Mum and son lived with man's rotting body for days
Retiree dies in Ghim Moh flat, but wife and son clueless
When the retiree entered his room and lay on the floor last Tuesday, his wife and son thought he was going to sleep.
Mr Pee Cheng Hai, 74, did not emerge from the room for five days, remaining in the same position on a cardboard mat in the flat's utility room next to the toilet.
That was where he usually slept, said Madam Chew Ah Hong, 64, who slept in a separate bedroom.
In that time, her husband never moved or made any sound.
When the smell of decomposing flesh began to permeate the three-room flat at Ghim Moh Road last Thursday, mother and son suspected that something might have happened to Mr Pee.
Still, they did nothing and continued living in the flat, keeping clear of the utility room unless they had to go to the toilet.
Even as the stench became unbearable, they did nothing until Sunday morning.
That was when Madam Chew decided to walk to a nearby police post to make a report.
The police arrived to find Mr Pee's motionless body in the room.
Paramedics pronounced him dead, said a police spokesman.
On Mr Pee's death certificate, the cause of death was given as heart disease.
But the police have classified the death as unnatural.
It is not unusual for elderly people who live alone to be found dead in their homes after neighbours detect a stench. (See report on below.)
But in Mr Pee's case, he was living with his wife and adult son, Mr Pee Joo Tiong, 30.
In an interview with The New Paper at their flat on Tuesday, they did not seem to understand what to do during an emergency and struggled to answer some questions.
Asked why they had not called for an ambulance earlier, they stared blankly before saying that they were too busy with work.
Mother and son have been distributing free newspapers at Buona Vista MRT station since 2012. They usually work from 4am to 9am.
Said Mr Pee: "When we come back home, we are too tired to do anything else. When we saw him lying there, we didn't think much about it."
Madam Chew added: "We had to work. On Sunday, I thought we cannot delay any more - we had to settle on what to do with him."
Instead of making a phone call, she walked to a police post about 10 minutes away.
Madam Chew recounted: "At first, I left the radio on for him the way he likes it, but he had no reaction.
"His eyes and mouth were slightly open, but when I saw him the next day, they were closed."
She added: "We started to suspect that something happened to him on the third day, but I didn't realise that he needed help."
Her son said: "We thought that he was in deep sleep, so we didn't want to wake him."
Madam Chew said her husband of 36 years was bad-tempered and would often nag and scold them for no reason.
Her marriage to Mr Pee had been an arranged one.
Their relationship was rocky from the start as their personalities were incompatible, she said.
His scoldings increased in the month before his death. Father and son would also quarrel over the former's habitual gambling.
Said Mr Pee: "I told him to stop buying 4-D and find a job, but he refused to listen to me. We tried to endure him."
His father had worked for national water agency PUB before retiring in 2003.
As a result of the strained relationship between the elder Mr Pee and his family, they did not talk much, Madam Chew said.
He did not tell them about his health, she said.
The last time father and son had a conversation, was about the payment of bills about a month ago.
Mr Pee said that he and his mother mourned his father's loss in a cremation service on Tuesday, after which his ashes were scattered into the sea.
They did not hold a wake as they had to work, said Madam Chew. The two earn a total of $300 a month.
"I teared up when I remembered the good parts about him from years ago, when he would accompany me to school or go out with me," said Mr Pee.
"Towards the end, he was like a total stranger to us."
A close friend of Madam Chew, who lives in nearby block, was horrified to hear of Mr Pee's death.
The friend, who declined to be named, said: "It's such a sad incident.
"The pair are very simple people and I always see them giving out free newspapers at the MRT station."
"They are very poor and depend on each other. They didn't have a television, so I donated one to them.
"I don't know why they didn't call anybody when they thought Mr Pee was in trouble."
Criminal lawyer Gloria James said that if a death is not reported as soon as reasonably practical, it could be an offence under the Coroners Act.
The police are investigating the incident.
- Additional reporting by Foo Jie Ying
I teared up when I remembered the good parts about him from years ago, when he would accompany me to school or go out with me.
- Mr Pee
When we come back home, we are too tired to do anything else. When we saw him lying there, we didn't think much about it.
- Mr Pee Joo Tiong
Rare, extreme case, say social workers
Most elderly people who are found dead at home lived alone.
But in this case, the deceased was living with his wife and 30-year-old son.
Social workers told The New Paper that this was a rare and extreme case.
And they could not stress the importance of communication among family members enough.
Mr Peter Heng, the treasurer of Nam Hong Welfare Service Society, said: "Communication is very important because without it, there would be no bond in the family."
He said there might be cases where a person is too stubborn to share his medical condition, but the family members should still be alert enough to know that something is wrong and ensure that proper medical attention is sought.
"If you have a dispute and do not talk to each other, I don't think it should be to the extent where you ignore the other person's health," he said.
Mr Heng also said that if a mental condition runs in the family, there should be another person taking care of the household.
He told The New Paper: "Neighbours who know about their situation should report it to the relevant agencies and social groups, such as community services or family centres, and ask them for help.
"That way, social workers can visit the family regularly and provide food and medical attention whenever necessary."
Mrs Lucy Tan, 69, the centre manager of Peace-Connect Seniors Activity Centre, said that communication is important for people who live together because it makes the home a place to be at ease.
She said: "Not only does it help to set a lot of things in place, it reduces anxiety and it aids in the fostering of bonds."
Mrs Tan has been a social worker for 20 years, and though she has seen people who do not talk much to the other party living in the same home, there is usually still some form of communication.
Mr Kavin Seow, 54, director of Touch Home Care, gave some pointers for people living with elderly people.
He said: "Family members living with an elderly person could pay more attention to any changes in his or her behaviour, like walking more unsteadily or looking drowsy.
"If an elderly person goes into a room on his own and closes the door, it would be good to check on him after some time rather than leaving him alone for too long."