During his younger days, Mr L (not his real name) was once a “hero” amongst the members of his gang. The multiple scars all over his tattooed body beared witness to his past hoodlum. Yet sickness and pain had him succumbed to ideas of suicide.
Mr L was very resistant to counselling when I first visited him. He did not even want to speak with me. Receiving counselling was like a shame to his valiant yesteryear. He would rather drown in depression than to accept any help.
Despite his initial cold shoulder, I had to be extra patient and persistent in order to help Mr L. I listened to him attentively and accepted him wholeheartedly. His attitude gradually softened when he sensed my empathy and respect, and began to let down his defences. Finally, he was willing to open his heart to tell me stories of his colourful life.
The youth in astray
Mr L was a rebellious kid when he was young. He hated school and truancy was a frequent shenanigan that piqued his father. Conflicts were commonplace between him and his authoritative father. After a big fight with his father, Mr L ran away from home in a huff. And not only did he leave his family, but he also dropped out of school without completing his primary school education. His estranged relationship with his father was left unreconciled.
After leaving home, Mr L was homeless and slept rough. His worried mother would secretly sneak some money to him, without letting his father know. As he recalled this, Mr L regrets not appreciating the feelings of his mother during that time.
When he was wandering the streets, he was befriended by members of gangs – people whom he associated with as they were mostly school dropouts like him. As a hot-blooded youngster, he had committed crimes on several occasions, was caught by the police, and sent to the boy’s home repeatedly. Yet he still did not repent.
As Mr L grew up, his loyalty and bravery earned him the respect of his brothers. He was always the first one to charge forward during fights and helped solved their problems when approached. As such, he had many followers.
The defeated hero
However, in time to come, Mr L had to pay a high price for his actions. The years of gang fighting left him with multiple injuries. The most severe was a nerve impairment, leaving him suffer intense chronic pain and losing his ability to walk properly.
Each time when the unbearable pain flared up, it was so agonising that he has the thought to end it all by jumping off his flat. This was when his medical social worker referred him to O’Joy for counselling.
Mr L told me that each painful attack was like a dark night of his soul, and he wanted to end the physical pain.
Fortunately, Mr L had his mother as his protecting factor. Although he had fallen out with his father, he is still filial to his mother. Each time he spoke about her, tears would well up in his eyes. During a counselling session, Mr L recalled how his mother shielded him when he got beaten by his father. He came to the realisation that if he ended his own life, his elderly mother would be so heartbroken, and he started crying as he said this. From then on, he dropped the idea of suicide.
Out of the shadows
With non-judgemental support and encouragement from the counsellor, Mr L started to accept himself and his situation, instead of shutting himself from reality. Facing his inner darkness took a lot of courage. But slowly, he had the motivation to change.
Mr L began to accept assistance from the community. Putting aside his pride, he took to a motorised wheelchair to move around and could finally venture outside his flat. He would turn up for his medical appointments regularly and learnt how to manage his pain. Like how he honoured his words during his triad days, he would keep his promises to the doctor’s advice. Even when the pain became intense, he would use his willpower to overcome the episode, instead of overdosing on painkillers.
Giving back to society
Mr L now offers advice to youngsters in his community so that they can stay clear of the astray path. His words are convincing as he draws from his personal experience with the underworld.
Occasionally when there are disputes between neighbours, Mr L will be asked to mediate. The issue is often solved readily as he is well respected among the neighbourhood.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, although the circuit breaker imposed many inconveniences to his life, Mr L cooperated fully with the restrictions and led by example to his friends and neighbours, so that everyone could stay safe.
Mr L has opened his heart and no longer shut himself up. He is receptive to concern and support from the community and is grateful for all the help that he receives. In return, he hopes to do his part for the community to pay the kindness forward.
Those who knew Mr L could see his transformation.
Mr L is very grateful to O’Joy and his counsellor, for the opportunity to reconcile with his past now in his old age. His only regret is not being able to mend his relationship with his father before he passed away.
Mr L continues to be monitored under O’Joy’s Services for Older Persons.
* The names, photos, and some details in this story have been changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the client.
Written by counsellor Tan Rong Chun in Mandarin
O'Joy serves vulnerable elderly like Mr L who lives alone with multiple health conditions that may affect their emotional state. By supporting our Services for Older Persons, you can help such elderly live out the rest of their lives with new meaning and purpose.