By Nicole Chia
Image: The Daily Robot
I could see her expression darkening as she tried to recall as much as possible of what had happened during the past few years. The pain in her eyes was more evident with every word she spoke. Tired, exasperated, lonely. These three words most accurately summed up her feelings from that period of her life. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she tried to recall the painful memories of being greeted by an empty house after every exhausting day at work. Her voice was full of anguish as she explained how there were some nights when nothing could stop her from crying herself to sleep.
“The house changed so much without my family around,” she said as she wiped the tears off her face. “I was trying to keep my mind occupied by getting involved in more activities, but it never helped.
“However, those horrible feelings of heartache would always keep coming back, because I knew in my heart that I didn’t have my family with me.”
While the strong physical and mental support of a family is one of life’s greatest treasures, it wasn’t always like that for Goh Swee Yee. As my interview with her progressed, I could already begin to see that she was really no ordinary woman. In fact, the sacrifices that she has made for her family in just the past three years alone proved that she was one of extraordinary strength. In 2010, the strength of her family’s ties were tested when she made the decision with her husband, Raymond Chia, to send their three beautiful daughters—Jillian, Nicole and Ashley—to further their tertiary studies in Australia.
“We wanted them to receive an overseas education for the sake of their future,” she explained. “We really wanted the best for them.
“I don’t think they were really enjoying schooling in Singapore, either. It was only when we realized that our daughter, Nicole, wasn’t doing too well in school that we both decided to put our foot down and send all three of them overseas.”
While being separated from her children was an unbearable thought to begin with, the decision that she made to have her husband accompany them overseas made it even worse.
“That was undoubtedly one of the hardest decisions that I had to make, but it was one that my husband and I agreed on,” she admitted. “They were still so young then and the thought of leaving them alone in a foreign country was out of the question.”
If you had told her a few years ago that her children were even the slightest bit independent, she would have laughed in your face. “They couldn’t even cook then,” she laughed.
However, she never knew that the time her children were about to spend overseas would change them in more ways than she would have ever thought. The three girls are now nearing their twenties and because they are able to live independently together without their father, he is able to comfortably travel back and forth between both countries to visit his wife.
“My wife is an incredibly strong woman,” he said with a smile. “I know that those few years were not an easy time for either of us, but I am still incredibly grateful and appreciative for what she alone has done for our family.
“I remember always feeling so helpless whenever I listened to her break down into tears over the phone. I could only help her by lending her a listening ear.”
In a separate interview that I held with their children, I could see how well they had been brought up simply by listening to the way they spoke. While all three girls were full of gratitude for the sacrifices that both their parents made for them, the eldest was the only one that began tearing up when she spoke about her mother.
“I think my sisters and I can undoubtedly agree for once on one thing—and that is that our mother has sacrificed so much for three of us,” she said. “I feel like we can never pay her back for what she has done for us.
“While the initial transitioning period was difficult, moving overseas really exposed us to real life. It really made us realise how pampered we were in Singapore.
“We cannot even begin to express how thankful we are to our parents for making such a life-changing decision for the family.”
Yeo Piah Buey, a close childhood friend of Swee Yee’s, who had seen the three girls grow up, agreed with them.
“My friend is an incredible woman,” she said with a smile. “Her decision for her family to move to Adelaide was one made out of her strong love and commitment for them. I really respect the positive attitude and strength that she carries within her.”
She added, “I think the initial period of separation was extremely tough on her, but her children have grown up so well that I think she will agree with me that it was one of the best decisions she probably could have ever made.”
While she is proud of what her daughters have achieved so far, there was nothing else that made her prouder than knowing her second daughter Nicole had turned her life around and secured a place in a local Adelaide university.
“I remember her not even wanting to work hard before,” Swee Yee said. “Truthfully, we had actually long given up hope on her actually being able to enter a university. However, I am so happy that that’s not the case anymore.
“I thought the decision to migrate would be a bad one but, in hindsight, it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made for my family’s future.”
With her two eldest daughters currently attending university and her youngest preparing to sit for her university entrance exams, Swee Yee knows that there is still a long way to go before her entire family can be reunited again. However, she is ready for her family’s future. After all, the tears and heartbreaks of the past three years have already prepared her well for what is to come.
“I have seen my children change for the better and that already everything that my husband and I have hoped for. My love for them is what keeps me going even when I am tired, exasperated or lonely,” she said with a smile. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”