In memory of my late wife, Doris Lau, who was called to the Lord in April 2014
Often marriages are put to the test when couples are confronted with financial problems or if a spouse is stricken with chronic illnesses. All marriage will go through good and bad times. But if couples stick to one another during those rough times, the relationship will improve steadily as time goes by.
I was a caregiver to my late wife, Doris Lau who was stricken with schizophrenia at the tender age of 17. My wife passed away 3 years ago after she lost the battle to pneumonia.
Be mindful of the symptoms of schizophrenia
Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be extremely difficult for family members who remember how active a person was before he/she became ill. This illness is terrifying because it is unpredictable. After caring for Doris for 40 years, I became more alert to the warning signs of schizophrenia.
A reason to love, a reason to marry
Many people find it very hard to believe that I married Doris despite her mental illness.
So why did I marry Doris?
Unlike the many girls that I dated, Doris was very down-to-earth. I found her to be sincere and caring. This was the woman that would change my life –dramatically.
I told myself that the woman I marry, whoever she is, I will love forever. I believe that Doris are I were fated to be husband and wife. She was born on All Saints' Day and I am born on Valentine's Day. Undoubtedly, Good Friday has special significance to both my wife and I. By some strange coincidence, 12th April 1974 was the day that I first met my wife. And it happened to be on Good Friday.
And though it was an arduous and painful journey for me to manage my wife's dreaded schizophrenia for more than three decades, I often draw my strength and compassion from Jesus. Can you imagine what will happen to Doris if she had married the wrong man?
My wife had a total of five illnesses, including schizophrenia, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol and incontinence. Being the sole caregiver to my wife for more 4 decades was no easy feat and I suffered burnout so many times.
Memories are made of this
But strange as it may seem, I had grown to love Doris more and more as I saw her struggle with so many illnesses. And it was such a joy for me to see my wife enjoy life to the fullest despite the suffering that she had to go through.
As we celebrated our wedding anniversaries through our 40 years of blissful union, I recollect the scenes when I took my marriage vows in 1972 when we got married.
"Will you Raymond Anthony Fernando take Doris Lau Siew Lang to be your wedded wife, to live together in the estate of matrimony? Will you love her, honour her, comfort her, and keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, be true to her as long as you both shall live?"
These marriage vows and my Catholic teachings had given me the strength and courage to love and care for my wife despite the arduous journey of being her sole caregiver. And when you are looking after a loved one with mental illness, you must be prepared to walk alone in the dark because there is still so much discrimination and prejudice against the mentally ill. That's the bad news.
But the good news is that through my love, encouragement and support, I had managed to turn Doris into an author of not one, but 8 books. This is a remarkable achievement for someone suffering from a serious mental disorder.
Through the many talks that I have given, I have always mentioned that people with mental illness just need one person to love them and with medication, they will recover.
Love conquers all
During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Doris suffered her 10th relapse. It was another very difficult period in my life. I had no choice but to admit Doris into the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), but at the back of my mind, I feared that the government in wanting to stop the spread of SARS , would close all doors for hospital visits.
Two days after Doris was admitted to hospital, the Ministry of Health (MOH) imposed the no-visitors ruling at all public hospitals and I could not visit my wife for one solid month. Doris was shattered, I was shattered. My heart was torn apart.
Usually I would visit Doris every day and spend as much time as I could with her as emotional support plays a big part in her recovery. This time around, the picture was totally different. My wife's biggest fear became a reality. In her disoriented state, Doris "believed" that I had abandoned her. Left her for another woman.
After one month, through several appeals, I managed to see my wife. When I saw her from a distance, I ran as fast as I could. I tripped and fell. My knees were badly bruised, but I did not feel any pain because when I spotted Doris, all pain -- physical and emotional seemed to go away. Indeed, love conquers all.
When Doris returned for home leave 4 weeks later, she was still not out of the woods. She had to continue her ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy) and she was only 50% recovered. It was close to our 29th anniversary and I wrote her a poem entitled "Ring on your finger" framed it on an A1 size poster and mounted it on the wall. The moment she saw it, her eyes lit up and so did her heart. She kept reading the poem, over and over again, until it brought about her total recovery. She hugged me and told me, that the delusion that I had abandoned her was not true and I really loved her. Once again, the healing power of love reunited us.
Raymond Anthony Fernando
Ring on your finger
A poetic tribute to my lovely wife, the late Doris Lau Siew Lang
My Dearest Doris,
It was placed on your finger many years ago
That wedding ring now in our home, still glows
Though you are safe with God, my love for you, Doris, continues to flow
This, I am sure, my love, you already know
The colour gold of the ring reminds me of how pretty you are
Your inner beauty that is sparkling like an evening star
The shape of the ring
Reminds me of one thing
You have carved our destiny
Through happy times, and amid uncertainty
The ring bears my name
It remains the same
The words have not faded
And our love has been upgraded
It reminds me that I will always belong to, Doris
It is a documented promise
The ring stood out on your finger that was so tender
It reminded me of how fragile you are
This ring on your finger reminded me that we have come this far
You will always have a place deep in my heart Doris, my eternal partner
And even if I have to start life all over again,
I will still choose you, Doris
And no other
Raymond Anthony Fernando