It was exactly one year and nine months from the day the doctor told her that she had terminal stage liver cancer in April 2019. Since then, Tzu Chi volunteer Sim Siew Hong accepted the painful diagnosis, gone through various rounds of chemotherapy treatments conscientiously, and at the same time, did not give up on her Tzu Chi volunteer duties. On February 4, 2021, she succumbed to her illness peacefully with family members around her to bid her goodbye.
Practising Tzu Chi’s dharma teaching to her last day
Sim Siew Hong was a Tzu Chi volunteer for the past 11 years. Until the last day of her life, she took to Master Cheng Yen’s teachings diligently, and at the same time, continued with her volunteer duty as a cadre leader in the foundation’s charity mission. Taking the illness as a life taught lesson and living a fruitful life through serving others, she had taught many a great lesson on the value of life. At home, Siew Hong was a loving mother to her two daughters and a dutiful wife, said husband Willy Ang, who was inspired to walk the Tzu Chi path with her all these years.
“Life is unpredictable; hence we should seize the opportunity to do good when you are healthy. Do not wait and regret when illness strikes.” This was what Sim Siew Hong often said to other volunteers after she was diagnosed with the dreadful illness.
Turning to dharma for inner peace
In the process of her medical treatment, Siew Hong trusted her doctors and took to dharma for inner peace. She made it a point to listen to Master Cheng Yen’s teaching online every morning whenever she could. This had given her great strength to face her challenges each day.
“It is our blessings to walk the Bodhisattva path," she said. As a community leader and cadre leader in her zone’s charity work, she had been active in home visits and attended to all details of the charity cases under her care. Being sick did not stop her from carrying out her duties. She continued to make it a point not to miss any opportunity to participate in Tzu Chi volunteering work whilst undergoing treatment. “I will fight till the end. I will continue to do my volunteer work till my last breath!” That’s her unwavering resolve in facing her life-threatening sickness.
A Boddhisatva in people’s heart
77 year-old Chua Wee Peng, who participated regularly in charity home visit commented, “Charity Home Visit is like Sister Siew Hong’s baby, she nurtured and see her grow from strength to strength.” Many of the newcomers were encouraged by her to walk the Tzu Chi path. Among them was Tee Eng Watt, who was full of respect for Sister Siew Hong. Tee said, “She accompanied me and took care of me since I joined Tzu Chi. During home visits, she taught and guided me on how to conduct case pre-assessment. She gave me plenty of opportunities to learn the ropes of attending and offering help to the care recipients in Tzu Chi’s charity work.” Through Sister Siew Hong’s encouragement and advice, Sister Eng Watt eventually became a certified Tzu Chi commissioner and has been walking the path with her since then.
“She was very calm and at ease. There was no show of pain nor anxiety; she knew she was leaving for good. Although she cannot talk, her body language and her eyes seemed to be telling me to have faith in myself and hope I could be there for her husband Willy through this period”, recalled brother Neo Siong Heng when he visited sister Siew Hong for the last time at the hospital.
Bidding the last goodbye
On February 7, a total of twenty volunteers gathered at the wake for a memorial service. Observing the COVID-19 safe distancing measure, the service was brought online to allow other volunteers to also participate in the memorial service.
During the service, Sister Siew Hong’s husband, Willy Ang shared that Siew Hong was such a kind and simple person as compared to himself who is stern and harsh at times. When told of the bad news that his wife contracted cancer, he told himself that he has to brace himself, cherish the time with Siew Hong and take good care of her, so that he will not have any regrets in life. Citing on the verse in “The Ten Merits” of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings, “Though constantly fettered by 108 grave illnesses, we have compassion for sentient beings without focusing on ourselves. We are like a master boatman whose body is ill; if he has a sturdy boat, he can still help others to cross the river”. Siew Hong is like a Master boatman, although terminally ill, she still felt free and at ease with the power of her vows as if she was not sick, helping herself and others to safely reach the other side of the shore.
When the law of nature came into play, Siew Hong told her daughter Gui Lin, this was her karma and that she had happily accepted it. Gui Lin remembered her mother as a good hearted person, a loving and gentle mother who was always there for her and her sister. Although she is very sad that her mother has left her forever, she knows she cannot continue to dwell in sorrow but need to get back on her feet soonest to carry on with her life.
Besides those who had shared on the video clips, volunteer Choong Chui Ping remembers Sister Siew Hong as a caring and understanding leader. With Sister Siew Hong around, volunteers who participated in home visit were being well taken care of. Sister Siew Hong would personally attend to all the minute details of home visits before and during the monthly charity day, from grouping volunteers, settling the relief materials and relief funds etc. Knowing each of her care recipients by heart, she would remind the volunteers what to follow up during these home visits. She was indeed a role model to all the charity home visit volunteers, who will take on her role with collective effort.
During the memorial service, Neo Xiao Wen, who was very close to Sister Siew Hong called in from Italy to share her thoughts. She feels very grateful and fortunate to have met Sister Siew Hong and Brother Willy Ang in Tzu Chi. Sister Siew Hong was always there for her and her mum when they were facing challenges in life. She will forever remember her mentor as a loving and compassionate wife, caring mother, and a wise grandmother. Despite her illness, she fought fearlessly till the end, and continued with her good work in Tzu Chi to benefit others. Such is a great life with value that touches the hearts of many who knows her.
Thank you for teaching us a valuable lesson about life
Thank you, Sister Siew Hong, for your compassionate presence in this life. Your passing has taught us many lessons in life, and we shall look upon you as our role model and we vow to continue with your good work in Tzu Chi with unwavering spirit.