Unlike the many girls whom I dated, Doris Lau, my late wife was very down-to-earth. I found her to be sincere and caring. This was the woman who would change my life – dramatically. Doris passed away on 17th April 2014 after she was stricken with pneumonia. She died within a week that she was hospitalized in Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Undoubtedly, Good Friday has special significance to both my wife and I. Why? Because this is the most painful day of the year as we remember how Jesus suffered and was put to death for the sins of all of us. Despite being tortured and humiliated, Jesus who displayed enormous strength was able to show compassion and forgiveness.
When Doris first met Raymond: By some strange coincidence, 12th April 1974 was the day that I first met Doris. And it happened to be on Good Friday. And though it is an arduous and painful journey for me to manage my wife’s dreaded schizophrenia for 40 years, I often draw my strength and compassion from Jesus. And each time that I suffer from burnout, Jesus is always there to carry me on His shoulders. His pictures are in our home; and He is very much alive in our hearts.
Doris has battled schizophrenia for forty-four years. The disease first struck Doris at the tender age of 17. Many people find it very hard to believe that I married her despite her mental illness. In caring for Doris for four decades, I had grown to love her more and more each day. I have seen this illness ravage more than half her life and the journey, though very difficult, was so rewarding when I saw her enjoy and live life to the fullest.
Seeing the ‘demons’ in her mind: During our 40 years marriage, my wife has been hospitalized in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) ¬– Singapore’s biggest public psychiatric hospital twelve times during our 40 years’ marriage and I have witnessed all her delusions, hallucinations, depression and fears. Seeing Doris struggling with the “demons in her mind” has been extremely painful for me.
My long hours at work in broadcasting saw Doris spending many days and nights all alone. The loneliness and the isolation saw her missing out on her medications, resulting in relapses.
When Doris was in a stable condition, she is a loving and kind-hearted person. But during her relapses, I become her emotional punching bag. I have taken all her emotional outbursts quietly, allowing her to scold, shout and nag at me because I fully understand how this illness torments her, how it frustrates her.
Over the years, I have learnt to forgive my wife as I fully understand that it is the illness, and not her. Through my experience in caring for Doris, I have learnt to completely separate the two. Many people, including family members do not really understand the specialized care that the mentally ill need or the unremitting emotional wear and tear that caregivers have to endure every day of their lives. This illness is terrifying because it is unpredictable.
The beauty from within: What struck me most about Doris was the beauty of her heart. She had also touched me with her sincerity. She taught me how to be prudent with spending, advising me not to waste money on taxis, but to travel by buses. Most certainly, she has always had my best interest at heart. This is one of the primary reasons why I took her to be my life-long partner even though I knew I would face huge obstacles during this part of my life.
When the relapse comes on, the nightmare begins: Shortly afterwards my family members and I were shocked to witness the torment Doris went through when the relapse of schizophrenia reared its ugly head. The enormous stress she went through during the run-up to our marriage took a heavy toll on my wife.
Doris was eventually hospitalized at the old Woodbridge Hospital (now known as IMH) for about two weeks, and my daily visits helped a great deal in her recovery. This is why I have always emphasized during my motivational talks or in the books I write that emotional support is vital in helping patients in their recovery.
Caregiving – a noble task: I’ve always felt that caregiving is a noble task; and it must be promoted as such. Though it often takes the wind out of you, it will be such a joy when you see first-hand the smiles on their faces, their creativity and their happiness when they are in their full recovery stage.
In managing a loved one with mental illness, practice the 3Ps – Patience, Perseverance and Prayer. Not always the easiest task, but I assure you that if you can find the strength to do that – God will bless you in more ways than one as He has done for me and my wife.
Today, I have authored 30 books and, in the process, I have gone on to become a motivational speaker, a songwriter, regular forum writer to the mainstream newspapers and even a TV actor. I am also Singapore’s leading advocate for the mentally ill and volunteer my time with IMH, the Singapore Association for Mental Health and the Silver Ribbon Singapore.
In producing my books, I also managed to “infect” my wife with the power of the pen. And before she died, Doris became an author of 8 successful books because she fully understood that writing is healing.
Coping with the loss of my wife: It was a real struggle for me to come to terms with the sudden passing of my wife – more so when my whole world revolved around Doris. I went through situational depression for one solid year and experienced insomnia for the same troubling period. Two things helped me to come out of this difficult period: Counselling from a psychologist and the love from a Filipino girl whom I got engaged to in March this year.
Many people have asked me why I willingly married Doris despite knowing of her mental illness. My answer to them is simple: “If schizophrenia and arthritis was part of the life of the woman I love, then it must surely have been part of mine too. I did not necessarily like what the illnesses did to her, but it is her that I love. And that had, and will always be, the guiding, motivating force of my life.