Yannie Yong’s husband, Dick, was supposed to pick her up for a Christmas lunch party, and when he didn’t reply to her messages, she thought he might’ve gone ahead without her. Yet a part of her wondered: Did something bad happen?
Her worst fears were answered some hours later, when her helper frantically called her at work to tell her that policemen were at her door. That drive home, she says, was the worst journey of her life.
When she arrived, the police informed her that Dick had met with an accident—and hadn’t survived.
It felt like a nightmare, says Yannie. “At first I felt disbelief. When I heard the news, I just went straight to my room to lie down. But when I woke up about 10 minutes later, the police were still there.”
They asked her where her family was, but they were mostly overseas. Yannie’s father had passed on, and her mother was in Kuala Lumpur at the time. Her siblings were spread out across the globe—Britain, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. At that point, she felt afraid and alone.
Yannie managed to get in touch with her sister, who contacted the rest of the family; that evening, family members began flying back to Singapore.
“At the time, I was just in denial. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t know whom to talk to,” recalls Yannie. “My social circle then was small, and my kids were very young then. I wanted to reach out for Dick’s arm, but he was no longer there.”
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Running Away from Grief
In the following days of that tragic accident in 2015, dark questions plagued Yannie’s mind. Why did this happen? What would she do? How would her daughters grow up without their dad?
She felt so helpless and hopeless about what lay ahead, that she could only plan for each day as it came. Even brushing her teeth, deciding on what to eat for lunch, and opening the mail, took effort.
“I would divide the day in quarters, and just set simple, short goals to keep myself moving,” she says.
She had never imagined life without Dick, whom she had met at a church cell group meeting and married in 2002. They had four beautiful daughters, and Yannie’s business in selling women’s clothes was doing well.
“They didn’t just lose one parent then, but two, because I was ‘missing’ in their lives.”
Now, it seemed as if she had lost everything, including her identity and status as a wife. It felt unbearable. Only 41 then, Yannie says she had never felt older when circling “widow” to indicate her marital status whenever she filled up forms.
A year after the accident, she sold her home and moved to Indonesia. She wanted to start a new life and business there, in what she describes as a bid to run away from her grief.
Her daughters, who were only 4 to 13 years old at the time, went to study in an international school in Jakarta, and were taken care of by their helper and relatives staying there. The girls saw Yannie only on weekends, as she would fly back to Singapore to continue running her business from Mondays to Fridays. They did this for three years.
Says Yannie: “They didn’t just lose one parent then, but two, because I was ‘missing’ in their lives.”
Yannie and Dick with their four daughters, celebrating a birthday in 2014
Getting Angry with God
Yannie also began to question her faith in God.
Since accepting Christ at the age of 16, she had come to trust God to help her through life’s challenges. Having been born in Malaysia and come to Singapore to study when she was nine, she had grown up under the care of her siblings and nanny, as her parents were often travelling for business.
“I was pretty much on my own, because I grew up in an environment where I was left to make my own decisions,” says Yannie. “So when someone shared with me that God would help me, it was a nice feeling.”
“I was so angry with God. I asked God: ‘Why me? Why don’t you pick on someone stronger?’”
On becoming a Christian, she had served the Lord by mentoring others, leading a cell group, and becoming a youth leader, stepping down only after she had her fourth child.
When Dick passed away, however, Yannie ran away from God.
“I was so angry with God,” she recalls. “I asked God: ‘Why me? Why don’t you pick on someone stronger?’”
Remembering the Truth of Who God Is
Despite her anger and despair, Yannie did not forget what she had learnt about God.
“All the truths of who God is—from the Bible and worship songs that were sown in my life as a teen—came back to me,” she recalls. “He is faithful. He will make a way when there seems to be no way . . . I hinged on these promises.”
While in Jakarta, she also felt God’s love and presence in a tangible way. For instance, her senior pastor flew from Singapore to minister to her and her four girls despite his tight schedule.
“Even though I had run away to Indonesia, having someone seek me out and remind me that God loves me, that I have a future and purpose, made me realise that I didn’t have to do anything or prove anything—God loves me,” Yannie says simply. “That was when I decided to rebuild my life.”
Taking steps to stop herself from wallowing in self-pity, she began attending church again. In 2018, she moved back to Singapore with her daughters, and started seeing a grief counsellor.
“There were so many years of undealt and unresolved issues . . . I had to humbly ask God for help to refurbish me—this temple of God that was so broken,” she shares.
“I was trying to be this superwoman who could do everything and be strong for my kids. But God said, ‘You don’t have to be strong for Me. My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’”
That same year, she also took up a challenge from her pastor to be “like Mary”, sitting at Jesus’ feet and meditating on God’s Word. She decided to reflect on psalms for an hour every day. As she did this, she began to find great comfort in God’s truths and promises. Psalm 23, she says, spoke to her specially in her pain.
“God’s healing came as I allowed the Word of God into my heart and received little acts of love . . . there were so many people coming along the way to encourage us as well,” adds Yannie, recalling how her church community and bereavement ministry reached out to her and her family.
It took five years before Yannie finally learnt to be truly vulnerable before the Lord.
“I was trying to be this superwoman who could do everything and be strong for my kids,” she reflects. “But God said, ‘You don’t have to be strong for Me. My yoke is easy and My burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30). That was when I really experienced how real His grace is.”
Dick and Yannie on a holiday in Japan in 2013, before their youngest child was born
Caring for Her Four Girls
Yannie’s daughters also needed time to mourn and come to terms with their father’s passing.
Her eldest daughter, who was 12 at the time, cheated on a test shortly after his death. When questioned, she couldn’t explain what made her behave that way in the spur of the moment. Gradually, her school counsellor helped her to make sense of her grief.
“She believed her dad wanted her to do well, and didn’t want to disappoint him,” says Yannie.
Her third daughter cried a lot and didn’t know how to express her feelings, while her youngest, who was only four then, felt sad about not remembering her father personally.
“It took a while for them to process their grief,” she says. “I went on long walks with each one of them to talk about their memories of Dad.”
“They may lack an earthly father, but the rock-solid truth is that they are never alone. The Word of God says He will never leave or forsake us, and that Jesus loves us.”
By God’s grace, her girls, now 10 to 17, have since gone on to do well in school and in other pursuits. While they still struggle in different ways, Yannie keeps encouraging them to nurture a personal relationship with God—“and not just because Mummy says so.”
“They may lack an earthly father, but the rock-solid truth is that they are never alone,” she says. “The Word of God says He will never leave or forsake us, and that Jesus loves us.”
And while she still struggles today to juggle work and family as a single mum, Yannie has, over time, learnt to be more intentional in showing love and communicating with her daughters. She checks in with her daughters frequently, asking after them and encouraging them to share anything that’s on their hearts.
“I used to be a tiger mum—I would send them for tuition for all their subjects, because I equated good grades with good character,” she says with a laugh. “But now, I look at my kids and try to identify their talents and strengths, and to see how I can come alongside and help them.”
Yannie with her church community when a satellite church was set up in Jakarta in 2017
Beauty for Ashes, Joy for Mourning
The personal experience of being broken and healed has encouraged Yannie to help other women in similar straits.
While grieving for her husband, she had thrown herself into her work to distract herself from the pain. But as she heard stories from customers hit by cancer or other difficult circumstances, she realised that they could draw faith and strength from each other.
Isaiah 61:1–3, Yannie says, has inspired her to embark on a personal mission to help women know the Saviour—the One who comforts “all who mourn”, who gives a “crown of beauty instead of ashes”, and who bestows “the oil of joy instead of mourning”.
“I want to share with women that Jesus is the author of our lives, and can help us finish the race well,” she says. “A beautiful life isn’t just about riches and wealth, but relationships and caring for yourself—physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
To that end, Yannie began volunteering as a befriender to single parents, and started a movement called My Joyful Moments. It aims to empower women, and among other things, teaches women how to practise physical, emotional, and spiritual self-care, and to rediscover their self-worth and strengths.
Her advice for those seeking to help widows and widowers? Don’t play down what they’re going through, suggests Yannie, but “recognise it as it is”.
“I want to share with women that Jesus is the author of our lives, and can help us finish the race well.”
“Empathise with them—ask them how they’re doing, how you can help, and how you can pray for them,” she says. “You may not fully understand or know how to support them, but you can always pray for them.”
As for grieving parents, Yannie gently advises them to identify their pain, and to be willing to work on it. “The pain won’t go away, so we need to ask ourselves, ‘Will you be open to have someone to walk with you?’”
The support of her church community, she notes, had been instrumental in helping her and her daughters to heal. Apart from helping out with her husband’s memorial service, they checked on her regularly, prayed for her, and encouraged her over the years.
“It was a whole group of people coming along the way to encourage me,” she says.
This year, she’s also set a personal challenge for herself—to take part in the Mrs Singapore Pageant, as a way to build her self-confidence and to connect with fellow mothers.
And she continues to mentor her children and encourage them in their personal prayer and devotions, she makes sure to make time to bond with each one of them individually and as a family.
“Life is about making and creating joyful moments,” she says. “With many joyful moments, we all can have a beautiful life.”
Yannie’s Tips for Single Parents:
- Active listening: Be present for and with your kids, with no judgment or interruption. Be open, and affirm their emotions after they finish sharing.
- Build connections: Do activities with your kids one-on-one, like activities they enjoy on a weekly or quarterly basis, such as going for a walk in the park.
- Consistent actions: Be consistent in what you do, and follow through on what you say.
- Don’t nag: It’s universal advice!