Sophia Pay: Tragic Death of Sibling Inspired Kindness to Strangers and a More Purposeful Life 

“My brother died 8 years ago. I was at home when I found out. It was a Friday night, and I was on a long-distance call with my partner who was in Europe at the time. At 1am, I got up from bed to go to the toilet. That’s when I saw my mum crying alone in the living room.

My mum isn’t a particularly emotional person. I’ve probably seen her cry three times my whole life. I was worried and concerned, of course, and asked what’s going on. She turned to me and said, ‘I have bad news. Joel died.

When a sibling dies unexpectedly, it takes time for you to process the news. And then you realise that your family will never be the same again. You will never be full or complete anymore. There is only brokenness. And that was the first emotion that hit me really hard.

The next morning, we got more details, and I learnt that he killed himself. When someone commits suicide, family is required to identify the body at the mortuary. My mum said, ‘Look, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.’ And I’m thinking, how can I let you do this alone?!

Even though I could sense a heaviness in the air around her, my mother looked relatively composed. But when they wheeled in the body, she simply broke. She kept saying that it’s not him. It’s not him. It doesn’t look like him. I had never seen that side of her before.

My mother was always put together, but at that moment, she sounded like a young mother who had just lost her newborn baby. It was less heartbreaking that I lost my brother, and more painful that I had to see her that way.

When my brother was 12, he moved out of the house and lived with my grandmother. I never knew why. Maybe it’s because we weren’t well-to-do. Maybe it’s because our parents didn’t have the best of relationships. I was his younger sister, but I didn’t know much about him.

But when I had the morbid task of clearing his rental with my cousin, I started to learn multiple truths about my brother. I touched the stuff that he touched, held the things that he held, and slowly his life started to unravel.

He was a musician, just like my parents. He had friends who really cared about him. He was even a groomsman at somebody’s wedding. I also found out that he was in love, but his feelings were not returned. He probably felt like his life was not worth it anymore.

I found his will at his place, and there were things in there which were difficult to process; things I wasn’t sure I should tell my parents. I kept it to myself, and it became a family secret that weighed down on me. I became an adult who made adult decisions from that point on.

Sometimes, I do wonder. What if my brother called me the day he wanted to kill himself? Is there something I could have done? That emotion is very unresolved, because there’s nothing that you can do about it now.

Because of what happened to him, I always have these nagging afterthoughts about people I meet. Why was their energy off? Are they going through a bad day? What can I do to help them realise that the world isn’t that bad; that people do care.

If I can extend help and make a person’s day better, why not? It really doesn’t take too much out of you. It’s not difficult to tell someone that you appreciate them, or that you enjoy the time spent together. A simple action is all you need.

If the waiter’s service is good, I’d say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you are super attentive. I just wanted you to know that you have done a good job today.’ We just don’t compliment each other enough. I think that is what we’re lacking in Singaporean culture.

After his funeral, I realised that all my parents ever wanted was for their children to be happy. They don’t expect us to take care of them when they’re older. They have very little expectations of us.

They’re happy knowing that we’re happy, healthy, learning, exploring and living our lives. So now, I try to honour them by living a more purposeful life. I’m trying to tell them, look, maybe one of your kids didn’t do so well in life, but I’ve led a pretty wholesome life.

I took up boxing, for example. Maybe it’s because my brother couldn’t live the life that he wanted, but I actively look out for experiences that are rewarding, heart-pumping and amazing. Plus, I think everybody has this martial arts dream of fighting 15 people at once.

I had to undergo knee surgery and was out of sports for a couple of years. After I had recovered, I discovered Legends Fight Sport and the SG Women Boxing Community, and I decided that I wanted to get back into boxing again.

I was training five to six times a week. Obsessed, right?! I enjoy the precious friendships I’ve made at the gym, and I appreciate the little, little things that make a boxer a boxer. I’m secretly very aggressive and competitive, and I’m happy to let it all out in a controlled arena.

I see life as a gift, and I’m celebrating it more because that was something my brother wasn’t able to do. Sometimes, it does feel like I’m living for two people. When he died, it felt like the responsibility was on me to live a meaningful life for my parents.

But it wasn’t something burdensome. It’s just me attempting to turn my life into something bigger and better. To show my parents that they didn’t do anything wrong with how they raised their kids. You guys did okay. I’m okay.

You taught me to be kind, and I was kind to everybody that I met. You taught me to explore and learn about the world, and I did. I’ve led a life where I upheld your morals, and I will continue to do so to the best of my ability.” – Sophia

Suicides Prevention and Crisis Helplines

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1 Comment

  1. It is SO WONDERFUL to see Sophia featured here! Such a courageous woman, sharing her vulnerabilities with such tender care. To carry her brothers legacy forward – celebrating each and every day as a gift – is such a powerful reminder to us all. Thank you Sophia and Arman, for this deeply moving article. We send you much love from South Africa. Justine and Michael x

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