December 29, 2017

Editor’s Note: In this series, we show our appreciation for the people who have made a significant impact on our lives in a selfless, giving or life-changing way—sometimes even at the expense of themselves. And we wouldn’t be the person we are today, without their tenderness, love, support and compassion.


In the flood of voices and outstretched hands extended to congratulate me on my successes helming Sin Hwa Dee, the voice I heard the loudest in my mind was from my grandmother. I could almost feel her gentle hands cradling mine in affirmation and modest pride. The spotlight on the stage and flashing lights of the cameras were dazzling, but what flashed before my eyes as I stood holding my NUS Eminent Business Alumni Award, were endearing scenes from my humble childhood.

Hardly tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, I stood watching Ah Ma in awestruck wonder as she worked her magic to slice up our last and only apple into tiny neat slices for me to share with the many neighbouring kids in our kampong who were here at our home to play. As a 4-year-old child, I had no complaints about sharing, but I did wonder why Ah Ma chose to cut up that apple then, instead of just keeping it for ourselves to enjoy when nobody else was around. After all, we weren’t rich enough to be able to splurge on luxuries as such. I learned later that sharing with and caring for others was Ah Ma’s way of thanksgiving; to appreciate the people around us, to share whatever blessings that we have, an outward and practical expression of gratitude for so many little things we can be thankful for.

Being the eldest of 6 children in my family, I was sent away to live with my grandpa and grandma in my early childhood. They loved me with everything that they had; our pockets and pantry may not carry much, but our hearts and home were always full to the brim with warmth and love. Ah Ma and I were close like two cherries on a stem, practically joined at the hip. I watched her as we walked through the kampong together, greeting others with sincere well-wishes and extending helping hands whenever she could. My eyes watered with hers as her heart ached for those in need. I listened as she went about her daily prayers, giving thanks for blessings received and asking Jesus to continually bless those around us. The lenses of compassion that Ah Ma saw others through had no colour, no social class, no economic status, no expectations—just genuine concern and pure desire to share and help. Following Ah Ma around every day, her habits rubbed off on me, and her lifestyle became my lifestyle.


It was years later into my adulthood that I realised our “Ah Ma’s Lifestyle” of blessing others in the little ways we could, in fact, resulted in great ripples that carried far and wide. Acquaintances who would go out of their way to pay us visits and bring us gifts, were the recipients of kindness extended to them from decades ago. Even friends and distant relatives would rally around us from near and far to extend help and support in times of need, always had stories to share of how they have been impacted by what I had thought to be natural and negligible gestures of goodwill. I had no idea that these little acts would be so deeply appreciated and remembered.

Our father died when I was 21 years old. My mother, younger siblings Kathleen, Claire, Wilfred, Cheryl, Tony and I were tossed suddenly into deep uncertainty, helplessness and grief. Although it was a rocky and treacherous journey, we endured through the most difficult of times, with practically nothing left, but the support of each other to keep us afloat. In doing so, the tight bonds and indescribable connections we share, have made my family stronger and we never forget to express gratitude for one another in our own ways.

I fondly remember the time when everyone chipped in their time and effort to plan my 10th Wedding Anniversary, which unbeknownst to me, was also my last anniversary that I had with my husband, Richard.


My world fell apart again, and my heart shattered into a million fragments when Richard suddenly fell ill and passed away, leaving me and our three sons behind. I spent many nights alone crying by his grave, not knowing how to carry on or face our young Noel, Joel, and Emmanuel who still needed me to be present and strong for them. It was only through this dark valley where I began to see the bright light from behind the ridges. As I was grieving over with the loss of Richard, my attentive siblings, mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law Elaine, took care of my household—they rostered themselves to cook our meals, ferry my children to school, buy groceries, and even gifted their time with quiet support and watchful eyes. My Godma Kessy came over almost every day to make sure things were well and that I was eating, while friends like Elim and many others often visited to say a prayer and lift our spirits.

13 years after Richard’s passing, the support and care showered upon us haven’t ceased. My sister Kathleen would always include my youngest son, Emmanuel in activities involving her son Bryan, as they are close in age, while my little brother, Tony quit his cushy bank job to help me in the business (JR Foods now known as JR Group) that Richard had left behind. Their unabiding love has opened my eyes, driving my fears away, and no matter how impossible life seems, each time through the grace of God, we ride out the storm, and grow from strength to strength like beaten up lumps of unrefined gold being thrown into the refiner’s fire, only to emerge as shiny gold trophies.


Today, my three precious nuggets of gold have grown up to be bright rays of light who shine and bring warmth to others around them in their own unique ways. I never realised that Noel had been sponsoring underprivileged children for years with his own savings until I stumbled upon a beautiful letter of appreciation written to him by one of his kids. Joel who often missed or left early during family gatherings, which I only learned much later, was actually visiting his friend’s sick parents or assisting a friend in distress. Lastly, although Emmanuel doesn’t display his concern for others through sweet words or gentle gestures, he always prepared thoughtful gifts for the people around him. I have never instructed my sons on how to live their lives or treat others, and it is heartwarming to see how they have naturally adopted the ways of my Ah Ma.


Through my rollercoaster ride of life, I have learned that as independent individuals created by God, we are also interdependently connected. While gratitude is having the appreciation for one another, interdependence allows us to better understand the true meaning of gratitude. When we open our hearts and minds, we began to realise that there are so many things we can be grateful for. It took others to help me remember that, and I hope to do the same for someone else by paying it forward. Tiny gestures and simple words have the power to impact others, and even though they may seem insignificant, the positive reverberations created will leave a ripple effect around us.