Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blue on Blue: Part 6(b) - A Father's Pain

Please read Part 6(a) before reading the commentary that follows.

Eight years after losing his eldest son, Second Lieutenant Daryl Loh, in a naval accident, Lawrence Loh speaks about the loss of a son.

I thank Mr Loh for his courage in sharing his thoughts so other Singaporeans, be they parents, full-time National Servicemen or Operationally Ready NSmen, may know how long the grieving process stretches.

Every training death brings reminders to the Loh family and over a hundred Singaporean families who had to cope with the loss of a son or daughter every since the Singapore Armed Forces was established.

A Father's Pain
By Lawrence Loh

WHEN I read stories of SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) deaths, I will think of my son Daryl. He died in a naval accident in February 2001.

In an interview I gave to The Sunday Times in January 2003, I spoke of a deep-seated sadness that will never go away. (This was after four Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) women sailors died after RSS Courageous collided with a merchant ship.)

We’re now in 2009. We have moved on, but memories of my family’s ordeal remain as fresh as the day the accident took place.

Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF personnel will never know the anguish that families who have lost their loved ones have to endure whenever we read about a training death. People in charge of handling training accidents must know that many more families will feel the hurt and the pain, other than those of the next-of-kin of the latest accident that makes the news.

I don’t believe in grieving alone which is why I’m sharing our experience. It is a form of emotional release.

The 26th of February 2001 was the day my life turned upside down.

It was a Monday and I was walking back after lunch to my office at Paragon Shopping Centre when my wife called at around 2pm. She said Daryl had fallen into the sea.

It came as a shock and she had to repeat the Navy officer’s telephone number three times before I got it down.

I called the officer and learnt that Daryl had fallen into the sea 40 minutes earlier. Naval divers were looking for him.

I was in a daze and went back to work.

My wife called me and asked me to go home immediately. That’s when the seriousness of the news sank in.

At home, the wait for the Navy’s call seemed like an eternity.

The Navy called me back around 3:30pm asking me to go to Changi General Hospital. I was in no position to drive, so my sister-in-law drove us there.

When I peeked into the resuscitation room, I saw the doctors pumping away trying to revive Daryl. At around 4pm, I identified his body.

His body was placed on a gurney, covered with a blanket and with only his face exposed. He looked like he was asleep.

My wife and I were devastated and we couldn’t eat for several days.

We had to decide whether the wake would stretch for three or five days. We decided on five because Daryl’s friends were overseas and his girlfriend was in Cornell. They needed time to fly back to Singapore.

The next day, I was anxious to see what The Straits Times had written about the accident. It was a very moving article.

My mind was in a daze. On Tuesday, friends said I had not placed an obituary and helped to arrange for one in the newspaper. I took a day to write the obituary for Daryl. I had always thought he would be writing my obituary.

(The Loh family’s tribute to Daryl read:“Daryl, you are our pride and joy. We love you and will miss you dearly. The emotional pain we are going through is indescribable.”)

You know, we may be Catholics but we’re still Chinese and the Chinese believe parents should not send off their children at funerals. I said we must be there for Daryl, so we all went to his funeral.

The real pain came after the funeral and I was on an emotional roller-coaster.

During the grieving period, every trigger point brings a flood of memories.

I remember our last dinner at the Island Club where Daryl ordered a club sandwich. It was our last meal together and I still keep the receipt. For a year, my wife refused to return to the club as that’s where we last saw him alive.

It took me about six months to get over the intense grieving. My wife took about a year.

I wrote to Dr Tony Tan (then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence) to request an exemption for my second son Clarence. MINDEF said the Enlistment Act did not permit this, but offered to downgrade him to a non-combat vocation. You know, before Daryl’s accident, I actually wanted to put Clarence through a rigorous regime as I felt it would be good for him.

Lui Tuck Yew (Rear Admiral, then Chief of Navy) offered to place Clarence in the Navy so the Navy could look after him. I took up his offer.

Admiral Lui visited my family regularly during the wake and for many years after the funeral. Rear Admiral Tan Kai Hoe also provided much needed emotional support, for which we are grateful.

It has never occurred to me to close up. I’ve kept all the obituaries, friends’ emails, SMSes, condolence cards and stories from newspapers in a file.

I try to get over the tragedy by talking to others and hope the findings from the accident can be used to prevent future accidents… I don’t think I will ever get over it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My wife was talking about the recent missing cases here, and I remembered Daryl. Googled his name and came to this. Daryl was my softball captain in RI. I know exactly what his father means when he says Daryl was his pride and joy. Daryl was an outstanding person. Excellent in studies, in sports. Most importantly, he was kind and gentle. I always thought he would be a very accomplished man. I pray that his parents would be reunited with him in heaven.