Radio DJ: I bawled when I read mum's secret letter
It has been 10 years since radio DJ Rosalyn Lee lost her mother after a decade-long battle with cancer.
Then, a month ago, Madam Lee Kim Geok "spoke" to her again, revealing her inner-most feelings and regrets in the form of a secret letter dated June 20, 1999.
It was written on the day the Lush 99.5FM DJ had turned 20 and had celebrated with a party in a chalet.
The letter, penned with no intention on her mother's part of making it known to Lee, was discovered by her younger brother when she was out of town.
The heartfelt letter contained Madam Lee's deepest feelings she had "kept inside (her) heart for a long, long time", including her sadness at not having a "proper home" to hold Lee's birthday celebration and her inability to "prepare... dishes" for Lee's friends.
"I hope I can witness your next wonderful 21st birthday where you can exercise your freedom and privacy that you needed most," the cancer-stricken Madam Lee wrote, her handwriting becoming illegible towards the end.
She also said that her condition made it hard for her to be happy and nice to others and even herself.
Her words filled both sides of a lined loose leaf sheet of paper. She did not sign off.
Lee, 35, told The New Paper last week that she started "bawling" as she read the letter, crying "violent tears".
"It came as a shock because we had lived all our lives in this one bedroom with no money and we had accepted it. She didn't put us in that situation.
"I wish I could have taken the guilt away from her," said Lee, who admitted she felt angry after reading the letter.
"I wish she had told me then. I never knew she lived with all these regrets. I would have had a response to all that she had said."
As the latest host of the Channel 5 reality TV home makeover show RenovAID, Lee meets many less fortunate families who are stricken by poverty and illness.
In many ways, she can relate to them.
When she was 11, she said, her father left the family, forcing her mother, her and her brother into "abject poverty".
They moved in with Lee's uncle, sharing a bedroom in his three-room Towner Road flat.
Despite her illness, Madam Lee took on various jobs to make ends meet and often juggled two jobs.
Breast cancer did not stop her even as the cancer spread to her lungs and brain.
Lee said her usually stern and strict mother eventually opened up to her in the last stages of her illness.
In the letter, her mother apologised for being hard on Lee during her younger years.
Said Lee: "I never knew she had a well of emotions. She had always been quite the ice queen.
"But towards the end, we became closer. I think it's because she knew she didn't have much time left."
The letter was not Lee's only surprise discovery.
Four years ago, while spring cleaning for Chinese New Year, she found old notes, cards and letters by Lee and her brother that her mother had kept in an old metal filing cabinet.
These include "budget sheets" which Lee had written to justify why she needed additional pocket money on top of the $1.50 she received as well as notes to comfort her mum and stay in touch because of their clashing schedules.
Even as her mother struggled with cancer until her death at the age of 52, she fought fiercely for the future of her beloved children, Lee recalled.
After her death, Lee and her brother moved into a three-room flat in Upper Boon Keng Road.
Madam Lee had bought the flat as an investment to make sure her young ones would not be left homeless.
After its sale, the siblings moved into a four-room flat in the same area and they still live there.
Madam Lee continues to live on in Lee's heart.
"I miss her every day and the only way to keep her memory alive is by seeing her photos," Lee said.
"I really wanted to hear her voice. So when I read the letter, it was like hearing her speak again... just many years later, like a time capsule."
Network of help is heartening
TOUCHED: RenovAID host Rosalyn Lee said she tried her best to hide her tears on the show. PHOTO: MEDIACORP
As the latest host of Channel 5's reality TV home makeover series RenovAID, Rosalyn Lee meets many low-income families hit by illness and poverty.
In the first episode of its fifth season, which airs 9pm every Monday, Lee visited the home of the Tans.
Madam Tan, who has a brain tumour, has to care for her wheelchair-bound husband after his stroke. They have no children of their own.
Lee said of other families that will be featured: "There will be a father-and-son pair whose home looked like it had decayed along with the passing of the mother.
"Another couple in their 60s have to care for their paraplegic son in his 30s, carrying him several times a day from his bedroom to the living room and then for his bath."
In another episode, Lee comes across a woman who has to support her son on her earnings as a cleaner while her husband is in jail for a drug offence.
Most of these families need help, but do not ask for it.
For Lee, meeting these families was heartbreaking. But unlike previous hosts Belinda Lee, Paige Chua and Michelle Chia, she tries her best to hide her tears.
"It's emotionally draining because you can feel their despair. But I refuse to cry on camera," she said.
"I came from a similar background. I feel that if they are needy or desperate, the last thing that should happen is for them to see me cry.
"To me, tears often indicate pity and I feel like I need to be stronger," said Lee, adding that there were instances when she came close to tears.
"Maybe I'm odd, but I try to put myself in their shoes. For me, if someone were to hug me, I'd cry even more."
As much as she can relate to the plight of the families in the 14 episodes, Lee admits that it still comes as a reality check.
"I never saw how bad it could be. I thought my situation was the benchmark, that it could not get any worse. I couldn't afford new school uniforms, my cloth badge was in shreds and when my friends ate at McDonald's, I would go along and just watch them eat their burgers.
"It made me realise the real situation in Singapore. There are so many such families out there, some cases that we can't help simply with a home renovation. Like overcrowding, for example.
"On the flip side, it's good to know there is a strong network of help for the less fortunate. It's very heartening."
After the series ends, Lee said she would like to check up on some of the featured families.
"Some of them have potential to rebuild their lives. Sometimes all that these people need is a new start," she said.