“In our heartbreak, we’ve found comfort and peace in God”: Parents whose son was swept away by waves in Australia
Where is God when it hurts? This Christmas, Salt&Light brings you a series of stories of God's light in the darkness when it matters most.
Monica Lim // December 19, 2022, 6:41 pm
“Life has not been the same without Hengyi but our love for him will never change. There are days that we miss him a lot. Not a day goes by that we are not thinking about him," said Kenneth Goh. All photos courtesy of the Goh family.
It was Goh Hengyi’s term break from his Master’s degree at the University of Western Australia.
Typically, he would fly back to Singapore to be with his family, but this was June 2020, when the world was reeling from the rapidly spreading Covid-19 pandemic.
Travelling back would have meant a two-week quarantine in Singapore, and he might not be allowed back into Perth as countries were shutting borders to try and stem the virus.
Instead, Hengyi decided to take a road trip with friends. On June 29, 2020, the last day of the trip, they visited Injidgup Beach, Yallingup, about 250km from Perth.
Standing on a rock formation taking photos, two large waves suddenly swept the 23-year-old away.
That was the last time anyone saw him alive.
Wrestling with grief
Kenneth Goh received a call that night that confirmed the worst fears of any parent.
“My wife and I were devastated,” he said.
Adding to the anxiety and stress was the fact that they were unable to fly to Perth immediately due to Covid-19. Approvals had to be sought and they tried to appeal for a waiver of quarantine requirements due to compassionate reasons, but were turned down.
In the end, they had to wait out 14 long and agonising days of quarantine in Perth before they could attend to the necessary matters for Hengyi.
“It was a gruesome one month in Perth,” said Kenneth.
Many reached out to support Kenneth, his wife, Ee Choo, and their elder son, Jeremy, while they served their quarantine at a hotel. These included friends, people from Hengyi’s university, pastors and Christians from local churches who prayed for them via Zoom.
Kenneth and Ee Choo were not Christians then, and in trying to grapple with their loss, had many questions. “The pastors assured us that Hengyi is with God and in good hands, and we’ll see him again in heaven,” said Kenneth.
“I was initially very sceptical and full of anger. If there is a God, why didn’t He save Hengyi? What did he do wrong? If we did something wrong, why was he punished?” Kenneth asked.
“The pastors got scolded by me a lot,” he recalled wryly.
The surprise of Christian love
As friends came forward to share their memories of Hengyi, a few surprises were uncovered.
For one, the family never knew that Hengyi attended church in Perth. “As far as we knew, he was a free thinker,” said Kenneth.
“If there is a God, why didn’t He save Hengyi? What did he do wrong?”
Because of Christian practices and the revelation that Hengyi might have been saved by God, the family decided to go with Christian rituals for Hengyi’s funeral. After much deliberation the family also decided to place his niche in a church columbarium.
A memorial service was held in Perth organised by Hengyi’s university, with livestream so relatives and friends of Hengyi back home could join in. The university also planted a memorial tree at its campus to remember Hengyi.
The love for Hengyi and support of Christians in Perth touched the family deeply. “They didn’t know us, yet they showed us so much compassion,” said Kenneth.
When the family returned to Singapore, the Christian community too rallied around them. A cousin who attended Christ Methodist Church introduced Pastor Barnabas, who met with the family and ministered to them regularly for more than a year.
Another cousin, who was a member of Barker Road Methodist Church also journeyed with the family. She went to their home and personally conducted the Alpha course and Bible studies with them.
Peace amid pain
This was the beginning of their faith journey.
It was the Christian belief that the family will be reunited in heaven one day, and the support of Christians, that won the family over to the faith.
“Initially, I felt like God was a stranger,” admitted Kenneth. “But as I learned and listened more, and read the Bible, I gradually came to understand more about Christ and finally accepted Him. When I am down, I pray and God often responds to my prayers.”
“Even though the grief becomes less intense, it never goes away.”
Kenneth and Ee Choo chose to be part of Christ Methodist Church and were baptised last Christmas.
Two years on, the family still feels the loss of Hengyi keenly. “Even though the grief becomes less intense, it never goes away,” said Kenneth.
“Life has not been the same without Hengyi but our love for him will never change. There are days that we miss him a lot. Not a day goes by that we are not thinking about him.”
Difficult as it is, Kenneth takes comfort in trusting that Hengyi is in a better place, in the arms of God. From the dreams that he, Ee Choo and Jeremy have had, they are assured that they will one day be reunited again.
“In our heartbreak and pain, we have found comfort and peace in God,” he said simply. “I wouldn’t have been able to weather the darkness of the first year without God’s presence.”
His favourite chapter in the Bible is Psalm 23. Engraved on Hengyi’s niche is verse 6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
When asked if he had any advice to others who might be going through something similar, Kenneth listed two groups of people as important sources of support. The first is professional help such as counsellors, and the second is the faith community such as pastoral care and the Christian community.
“You cannot go through something like this on your own,” he said. “As a faith community, we need to walk with one another through difficult times.”
This story was first published in WITNESS Magazine by Christ Methodist Church and is republished with permission.
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