Written By Ng Jing Yng
Photos courtesy of Naw Day Day
Vectors designed by rawpixel.com / Freepik
What is a parent’s greatest comfort in the face of sudden and devastating loss?
For Naw Day Day and her husband, Peter Wong, this was the very question they found themselves grappling with back in January, when tragedy struck out of the blue, robbing them of their beloved 5-year-old daughter, Louise.
Today, Day Day is able to articulate the answer with full assurance and confidence: “Louise knows the Lord, she knows Jesus,” she said. Day Day recalls Louise sharing about Jesus being killed by “bad people” (the Romans soldiers) for our sins and healing the sick.
She is also convinced that the Lord had prepared her daughter in advance. In fact, just some months before Louise passed away, the cheerful child had colored a picture of heaven in Sunday school.
This is what’s helping them come to terms with having to live the rest of their lives on earth without the presence of their daughter.
When Tragedy Struck
It all started on January 15, when Louise complained of chest and bowel pains. She later developed a high fever. Though concerned, the family decided to monitor her condition for one day per usual practice, before taking further steps.
Later in the afternoon, however, Louise started experiencing seizures. That’s when Day Day knew something was gravely amiss and decided to call Peter to rush their daughter to the hospital.
By then, Louise was drifting in and out of consciousness. Not one to usually take to social media, Day Day began to call on friends to pray for Louise.
After being assessed by the emergency specialists, Louise was immediately placed in the high dependency ward. Peter and Day Day began pleading with the Lord, although their requests went in opposite tangents.
Peter, who had seen his father in a vegetative state before passing on, prayed that the Lord will either heal Louise completely or take her away. He did not want anything in between for his bubbly daughter.
On the contrary, Day Day pleaded with the Lord to “give her a second chance to be [Louise’s] mother on earth”. She also told Louise that she “would take care of her even if she might end up in a vegetative state. However, if she is struggling very hard, I am ready to let her go.”
The next 36 hours was a series of starts and stops for the couple. They were relieved to finally catch a glimpse of their young daughter after what seemed like hours of waiting.
“We saw her through the window of the triage barrier. She was laid sideways, with her eyelids opened, not blinking. I knew then that the brain damage was already a done deal for her, and that she will likely not survive,” Peter said.
Later, when they were granted their first physical access to Louise, Peter described tears flowing down his face as he observed that “her body was physically cold to touch and she was attached to the ventilator and vitals monitor.”
But he continually sang to Louise one of the worship songs she had often performed in church as he sat by her bedside. Singing “With Christ in the vessel, we can smile at the storm”, he praised his little girl for her courage in undergoing this turbulent storm. He also sought to assure her that the suffering will cease once she meets Jesus in heaven.
“I told Louise that she will get to meet and play with the apostles that she once learned about in Sunday school,” said Peter. “It was also another way for me to comfort myself, to be reminded that there is a better heavenly place beyond this physical life.”
For Day Day, while she still struggled to let Louise go, her request had now changed. She asked the Lord to keep Louise alive till Louise’s grandmother (Day Day’s mother) from Myanmar and god-grandfather, who was away in Bangkok, got to see her one last time. The Lord granted this request—Louise’s blood pressure shot up at one point, but after Peter started praying by Louise’s bed, it dipped and remained steady till the arrival of Day Day’s mother and god-grandfather.
Only after that, her limbs began to darken, a sign of weakening blood pressure. And then, her vitals flatlined.
Louise passed on about 36 hours after she was first hospitalized, in the wee hours of 17 January. Her condition was later diagnosed as a rare neurologic disease known as acute necrotizing encephalopathy of childhood (ANEC), a disease exclusively seen in East Asian infants and children who had been previously healthy. ANEC is characterized by respiratory or gastrointestinal infection and high fever accompanied with rapid alteration of consciousness and seizures.
To add to the family’s grief, they had to postpone the funeral as their second child and youngest son, Luke, was warded in hospital for preventative observation, while Day Day was kept in another hospital with the H1N1 virus at the same time.
After Luke and Day Day were discharged one after another over the next two days, the family started preparing for Louise’s funeral. Peter recalled that he had mixed emotions when her body arrived home in a coffin. “The first sight of her was somewhat comforting because she had finally come back home, but I was saddened that she was back home lifeless.”
For the wake, the family prepared a slideshow of Louise’s photos with Celine Dion’s rendition of “What A Wonderful World” as background music. “Louise liked this song, and this was also how she perceived the world: wonderfully, innocently and happily,” added Peter.
Day Day felt that God had granted her three days to have a good rest at the hospital and to recharge for the most painful moment to come—the funeral.
She held onto Joshua 1:9, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (NLT), and was encouraged to know that God is with Louise as well as with the family in this journey of faith. This verse was eventually inscribed at Louise’s final resting place.
The Gift of Louise’s Life
Now, four months later, Day Day shares that the hardest part was not the unanswered prayer for Louise to be healed. Instead, it was the torment of going through a vicious cycle of guilt; Day Day’s biggest regret was not taking Louise immediately to the doctor, and she questioned if she could have done more to save her child.
“I was angry with myself for not believing in her (Louise). That was the most painful,” added Day Day. She could only gradually break out of this self-blame game after her husband and godmother rallied alongside her and reminded her of God’s goodness.
Day Day is thankful that her child no longer has to suffer. The paediatric specialist in charge of Louise’s case had told her that none of the other three children under her care who were struck with this rare disease, had survived. Studies have also shown that no specific treatment or preventive method has been determined for this disease, and less than 10 per cent of patients completely recover from it. In the rare cases where the young patients survive, they have had to be placed on life support for the rest of their lives.
Looking back, Day Day is also consciously aware that God had given Louise to them as a “bonus”, blessing them with her infectious laughter for the past five years and giving Luke a sibling to play with. She recalls that when Louise was born, she had an irregular heartbeat and the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. An emergency caesarean ensued to save both the mother and child.
Peter concurs. Louise had been a joyful addition to the newly married couple’s life. His fondest memories were “taking Louise to the playground, pushing her as hard as I can on the swing . . . and to tickle her when she asked for it.”
Coping with Life After Loss
Nonetheless, the pain and grief of losing Louise is still acute. “We have experienced many firsts, but in reverse. When your child is born, there will be the first hour, first night back home,” Peter shared.
“But when Louise passed away, I had to take it a moment at a time, the first hour of her death, the first day . . . the first time waking up knowing she isn’t around anymore.”
He added: “There is also this dilemma of moving on with life without Louise, and reliving those little moments in my memory when she was present.”
The couple is now taking baby steps together to forge new memories while holding on to the happy times with Louise in their heart.
Day Day says that they are definitely more patient when dealing with Luke now. The two-year-old boy had wondered where his older sister was, but is still too young to fully grasp the reality of things.
Holding on to Faith in A Good God
The couple hopes that their story—heart-wrenching as it may be—will bring glory to God and remind families to cherish one another as life can take on unexpected twists. They acknowledge that there will likely not be any complete answers for what they’ve had to go through, but attested to the Lord’s unwavering comfort during a time of incomprehensible grief (Lamentations 3:32-33).
“We still miss her a lot. For me personally, I have cried daily thinking of her. But this ordeal has helped me understand how God must have felt during the moments when Jesus was on the path of Calvary. It gave me a first-person perspective of how truly and agonizingly painful it is to see one’s own child dying,” Peter shared.
“The process was indeed cruel, but I consider it a priceless privilege for me to gain a first-hand perspective of God. I still don’t fully understand God’s love, but after Louise’s death, I felt the depth of God’s real and personal love by sending Jesus to die on the cross for us, as I relate it to how much I loved dear Louise.”
More crucially, they stressed the urgency of letting the little ones know God personally.
“It is never too late to introduce Christ into a child’s life,” said Peter. “This seed is extremely important and will carry them throughout their lives.”
“Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion
because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
For he does not enjoy hurting people
or causing them sorrow.”
—Lamentations 3:32-33 (NLT)