Theatre director Loretta Chen says family support saved her during darkest days
Theatre director, former local actor Edmund Chen's sister, recounts her darkest days in tell-all book
He was her rock, her pillar of support. A brother who stood by her.
Right up to the time when she, then a student in the US, contemplated suicide following the death of her partner, who had taken her own life.
Those were was her darkest days, but theatre director Loretta Chen's brother, former local actor Edmund Chen, stood by her.
Thanks to him and her family, who supported her through her ordeal, Chen is alive today.
Said the 38-year-old: "My family was the one who kept me alive. Edmund, and everyone, never judged me and were there for me when my partner died.
"That and I also read a lot, which was how I coped with my demons."
Chen, who was openly lesbian in her 20s, opened up recently about dating women when she was younger and having her then-partner commit suicide when she was studying at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
She has recounted that episode in a tell-all book, Woman On Top, launched today. In it, she spoke for the first time about overcoming her grief and depression after her partner died.
Chen hopes her account will help people cope with sensitive issues in their lives.
The creative and group business development director stressed that this story was not about her sexuality.
Currently single, she is looking forward to meeting Mr Right, getting married and having children.
She added: "I didn't find it hard dating women, but it was hard on other people. Some of them even made comments like if I were dating a man, the suicide wouldn't have happened."
At 24, she had been studying for her PhD in critical theory at UCLA when she was informed of the devastating news: that her partner, identified only as G, had been found dead after she hanged herself in her bathroom.
This was less than three months after G's former partner had committed suicide, also by hanging.
Recounting the episode and how badly it affected his sister, Edmund, 52, who is married to local actress Xiang Yun, told The New Paper: "I knew she was dating a woman. In fact, even my children knew and we all just accepted it without question.
'SHE WAS BROKEN'
"The day my parents told me about the death, I spoke to Loretta on the phone and she was broken.
"I knew that I had to get her to detach herself from what had happened and I pulled her out from her emotional whirlpool.
"It was like giving her a slap in her face, but it was necessary as I didn't want her to follow in her partner's footsteps.
"After that, she got back into shape on her own."
Chen recalled how she had met G, a 33-year-old Belgian-Hawaiian boutique owner.
It was a month before she had started school at UCLA and the two had met at a community dance.
Said Chen: "I remember it was near Thanksgiving or Christmas, and the party was held in a neighbourhood suburb. G and I started talking randomly and a friendship grew from there."
But the first time they had met, G was already dating someone else, a Vietnamese woman.
Chen said that when G broke things off with the woman, things went south.
The woman committed suicide soon after by hanging herself in her garage. Less than three months later, G also hanged herself.
The horror of experiencing two suicides in a short span of time took its toll on Chen emotionally and she struggled with severe guilt and depression away from home.
She said: "Having a great support unit is crucial to getting through such times and I was lucky to have my family, whose biggest gift to me was not judging me.
"They kept making sure I was fine.
"I wrote this book for those people who don't have that kind of support and I hope that what I've shared and the lessons I've learnt will help them through their difficult situation.
"There are so many books out there about learning to cope with grief (from personal experience), but few are written by Asian women - much less a Singaporean."
The close bond between her and her brother was clear when Edmund talked about his sister.
He sounded emotional and admitted to TNP that he often forgets that she is now a grown woman with her own mind.
To him, she is the little girl who looked up at him with adoration, a baby sister he will always protect. The siblings have another brother, who is 49.
Even though they never lived in the same house, Edmund said they have an unexplainable bond which is best described as her being able to read his thoughts.
When Edmund was born, he lived with his grandmother because his parents had to work.
He continued doing so even after his sister was born and was able to live with their parents as their mum quit her job to look after her.
Edmund said he was immensely touched when he realised that his sister had started her book by describing something he had done for her.
When he was young, he had found a red purse on the street and he had taken it and presented it to his parents.
He remembered that he told his mum that this was for his sister if he had one one day. His mum later became pregnant and kept her promise, passing the purse on to Chen in later years.
Said Edmund: "I can't believe that Loretta remembered that.
"She's a very sweet person and still, to this day, calls me brother in a four-year-old's voice.
"Sometimes we don't meet often or even talk often as we are sucked into our own problems. But when we meet, she's a charge of positive energy."
She's a very sweet person and still, to this day, calls me brother in a four-year-old's voice.
- Edmund Chen, on his relationship with his sister, Loretta
My family was the one who kept me alive. Edmund, and everyone, never judged me and were there for me when my partner died.
- Theatre director Loretta Chen
SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE
SINGAPORE ASSOCIATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH
INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH HELPLINE
CARE CORNER COUNSELLING HOTLINE (MANDARIN)