PERSPECTIVE: "While the idea of loving again is so romantic, can the right man come?"
Molly Tan lost her husband Johnny Lau to cancer when she was just 41. He left behind their 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.
It’s been 36 years since his passing, and she still wears her wedding ring and hangs her wedding photo in her room.
This Valentine's Day, we speak to Tan about opening up to a new relationship after losing her husband.
As told to Alfie Kwa, by Molly Tan.
How did you meet your husband?
My husband, Johnny, was a broadcaster with the radio station Rediffusion Singapore, and I was a young girl from Fairfield Girls’ School (now Fairfield Methodist School (Secondary)).
I went with some of my classmates to sing along with The Blue Diamonds (a rock and roll duo popular in the 60s) at a club where they were performing. He was the producer of the show.
I remember it was a stormy day and after the recording was over, he came down and asked us: “How are you both going back?”
So I said: “Her boyfriend is fetching us.” Then he said; "Oh, what about you, you don't have a boyfriend?"
Then I said: "No, I'm still schooling." And he replied: “No boyfriend yet.”
And that was it.
Some months later, I received a call: "Hello, this is Johnny Lau from Rediffusion Singapore.”
“Johnny Lau,” I said, “Yes, I remember. How did you get my number?”
"Your friend gave it to me. I just wanted to ask you if you want to come out on a date with me because Rediffusion Singapore is celebrating Christmas.”
"Of course, I’ll go," I said.
I was so delighted. You know, in those days, a broadcaster was a film star because there was no television.
So he told me: “Okay, on the 24th of December, I come to your house and pick you up, you give me your address and everything.”
Straight away, I told my mother that I wanted to buy a new dress because somebody was dating me, hahaha.
Why did you fall in love with him?
He was a good-looking man and much older than me. I liked the way he spoke, and his mannerism. He had his own style, a very charismatic style.
Of course, I always felt very comfortable with him.
When we were dating, he would bring me to coffee houses and ice cream parlours.
He also brought me to see shows and I went to many cinema shows with him.
And it was about a year or so before we go steady.
One day, I told him my father wanted me to go to Australia to study but I didn't want to.
“You must carry on with your studies. Why [don’t you want to go]? Because of me?” he said.
“Because I met you and I don't want to go anywhere. I want to be with you,” I said.
He is my first love — true love.
When did you get married?
My father was a seaman who only came home when the ship docked in Singapore so he was not always at home when I went dating.
Only my mother and my grandmother knew.
They were very worried and told my father.
So one day, my father told me to invite his parents to our home.
“My daughter has never been dated by any man,” my father told my in-laws when they visited.
“What if your son changes his mind one day? My daughter refuses to go to Australia to study because of your son.”
My father-in-law said: “In this case, let our children get engaged, they can get married after her studies.”
So that was on a Friday night, and on Sunday, we got engaged. I was 19 and he was 26.
I was in a rush to buy a cake and on Saturday afternoon, my grandmother brought us to a goldsmith shop to buy engagement rings.
At the end of the day, I didn’t go overseas to study. I quickly found a job and five years later, we got married.
We have two children, one girl, and five years, later a boy. We lived a simple and happy life.
We both were working, I was taking on different jobs and he worked as a music producer at PolyGram.
But when my second son was born, we decided that I should become a stay-at-home mother. So, I left my job to take care of the children for many years until he got sick.
What happened after he passed on?
He got cancer. And it was very fast — he became ill, and within eight months he died.
I felt angry to have lost him like that and very sorry for my children because they were very young; my daughter was just 16 and my boy was 11.
I had no time to grieve, I had to find myself a job and see to certain affairs after he died. It was really a mess I was going through.
Only months later, when things were more settled, I started to feel lonely.
Why didn’t you remarry?
While the idea of loving again is so romantic, can the right man come?
After I got married, I used my husband’s surname. But when I became a widow, I changed it back to my maiden name.
I was open to having a boyfriend, somebody to accompany me to a show or to travel or something like that. I didn’t want a new husband because then I would need to remarry and have a new family.
But, no good man stayed for long. I also always told myself a good man would fear me because I come with a package — with two children. What man will want me?
It was also hard to move on because I always felt guilty.
What my husband said on his deathbed was still ringing in my head: “After I've gone, please take the helm.”
This was what he asked for.
I was still young then and I had to see my children through tertiary education. I knew my job as a single mother was not complete.
But today, my two children are married and both completed their university education. I am also a grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren. I fulfilled my duty to him.
My time was not wasted. I accomplished my goal.
Now, I tell people to call me Old Mrs Lau and know that the cremation vault next to his at our church is waiting for me.
To this day, I still wear my wedding ring. My wedding photo still hangs in my room and I continue to remember him every Valentine's Day.
All photos taken by Alfie Kwa.