Faced with the demise of four family members in a short span of three years, Cheah Hong Ying was once overwhelmed with pain and grief. Fortunately, her guardian angels appeared in time, accompanying her on the uphill journey to reconnect with life after suffering loss. She said, “If it was not for Tzu Chi people, I do not know what would have become of me!”
Cheah Hong Ying met her husband at a petrol station in Batu Caves, where they worked. She described him as a good family man, who would handle not only purchases of daily necessities for the family, but also milk powder for the children. No matter how tired he was from work, he would get up for night-time feedings and meticulously care for his children. She recalled, “He knew and would do everything. I did not have to handle the odds and ends. I could fully depend on him.”
However, such happy and blissful life did not last her lifetime, as she had anticipated. Her world began to dim dramatically in 2016, following the successive demise of her mother, mother-in-law and father-in-law. Besides losing her loved ones, her savings were also depleted by half, for the wake services and funerals. What caught her even more unprepared was her husband’s diagnosis of cancer, not long after her father-in-law’s demise.
Hong Ying recalled that her husband started to develop a sore throat in 2017. He visited a clinic, and was prescribed medication for inflammation. However, his condition persisted even after a month. Hong Ying then suggested that he obtain a further check-up at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre. To their dismay, her husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma, and there were signs of metastasis!
As the family was financially stressed over the cost of the chemotherapy treatment which would amount to over RM100,000, the doctor proposed that they raise funds through the newspapers. Upon receiving a referral from a kind soul, Tzu Chi volunteers promptly contacted Hong Ying’s husband and arranged for the provision of emergency subsidies after due assessment.
During the six chemotherapy cycles, the husband had to endure the pain of injection and take medications daily. Although exhausted and sleepless worrying about him, Hong Ying held back tears and put on a strong disposition in front of him.
After the first course of chemotherapy, the 6-cm tumour found in his lymph nodes had disappeared. However, the doctor discovered that the cancer cells had spread to the brain. This plunged the couple into despair once again. By then, her husband had lost his appetite and the ability to recognize people he knew. Seeing that, the doctor swiftly planned for another course of chemotherapy treatment while advising Hong Ying to prepare for the worst. Regrettably, the husband passed away in the first cycle of treatment.
Recollecting the series of unexpected events, she said, “It was extremely bad. I felt miserable and kept asking why. Why was it that those who departed were all dearest to me and those who could help me the most? Why wasn’t my wish for a simple and ordinary life granted? Why did my husband depart from this world at such a young age?”
◎ A new beginning
Hong Ying was greatly traumatized by the death of her life partner and was on the brink of emotional collapse. However, she was not allowed a breather. In addition to her family’s daily needs, she was also burdened with a car loan, mortgage, her children’s education expenses, and more. Her family had to face the huge challenge of having no income in the midst of bereavement.
In fact, they had exhausted their savings due to her husband’s illness. She even needed financial assistance from their relatives to hold a simple funeral for him. Thereafter, she had to learn to manage her life moving forward.
Given her introverted personality plus the meticulous care of her late husband, she only had a small social circle of friends and had long been out of touch with society. She related, “At that time, I did not even know how to refuel a car. Moreover, as I had no sense of direction, I dared not drive too far. This greatly limited my job opportunities.” Thankfully, Tzu Chi volunteers were there to assist her. For example, volunteer Soh Yoke Hong taught her how to use Waze, a navigation application that provides real-time route guidance, besides occasionally accompanying her to find a job.
With continuous care and encouragement from her relatives and volunteers, Hong Ying began to transform and take up a few cleaning jobs. Nonetheless, she still found it hard to accept the loss of her husband and tried to numb herself with work. She shared, “My life was only work, sleep and eat.”
One day at work, Hong Ying, who was not in a good state, accidentally injured her hand. In order to help her get through the low point in life, volunteers extended their care as a team, and eventually, she opened her heart and began to participate in Tzu Chi activities. Initially, she only took her children to volunteer on the monthly Recycling Day, where she found volunteers with whom she could chat.
“If it was not for Tzu Chi volunteers, I do not know what would have become of me!” Hong Ying expressed. She was most touched that Yoke Hong had awakened her with these truthful and compassionate words: “It is not that we do not want to help you but you are reluctant to come out. We are here and ready to help but we are unable to. What should we do? What about your children? It is all in your hands how you will live your life from here on.”
It was not until then that Hong Ying made up her mind to start over. To her, Yoke Hong was like a guardian angel, who has been there to care for and accompany her, gradually leading her out of grief.
◎ Dharma as a way of life
Since March this year, Hong Ying has been actively participating in book study sessions organized for the sutra adaptation performance of the Lotus Sutra. She was glad to have learnt to share her past life stories with fellow participants. She said, “I used to keep all my thoughts and worries to myself, but now, I am willing to open my heart and share my inner world with others.”
The book study sessions have also changed Hong Ying’s mindset and parenting style. In the past, she would be harsh on her children when they made mistakes. To her then, it was the best way to make them submit themselves. Now, she has learnt to manage her emotions, allowing her children to vent their dissatisfaction before reasoning with them. The gentler approach has brought her closer to her children, and she honours how practical the Dharma is in daily life.
Hong Ying especially likes the verses of “Buddha on Vulture Peak”, which resonate with her belief that one does not need to go far to seek the Buddha on Vulture Peak, for the Vulture Peak lies within one’s heart. She has also learnt to appreciate affinities and understands that everything happens for a reason. She said, “We have to cherish affinity when there is a guardian angel by our side. When we are faced with adversity, it is perhaps an opportunity for growth.”
The enlightening moments in Tzu Chi have helped Hong Ying untie the knot in her heart and stop complaining about her past misfortunes. Her heart is now peaceful when remembering her late husband. She now understands that everyone has their own blessings. Although she had lost her husband, she still has her two children and Tzu Chi volunteers by her side. She keeps in mind Yoke Hong’s advice that everyone has their life’s assignments. Her late husband had completed his, and thus had departed from this world. She shall offer him her blessings and work on her unfinished assignments diligently.
Hong Ying has expanded her social circle, and despite receiving help from Tzu Chi, she has become a recycling volunteer, repaying the community with her recycling efforts. She has also found comfort amidst the storm of her life. She is immensely grateful to her guardian angels, who have kept her company as she journeyed through those tough times and evolved into a better version of herself. She looks forward to continue her volunteering journey with Tzu Chi and hopes that she, too, can be a guardian angel to others someday.