Written by: Dory Khoo (Photo by: Marvin Ng)
My healing journey after losing a loved one
Sometime in June 2011, I heard a muffled cry from the kitchen. I froze and wondered if I had heard correctly. It could only be my father — he was the only other person at home. I got up immediately and ran to the kitchen.
“Dory… help me…” he cried, leaning onto the kitchen sink for support. He was debilitated by back cramps and he could not move. These words that were crippled with helplessness, coming from my father, haunted me for years.
I tried to stay calm, fighting back waves of panic. The ambulance eventually arrived. The sirens wailed, passers-by stopped in their tracks, and neighbours leaned out of their windows to watch what was going on. The paramedics put him on a stretcher as he gritted his teeth and tried to cooperate amidst the pain.
Throughout the journey to the A&E, he alternated between moans and cries. Tears welled up in my eyes, blurring the streetlights, and contorting them into shapeless forms — much like all that was happening that night.
After this traumatic experience, my father decided to go for a full body check-up. We found out that he had fourth-stage liver cancer and it had spread to his spine. It was merely two months later that he passed away.
I was eighteen years old. Yet, I found no tears in my eyes at the funeral, and did not experience chest-breaking sorrow. Many people told me that I was very strong — maybe because I smiled and laughed as often as I did before. I, myself, was worried. The truth is: I was in a state of shock. Psychological defences had shot up too high, such that I was unable to process the reality of it all.
In the months following his death, I battled immense fear, depression, and deep anxiety. I distinctly remember a time where I started penning a song during a time of worship, expressing my desire to return to my heavenly home right away. At that moment, God interjected with a question: “How about those who go through what you are going through, and don’t know Me?”
It struck me that there are people going through the same experience without God, and living without hope. I was already having trouble clinging onto hope; what about those who had trouble picturing what hope looked like?
With that, my song took a twist:
You tell me, “Be still
Stay to help the hungry and the broken
Love them like I do
So that heaven can come running to earth”
I decided that I was going to fight for God and for broken people just like me. I found myself in the throes of the valley of the shadow of death, and there is only one way out: through it.
After three arduous months of grappling with my dad’s passing, I experienced the power of His presence. Did you know that the most common term for presence (panim) in Hebrew is “face”? This implies a close and personal encounter with God.
At a life-changing conference in 2012, His light broke into my life. Despite the thick darkness that surrounded me, I felt a greater love overwhelm me; it was strong and fierce. The dark places of our lives may feel like a deep pit — one that we will never get out of alive — but it was never meant to remain a place of death; that pit, shrouded in darkness, is just the right place to encounter God’s fierce desire and power to save.
After the conference had ended, I refused to lose sight of that place of meeting. Day by day, I would put on a worship CD and linger for as long as I could in His presence, knowing that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
I also memorised bible verses that spoke against fear. Initially, there was considerable resistance, as though the powers of darkness were screaming louder at me, preventing me from hearing the words of Life. When I read scriptures about God’s goodness, I would sometimes feel upset at God when I examined the ridiculous contradiction between my life and His promises.
Yet, I knew that this was the key to my prison door and I clung onto it for dear life. Whenever my imagination started to run wild, I would will myself to recite a particular verse that brought me comfort, mulling over each word, and picturing what it would look like. This is our weapon against insidious thoughts and emotions; we need to take them captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
After three years, I was finally emotionally stable enough to face up to the loss of my father. Before that, I refused to visit the columbarium where my father’s ashes laid; I could not bear to carry any reminder or recollection of his death and suffering.
As I stood before his photograph and urn, something inside me found release. The long overdue tears streamed down my face and my heart ached with loss. There was pain, yet in the pain, I found deep relief and healing; it felt like the pain one feels when cleaning a wound.
It is easy to be afraid of dealing with loss and grief. We can end up trying to run away from it for our entire lives rather than pursue something far better — healing. May we recognise the place for mourning (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Take as long as you need, don’t rush it, but be intentional about finding healing and closure. Mourn, heal, and dancing shall follow.
All of us will experience darkness in this world. We were never made to respond to darkness with helplessness — we are more than conquerors. Conquerors establish their kingdom’s reign and order over the land; the state of the land, however ruined, is irrelevant.
We can perceive darkness in two ways:
- In darkness, we have the opportunity to encounter God’s glory. What better place to watch and experience the sunrise than in the dark?
- In darkness, we also have the opportunity to speak of hope and embody it. (This actually follows from the above point.) Right from the start of creation, God has always meant for light to shine out of darkness.
“See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:2, NIV)
This article is dedicated to: My family whom I love dearly and believe in; Aunty Esther for being an incredible blessing and strength to the family and I; Crystal Goh for having been a faithful mentor who pointed me to hope; and Rachel Chai for your precious and assuring companionship.