Mental Health

“I didn’t know how to grieve”: The girl who found purpose in her pain

Pamela Koh // July 27, 2021, 6:06 pm

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All photos courtesy of Pamela.

“Dear Diary,

It has been 3 weeks and I have been feeling down again. I really don’t think I’m going to come out of this anytime soon.

Last week, I saw a rainbow for the first time… and then a second and third time. I thought the rainbow was a sign God was giving me that things would get better. I take comfort in knowing that He is watching over me, but I waited and waited and I’m still feeling down and insecure, completely uncertain about the future.

I’m paranoid and fearful I can’t get into Uni and study the subjects of my choice, I worry about my Qualifying English Test in which I have no confidence of passing. Everything is so uncertain. I pray that my misery will end soon…”

Rereading my diary entry 20 years later, it feels like it was written by a completely different person.

My heart is welling up with so much compassion for this sad little girl. The only friend who truly knew her struggle was her Diary and, of course, God.

During her junior college days (last row, fifth from left), Pamela hid her feelings of sadness because she didn’t want to be viewed as weak.

In school, most teachers and her friends would remember her as a good student who smiled most of the time.

She never let anyone know how she really felt because everyone around her looked like they were coping so well. She didn’t want to be different or judged for being weak. She didn’t think people would understand.

The day this little girl’s life changed was when her daddy, whom she was so close to, died suddenly of a heart attack. She was only 9 years old. 

Life was never the same again without daddy — it was as if a part of her died too.

She was daddy’s girl.

Pamela and her dad, who passed away abruptly due to a heart attack.

Growing up in a family that didn’t talk about emotions, I didn’t know how to grieve. I saw mum crying a lot for a few weeks after his death, but we never talked about daddy again after he died.

It was only years later through counselling that I realised why I felt sad most of the time growing up. It was because I never knew how to grieve the trauma of my sudden loss.

I also realised I was afraid of the emotion of anger because my parents would often fight and get very angry when I was young. It made me feel scared. Staying close to grandma during those times brought me comfort.

But God led me into my healing journey when I was doing my Master’s. As part of the programme, all counsellors have to go through therapy because it is so important for us to be self-aware and work through our personal issues before we help others.

That was one of the best gifts God gave me. 

It was only during her Master’s programme that Pamela began her journey of healing.

Grief does not just involve the loss of a loved one through death — grieving is needed when there is any kind of loss that affects you, such as the loss of a friendship, a relationship, a job, a dream, a place that you lived in or an object that is important to you.

It could also be needed when you transit into a new stage of life, or if you were bullied in school or diagnosed with a medical condition.

Many of us experience losses, but we often think we’ve moved on without really grieving well. Grieving well, however, is so important to good mental health.

Now that I am a trained counsellor, I understand how avoiding or suppressing one’s emotions, and not dealing with traumatic or unpleasant experiences, will affect one’s mental and emotional well-being.

Not connecting with our negative emotions can also impact our ability to feel positive emotions like joy, peace and hope.

Embracing who I was created to be: Cara Chiang on the pursuit of real happiness

My counselling journey was a process of facing the pain of my loss. Even though the process was not an easy one, it was so worth it. 

I could cry over the loss of my daddy, and all the emotions I repressed could finally be let out.

I was able to tell my daddy what I never got to say, and come to accept that he never wanted to abandon me and would always have a special place in my heart.

I also realised that the rainbows I saw are indeed a sign of God’s promise. Things did get better for me.

As a university student, Pamela went on two mission trips to Japan, which led her to feel a burden for the young people there.

Not only did I get into university and graduate with an honours degree in sociology, which was what I wanted, it was also in university when I joined Cru, a Christian group on campus, and went to Japan with them.

During my two mission trips, God gave me a burden for the mental health of young people there when I realised that the materially rich country had one of the highest suicide rates in Asia.

That was why I decided to serve in Japan for six years after university.

After struggling in silence for many years, Pamela didn’t want others to go through a similar experience. These were a few of the girls she mentored in Japan.

Maybe it was the years of struggling with sadness alone that gave me the desire to support others and be a listening ear to others who were sad.

Having been in touch with my own pain helped me to understand people’s pain better and to have compassion and empathy for others. Having befriended my emotions, including anger, also helped me to connect with myself so I can connect with others deeply. 

My own struggles gave me a burden for what I do today.

The little girl in me would have never imagined that I would eventually mentor many young people in Japan and one day start a counselling arm in Singapore.

Pamela now journeys with young people in Singapore to help them thrive significantly.

In my work with ThriveSg, I want to overcome the stigma of mental health issues and change the mindsets people have about counselling.

Counselling does not just have to be for treatment — it can also be developmental. A ministry of Cru Singapore, ThriveSg helps young people (17-25 years old) to grow emotionally and thrive significantly.

You can learn coping skills, heal from past traumas, change your negative beliefs and become emotionally resilient! You do not need to wait until you are in a very bad state to seek support.

We also hope our new Instagram page will educate more people about mental health issues.

Some of the topics we have lined up include getting in touch with your emotions, finding significance in life, as well as understanding anxiety and depression and how to manage them.

How to deal with trauma after a life-threatening event

If you are struggling like I used to, I hope my story gives you hope. Healing is possible.

I am so grateful that I am longer sad. And I am grateful for how God has brought healing to me through counselling.

Looking back, I see God’s beautiful purpose for my life.

The difficult and sad years I experienced while growing up, and the tears I cried when I grieved the loss of my daddy, have been redeemed by God.

Our pain is never wasted. There can be purpose in pain.

THINK + TALK

  1. What emotions do you normally avoid? 
  2. Is there any loss or traumatic incident you’ve never allowed yourself to properly grieve? 
  3. Are there struggles that you’ve been keeping to yourself? Who can you reach out to?