year to sponsor children in need under the ‘Do till 55’ campaign — 67 people are currently involved.

Besides the 30-Hour Famine Camp, Lim also volunteered with the team from the Kuala Lumpur College of Traditional Chinese Medicine every Thursday. And she would often say with a smile that helping people was the happiest time for her.

Lim’s life in this world was not without meaning even though it was taken well before her time. Her family and friends have been affected by her positive attitude and cheerfulness and will continue to help others with the warmth and strength she inspired.

Indeed, for some, loving a special one for an entire lifetime can still be too short.

— Translated by Christopher Lau

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