“Second Brother, I didn’t expect you to leave so soon. Wm Tee is here to see you!” Standing next to her brother’s coffin, youngest member of the family Koh Wm Tee is overwhelmed with grief as tears pour down her face; she could barely keep herself upright. Just a mere eight months ago in November 2013, her eldest brother Koh Hock Seng had passed away, and now, so has her second brother. Among the three siblings who had depended on one another for almost their entire lives, she is the only one left. Fortunately, under the care of Tzu Chi volunteers who treat this elderly woman as if she were their own family member, Wm Tee will not feel lonely even with the loss of her two brothers.
No Complaints, No Regrets
Wm Tee, at 77 years of age, is the youngest in what Tzu Chi volunteers have affectionately dubbed the “Three Koh Elders.” In 2007, the family’s younger brother Hock Teck was referred to Tzu Chi through a social worker in the hospital, because he was in need of financial help for kidney dialysis. Tzu Chi has been caring for this family since then.
At that time, the three siblings aged between 70 to 80 years of age, were living together in a three-room HDB flat. Because eldest brother Hock Seng was getting on in years, he was not able to secure a job. The whole family thus relied on the $295 monthly government welfare subsidies to get by every month. In view of their situation, Tzu Chi rendered an additional $200 financial assistance to the Koh family, and $100 transportation fees for Hock Teck’s regular kidney dialysis. With help from Tzu Chi, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) agreed to waive Hock Teck’s kidney dialysis treatment fees. The government also granted them higher monthly welfare subsidies. The elderly family of three could then live a more peaceful and stable life.
Their father having passed away when they were young; eldest brother Hock Seng was the sole breadwinner and support of the family. In his younger days, he worked for a transportation company, taking care of his younger siblings with his meagre salary. In later years, younger brother Hock Teck was diagnosed with kidney disease, while younger sister Wm Tee suffered from severe scoliosis. Hock Seng took great care of them even with their physical ailments. Besides taking care of their daily needs and meals, Hock Seng also ferried them to and fro clinics and hospitals, and had their health conditions, medication needs, and medical appointment dates committed to memory. He cared for his siblings with the dedication and maturity parents have in caring for their children.
Ever since Tzu Chi accepted them as care recipients, volunteers have been making frequent house visits to the Koh family home, helping out in tasks such as painting the house and repairing the water pipes. To relieve the burden of the eldest brother, they also took the younger sister for her medical visits and appointments. Hock Seng had a loud voice and was always optimistic and cheery. He was always very happy to see the volunteers, and could remember every single one of their faces. Sometimes, he would even sing along with them in merriment. Though he was not well-off himself, he was always grateful and eager to give back what he could. He would never trouble volunteers if he could solve a problem himself, and frequently donated away materials he had received from other charitable organizations to the needy.
Whenever his younger brother and sister spoke of Hock Seng, they were filled with gratitude that he had devoted an entire lifetime of selfless sacrifice for them and felt deeply indebted to him. They could not but be choked with emotion each time they did so—“When I speak of him, I always feel like crying!” “We will not be here today if not for our eldest brother!”
Hock Teck recounts the past when his elder brother would bring him for dialysis treatment, revealing how when it rained heavily, taxi drivers would be reluctant to stop and pick them up. His brother would brave the rain, getting all drenched as he made his way to the main road just to hail a taxi.
Hock Teck explains that some taxi drivers, fearing the inconvenience of helping a wheelchair-bound passenger, would speed past whenever they caught sight of him. His elder brother thus had to make his way further down the road in order to be able to get a taxi, perspiring heavily in the process. Seeing how much care he lavished on Hock Teck, the drivers would ask how they were related. Hock Teck added with much emotion that all of them without exception, were impressed with what a good brother Hock Seng was.
Volunteers Rally Around in the Wake of Sudden Tragedy
Aging, sickness and death are inevitable in life; the Koh family’s simple and peaceful lifestyle took a drastic turn in May 2013. On the morning of 11 May 2013, 84 year old Hock Seng collapsed in his home and sister Wm Tee wasted no time in contacting Tzu Chi volunteer Wu Yu Jin immediately. Urgent medical attention was sought for Hock Seng, and the diagnosis was that he had suffered a stroke. After a hospital stay of one month, Hock Seng was out of danger, but his chances of a complete recovery were extremely slim due to his age. The hospital made arrangements to transfer him first to the Ren Ci Hospital and subsequently, the United Medical Centre, for long-term care in consideration that his siblings would not be able to render him the needed medical care at home.
With their pillar of support suddenly gone, the younger Koh siblings were shaken and lost. During the first few days, volunteers not only visited their elder brother in hospital, they also offered emotional comfort to the two younger siblings and ensured that three meals were delivered to their home. In addition, they also made arrangements so that Hock Teck could continue with his regular dialysis treatment at the dialysis centre.
With long-term planning in mind, volunteers contacted the Tembusu Seniors Activity Centre to provide transportation assistance, and the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society, which has a meal provision service, linking the Koh family up with other grassroots charities so that Hock Teck’s thrice weekly dialysis sessions could continue and their meals and daily living needs were met.
Volunteers Wang Tian Hui and Tang Wan Lan who lived nearby would make frequent visits, taking turns to buy them breakfast. In addition, Wang would buy them their favourite dish of vermicelli and egg every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so that Hock Teck could eat his fill before going for dialysis tratment.
Wang says that they have been caring for the two younger Koh siblings all this while, and as they are quite elderly, volunteers worry for them; should something happen, only Wm Tee is able to use the telephone to call for help-- this will prove to be a problem if she is the one that requires help.
Rendering Help as a Close Kin Does
At the beginning of November 2013, Hock Seng was warded due to a lung infection. Volunteer Tang visited in the afternoon of 10 November, and recalled how he never forgot his responsibility towards his siblings; he was concerned if his younger brother, who was warded in the same hospital due to a fall at home, was still continuing with dialysis treatments. Hearing the answer in the affirmative, and also finding out from Tang that his sister was doing fine, he kept nodding his head.
That night, volunteers received a call from the hospital informing them that Hock Seng had passed away peacefully. Younger brother Hock Teck, who was staying at the same hospital, bawled his heart out upon seeing his brother for the last time. The following day, volunteers visited Wm Tee to convey the news, never leaving her side as they made the funeral arrangements. They saw to every detail from chanting and prayers for the deceased, cremation of the body, and scattering of the ashes into the sea. Whilst the eldest Koh brother could now rest in peace after leaving this world, his attitude towards life, one of gratitude, contentment and selfless sacrifice, would be indelibly etched into the minds of volunteers.
Seven months after his passing, younger brother Hock Teck contracted a serious case of pneumonia and was warded. On 30 June 2013, he too, passed away. Upon receiving news of his passing, volunteers immediately proceeded to hospital to see to the final arrangements, just as if they were doing the same for a family member.
Within the span of a year, Wm Tee had experienced the pain of losing two family members. Seeing her shed tears before her brother’s coffin, volunteers felt heavy at heart. “We treat her like family, now that she is all alone, we must continue to care for her,” says volunteer Wu Ying Ying.
Serving the Elderly with Committed Patience
Volunteer Tang has lived with her mother-in-law for more than 20 years and knows a thing or two about getting along with elderly folks. She worries about the possibility of Wm Tee having a fall at home with no one around to help.As she lives close by, she often visits the Koh family home with the other volunteers and has built up a close friendship with the Kohs.
Tang says that the younger Kohs were very reliant on their elder brother as he was the one who saw to all their needs and singlehandedly took care of everything. However, Wm Tee has become more independent ever since her elder brother was hospitalized. In the past, she could not be bothered with volunteers whenever they visited, but her aloofness has since dissipated.
“She is very nice, why wouldn’t she come (visit me)? She frequently visits and even buys bread for me.” Wm Tee says with delight as she looks at Tang.
“Bread can work wonders!” Tang’s repartee was quick in coming. “Patience is important when we interact with the elderly. Ever since her elder brother was hospitalized, I would often buy bread for her breakfast and enquire after her health. Even when she scolded me, I would offer her a smile, and over a long period of accumulating “love credits” this way, she began to trust us more and more.”
“We will continue to care for her till the last, this is our responsibility,” Tang says. Because they had the care of volunteers and enjoyed the deep bonds between siblings, the Koh family did not suffer loneliness in their twilight years. Though Wm Tee’s two brothers have now passed on, volunteers will continue to extend her the milk of human kindness, the warmest kind of love that is found in this world.