The inspiring story of a widowed mum in Singapore

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“At 3.14am I got a call from the traffic police stating that my husband had died on the highway and they needed to come over to my place to pass me his belongings from the wreckage and his person.”

That evening Sherlin Giri was busy at a dinner. Her husband had also gone to meet some clients after work. He hadn’t got home by the time she came back, so she went straight to bed.

She tried to call him before she turned in at around 12 am, but his phone was switched off. She assumed its batteries had died. At 3:14 am she got a call...

Theirs was an unconventional relationship

Sherlin was working at a Post-Secondary educational institution when she first met her husband, Joseph Melvin David, who was 6 years younger than her.

“It was NOT love at first sight”, she stresses, “We were friends at first, but it escalated to love within a month or so. I just woke up one morning and realised I was in love with this guy.”

“It came as a shock to me as he was so much younger and I myself had a hard time accepting the idea at first. But I was so in love that I thought, let’s just do this and see where it goes.”

They courted for a good 4 years before they got married.

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On their marriage

“I loved the fact that Joe was what I call a ‘solid’ man. He was courageous and ambitious. He loved me sincerely. Our energies clicked so well. He was kind and had a generous heart. Ours was a very intense love.”

So were things always “happy-happy” between them, we wonder?

Sherlin recollects, “Well we were both stubborn and did not always see eye to eye. But we both knew that we loved each other deeply and wanted to build ourselves a strong family, business and social unit.”

“There is no such thing as a ‘happy-happy’ marriage and if there were, I’d truly feel sorry for the couple. How do you grow without conflict and resolution? Yes, some things could have been better had we been wiser, but only in hindsight can you have that perspective.”

Their kids…

They have two kids, Samara (10) and Shiraz (8). “Joe was busy with his business and could not spend as much family time as he would have liked. But he was close to his daughter…”

That day...

It was 13 July, 2013.

"Joe had seen me crossing the road coming back from my daughter’s school, where I was volunteering that morning, and called me. He was on his way to work. I had not seen him that morning as I had left before he had awakened. He said I looked beautiful… and that he loved me.”

“…At 3.14am I got a call from the traffic police stating that he had died on the highway and they needed to come over to my place to pass me his belongings from the wreckage and his person.”

“I first thought it was a hoax, so I called up my policeman brother-in-law to check and after a couple of calls he made, he verified the information. I was devastated.”

What did she tell the kids?

“I had to go into damage control mode almost immediately, despite my emotional upheaval. I had to go to the morgue, identify the body and see to the funeral arrangements with my in-laws. I had to make sure he was cremated and his ashes scattered into the sea, as that had been his wish when he was alive.”

Also Read: How to talk to your children about death

“When I returned from the morgue, I broke the news to the kids gently. Although my family was at home while I was away that morning, I told them not to break the news to my kids as I wanted to tell them. It was around 1pm when I talked to them. They cried a bit but that was it. They were too young and it took a lot of time for the reality to sink in.”

The immediate challenges

Joe was a successful businessman, and Managing Director of an oil and gas company before he died young.

So were they well planned for an emergency, as in being aware of every single detail, like the spouse’s bank details, insurance, CPF and other assets? Was Sherlin a nominee?

Sherlin replies, “No…it was quite a mess and I was not a nominee for everything as he didn’t get around to handling all that much. He was young. So I had quite a monumental task to handle upon his death, and tonnes of debts to settle. It gave me quite a lot of grey hair, I can assure you!”

Wrapping up his business, selling my house (we couldn’t service the mortgage), clearing debts, these were my immediate challenges.”

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Her support system during crisis

Sherlin is thankful for her mother, sisters and close friends. “Friends came and went. Some old friends and family members left for good. It was too much for some to handle; for others, they had no use for our company anymore, I guess.”

“God is good. He sent the right people to me to help. I met someone who helped me handle the company liquidation and my staff was let off without much loss."

Initial days as a widowed mum in Singapore

Wasn’t the sudden ‘widowed mum in Singapore' status difficult to handle? Was she fed up with people over sympathising with her? Or did she want to feel protected?

Also Read : Being A Single Mum

She responds, “Yes, I hated being treated like a basket case. I don’t look like it and you can’t tell unless I say it. I am naturally cheerful. Yes, I also feel the pain and anger of loss and being left to fend for myself.”

“I wrote. I expressed myself on Facebook. I spoke up and still do. I support causes for single mums. And as much as I yearn for the comfort of a man’s shoulder, a hug, and that look that would say without words that everything is going to be alright, I can safely say I’m not desperate for it.”

Getting back to work

Sherlin found new hope when she got back to a job she loved dearly, lecturing. "I love my job and the students I teach are amazing.”

READ: Getting back to work in Singapore

I realised I could do something I was good at doing and start working on redefining myself; and rediscovering my talents. I had lost a part of myself when he died - I was suddenly no longer a wife. So I had to reconstruct and rebuild that missing part of me. I was already mother, sister, daughter. So now I decided, let’s find out more of who I am. It didn’t happen consciously. I just evolved.”

Managing kids and work

Isn’t it a challenge in itself to manage work and kids? Doesn’t she ever feel stressed or unable to cope up?

“I do find at times that I cannot manage and feel frustrated with myself. Then I get angry with my kids and their demands and shout at them. Then I feel guilty and hug them and explain the situation to them. I even apologise when I feel I have been unkind. But then I tell myself, you’re doing your best. Be aware of what you’re feeling, accept it and move on. Live and learn. And then share that knowledge.”

“I have learnt so much about myself over these 3 years. I also realise that these challenges teach my children resilience and gratitude. I can never make up for them not having a father. But I have good friends and family who step in and play different roles to support us.”

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If you could change the past

"I would have been very firm with Joe about not getting that sports car and putting my foot down on it. It would have saved his life!"

Advice on keeping strong during crisis

When it comes to keeping sane during crisis, this is what Sherlin has to say:

  • Give yourself the time to heal and form bonds with others along the way.
  • Learn how to forgive YOURSELF! That’s the hardest part.
  • Be very practical about your approach to life and try not to get caught up in self-pity.
  • Seek the support you need in loved ones and friends.
  • Use humour to keep yourself buoyed.
  • Keep company only with those people whose energy uplifts you.
  • Fruitfully engage yourself in work that builds people and community.
  • Have very strong faith - be spiritual.
  • Set short term and long term goals. These will help you get past the sometimes tedious days that can feel like an eternity of nothing to look forward to.

Sherlin concludes by, “For everything that I've been through, I do believe it was all meant to be. I wasn't meant for a conventional marriage and a happily ever after. Defying the age gap, racial and cultural background, we got married and had two beautiful children. Some think it's insane, how we kept going and how we pulled it all off. But that's us. And that's me until today.”