The Boy Who Shoelaced Himself (To Death)

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A familiar name appeared on my phone as the ringtone buzzed in my bedroom. Initially, I thought it could be a pocket dial (I do get such calls once in a while) as the caller was a guy whom I got acquainted with a year ago while conducting the funeral of his dad. Nonetheless, I accepted the phone call. I couldn’t quite understand what the call was for as Adam (*names have been changed to protect their identity) was trying his best to convey his words through heavy sobs. “We.. need your services.. again. It’s for my….. son”. I was dumbfounded. I vaguely remember seeing his son just a year ago and I remember the face of a teenager. I perched myself up on the bed and repeated his question, just to confirm that I’ve heard correctly “Your son?”. “Yes, my son.. he committed suicide.”

I met up with Adam and his wife at the mortuary at Singapore General Hospital hours later. (all bodies with unnatural causes of death get transported to SGH for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.) Adam stared blankly into space as I approached him. It was apparent how all this information of his son being dead hasn’t sunk in yet. He was functional but not in the sharpest state of mind. Tears stream endlessly down the cheeks of his wife but Adam was stoic and unemotional, at least for now. 

Decisions about his son’s funeral – the wake venue, coffin, flowers, funeral portrait, carpet colour, hearse, etc. were made by Adam swiftly as his functional side steps up. I sat there together with Adam and his wife, hoping that my physical presence would serve as a form of support for them albeit knowing how little of a difference it probably made.

Names were called out over the counter at SGH mortuary. The name of Adam’s son was called out and he went over to confirm the details on the death certificate before being given a copy. This was a process that he was all too familiar with since he did it last year for his dad. This time, however, it was for someone who was equally as dear to him as his Dad or even more, but of a younger generation. He went about the motions unflappably. 

We were given the death certificate and had to then collect the body. The husband and wife went to the cold room to verify that it was the right body. Seeing the cold, lifeless body of his son on the operating table, Adam broke down.  The realities of his son passing were sinking in. His son was then sent back to our embalming care centre where he was gracefully embalmed. 

Adam’s son was 16 years old and had not grown to the height of an adult male. With his small stature, he only took up three-quarters of an adult-sized coffin. He was at the cusp of adolescence, about to enter adulthood and yet he chose to end his life. Being alive must have been so miserable, so miserable that he chose death over life. With a heavy heart, my team and I transported the coffin to the wake venue where his family waited for his return. 

I learnt over the days of the funeral that the deceased’s sister was the first to find out about her brother’s demise. She was the one who opened the doors to their house and was greeted by her brother hanging from the ceiling. I was also told that her brother was determined to end his life. He was witty and used shoelaces to hang himself. Who would have that thought that he would end his life with an everyday accessory? A simple shoelace on its own would probably snap due to his weight. He took the effort to devise a method of coiling and tying the shoelaces around each other such that a sturdier tool was created . This boy was probably really bright but succumbed to the pressures of life that were created by society. 

His sister, probably only a year older, barely cried throughout the 3 days funeral. She shared on the final night of the wake that she used to be close to her brother but life got busier and they grew apart. She attributes the death to herself. She felt that she should have caught wind of him wanting to end his life. To her, what were normal occurrences now seemed like red flags that she should have picked up on before he ended his life. The image of him hanging from the ceiling with his shoelace also stuck with her. She shared about him being the best brother and how she would miss having him around at home although she did not cherish his presence before. 

The sister probably thought she should be strong for those around her – her parents and her grandmother. Now that her brother is gone, the onus is on her to be there for the family. That probably would be her line of thought which led to her suppressing her emotions. Whether she would break down privately, that I wouldn’t’ know. Our grief journies are all different and I am sure this would be traumatizing for her but yet she remained strong for those around her. For that, I respect her. I do pray for her and her family till now though – that they receive the peace that we all can’t provide but only God can for the unanswered questions they might have in their minds with regards to the son’s suicide. 

And for those of you who might are bystanders, please be kind to those around you. You never know what struggles people are going through. We are living in a harsh and cold world, but that doesn’t mean we have to be unkind too. A little kindness goes a long way. It could be as simple as a kind word or a small action. You never know how it can influence another’s life. Start today, and practice kindness to all around you. And trust me, it would change your life too.

*For more help on suicide matters, please contact Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221 4444

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