Family, Health, Meaning of Life, Relationships, Work & Money

“My soul was shattered”: A widower’s journey of grief, strength and hope

By Gemma Koh , 18 October 2023

Serene Lowe was his “soulmate, lover, partner in marriage, in parenting and in ministry”.

She was his whole world. 

“When Serene died, my soul shattered, my heart broke, and my whole world collapsed.”

Teo Tee Loon was devastated when she was diagnosed with late stage cancer in January 2021. 

He had devoted his life to Lakeside Family Services, which helps the downtrodden go from the darkest time of their life to a place of light and hope. They include prisoners, broken families and women with unsupported pregnancies. 

Now he was in the darkest time of his life.

Lakeside Family Services

Tee Loon has been at Lakeside for 30 years, and has been its executive director since 2008. He helped out in the Before and After School Care (pictured) during his first year as a social worker. Among other things, he has handled casework and counselling; outreach to youth-at-risk; and was also a trained marriage and family therapist.

Lakeside Family Services

Serene was an active volunteer in a number of areas at Lakeside. These included teaching craft – like making beanbag handphone stands (pictured) –  to seniors at its Kaki Kampong Seniors Wellness Programme.

Tee Loon had heard stories of people who had lost a spouse or close family member. Many had taken a break from active service. Some never returned.

Tee Loon asked himself: “When this is over, would I be able to carry on?” 

Tee Loon asked himself the same question: “When this is over, would I be able to carry on?” 

After a one-and-a-half year fight, the cancer parted them.

“When Serene died, it was as if part of me was torn apart. I felt my soul shatter, my heart break, and my whole world collapse.”

Tee Loon, now 55, shared with Stories of Hope what has helped him move forward since the time Serene was diagnosed.

Teaming up

Rewind to the Festival of Missions in 1988.

Over three days and three nights, Tee Loon heard many speakers – from missionaries to evangelists – talk about the needs of the world.

Two things at the conference moved Tee Loon’s heart and shaped the course of his life.

One, he vowed to make his life count for God.

Listening to speakers talk about the needs of the world at the Festival of Missions, Tee Loon was moved. He surrendered his life to God, telling Him: “Wherever you send me, I will go.”

Two, he met his future wife. 

Serene was 22, and a rising interior designer with an international architectural firm that had a hand in building Suntec City. Tee Loon was 20, just finishing NS (National Service). 

“We met on the first day of the conference and ended up sitting next to each other for the entire duration of the conference,” he recalled.

“Her cheerful and bright smile, her gentleness, and our common love for God and interest in serving God in the mission field drew me to her. She was also extremely attractive. I was completely smitten!”

Teo Tee Loon wife

“She was my whole world. She was my soulmate, lover, partner in marriage, in parenting and in ministry,” Tee Loon said in a tribute to Serene on the first anniversary of her passing. They married after a four-year courtship.

Then doors opened for Tee Loon to join Lakeside Family Services as its first social worker in 1992. He’s been there ever since. 

Lakeside Family Services

Tee Loon playing table tennis with the youths in 1993, when he was in charge of the Youth Corner at Lakeside. “Through recreational activities every afternoon and also on Thursday nights, we were able to build relationships with the children and youths in the community and help them through their difficulties,” he explained.

“Serene gave up her career when our first son was born. And for the next 26 years, gave her life to care for our children. She cooked for them, drove them to school and all their CCAs – and later to far-flung NS camps,” Tee Loon recalled. “She also drove me wherever my work took me.”

“From the early days of our marriage, Serene joined me in almost every area I was serving,” said Tee Loon, who also leads a church.

Serene read to disadvantaged children and taught craft to seniors. She also helped to design the layout of two Lakeside centres in Jurong, and of SafePlace, the house for women with unsupported pregnancies.

Serene (third from left) in 2000, with Lakeside’s first batch of facilitators of Rainbows, a support group for children and youths experiencing death or divorce in the family. They were trained by Tee Loon (standing, right), who is a registered director for Rainbows.

In serving others, in parenting, and in life, they were a team.

“We were so close,” said Tee Loon.

Roller-coaster ride

In January 2021, Serene discovered a lump in her abdomen.

She went for a scan and was told she had very late stage cancer. The cancer had spread from her fallopian tube to the lymph nodes around her liver and gallbladder.

“Our family, the management and staff at Lakeside, and church friends never stopped praying for her to be healed,” said Tee Loon.

During the course of those one-and-a-half years, Serene was hospitalised several times for life-threatening episodes such as infections and blood poisoning. She and Tee Loon also contracted Covid-19 in the midst of her chemotherapy treatment.

Each time, she managed to recover.

“After her first round of chemotherapy, God gave us about seven months when she was well, she could eat, and we could enjoy Christmas (pictured), and Chinese New Year, together,” said Tee Loon. They celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary in March 2022.

But in April 2022, Serene started to decline.

Always by her side

Tee Loon shared a word that God had impressed on his heart, around the time that Serene was diagnosed.

“God said, ‘You need to devote your time now to caring for Serene. But when you return, strengthen your brothers.’

“I knew I would return one day to take care of Lakeside, my church and other areas that God had entrusted to me, including my family,” Tee Loon said.

Tee Loon was “200% with Serene” throughout the cancer journey over one-and-a-half years. He took almost eight months of leave to care for her.

“I spent every moment fighting the cancer with Serene.”

He stayed with her during every single hospital stay, as much as he could, when Covid restrictions permitted. 

“We prayed together, our family prayed together, we cried together.” 

Lakeside Family Services

“My Lakeside staff are like family. At home, when the parents are unwell, the children step up to do the housework. Same at Lakeside. When I had to take leave, all of the staff stepped up, especially my senior staff who covered my duties,” said Tee Loon.

As Serene got weaker, she was confined to a bed, and on a drip 24/7. 

Tee Loon was her sole caregiver for the last few months of her life; the family had no helper, no live-in nurse.

“I fed her, bathed her, took her to the toilet. I did everything for her.

“It included treasuring every moment with her – taking a walk, sharing a meal together … and toileting, feeding and bathing her.”

“I slept on the floor while she slept on the bed every day for the last few months of her life,” he said.

“I wanted to make sure that I would have no regrets later, knowing that I had done everything that I possibly could for her.

“This included treasuring every moment with her, whether it was accompanying her for treatment, taking a walk, or sharing a meal together. It included toileting, feeding and bathing her.

“One day, as I was cleaning her, she said, ‘I’m so sorry to put you through this.’

“I said, ‘No need to be sorry. This is what every husband should do for his wife.’”

“It has been my highest privilege to care for Serene, my beloved wife.”

Serene’s prayer

“When Serene was hospitalised for the final time in April 2022, the doctor told her, ‘You’d better go home. Otherwise you cannot go home’,” recalled Tee Loon.

“We were both very heavy hearted.

“Just before we left the hospital, Serene told me, ‘You must continue serving God. And you must continue serving at Lakeside. Because Lakeside is God’s army.’ 

“Serene was very clear: She wanted me and our children to be happy, to be healthy, and to serve God always,” said Tee Loon.

“That day, seated on her hospital bed, we held hands and prayed.” 

“We prayed for the Lakeside staff, and for the work there. We prayed for our family, our children and our church. And we prayed for each other.

“Serene prayed that God would give me good health, and His strength and protection for the way ahead.

“I prayed for God’s mercy and grace for Serene.

“Even when Serene was diagnosed with advanced cancer, she continued to be more concerned about our children’s and my well-being than her own,” said Tee Loon (second from left). Their sons are (from left to right) Enoch, now 24; Ezra 21; and Elliot; 26.

“We had agreed from the start of her illness, that no matter what the outcome, we would love the Lord, we would praise the Lord, and we would serve the Lord,” said Tee Loon.

“She was very clear: She wanted me and our children to be happy, to be healthy, and to serve God always.” 

Going home

In June, Serene struggled to eat and sleep.

“One night, when it became too painful, she told me that she had asked the Lord to take her home. 

“When it became too painful, she told me that she had asked the Lord to take her home.” 

“That night, we said a prayer together to release her to the Lord,” said Tee Loon.

Tee Loon finds comfort and peace in turning to God and reading the Bible each day. That night, the verse of comfort was: “To be with Christ is better by far, even better than being in this world.” (Philippians 1:21-24)

“The verse gave me the assurance that she would be okay,” he explained. 

Tee Loon saw it as God’s way of preparing his heart to let her go.

“I told God, if He would heal her, it is so that she can serve Him. If not, it is better for her to go to be with Him, and it is also okay.

At around 5am, Serene slipped into her heavenly home. 

Teo Tee Loon wife

“She is indeed in a better place now with our Lord Jesus, where there is no more pain or suffering,” said Tee Loon, who finds comfort in God’s promise that one day, they and their loved ones will see each other again in heaven. “If I did not know God, I would not know how to go on living,” he said.

“I said a prayer to commit her to God. I asked Him for strength to be functional to be able to handle the funeral arrangements,” said Tee Loon.

“Even though I was very, very sad, God was very real and very gentle. He had waited for us to be ready before He took her to be with Him.”

Living with the mystery

“I would have wished for many more years with Serene,” said Tee Loon.

“But I learned a long time ago that we do not know everything in God’s mind, and He understands things which are beyond us. 

“We can’t understand why God took Serene home at a young age. But that doesn’t mean that God is not real.”

“I have come to accept that death, like life, is a mystery, and we must learn to walk humbly and closely with our Heavenly Father, to trust that God knows what is best for us, no matter what happens.

“To live with that mystery requires child-like faith.

“God does not always explain to us why things happen the way they do. We just need to trust Him, as a child trusts when his father is going to feed him, or drive him safely home and tuck him in bed.

“I took three weeks off work so that the boys and I could grieve together,” said Tee Loon. “I thank God that they have been brave and positive throughout their mum’s illness and passing. I am grateful that the Lord has been taking care of them, and they are doing well in their studies, work and relationships.”

“We can’t understand why God took Serene home at a relatively young age; she was only 56.

“But that doesn’t mean that God is not real. It just means that we don’t understand some things.”

When Stories of Hope spoke with Tee Loon in September, some 460 days had gone by since Serene passed. 

Tee Loon said that he wouldn’t have been able to talk about Serene six months ago without sobbing.

“I share openly with my church community (pictured) and colleagues about the pain and struggles that I’m going through. I cry freely in front of them. I believe that’s better than keeping it inside. Being open with them has in turn helped them to support me in practical ways through my grief journey,” said Tee Loon. “It has also encouraged them in their own faith and their walk with God.”

“I am still grieving. It still gets triggered every now and then – sometimes every week, every few weeks or every month.

“But there is never a doubt in my mind about the goodness of God or the love of God, even though this.”

Different shades of grief

Tee Loon found comfort from God in various ways, including through sermons. One was by Bill Johnson, senior leader of Bethel Church in Redding, California, after his wife Beni passed away. (The video is below.)

Beni passed on about a month after Serene went to be with God. 

“I could identify deeply with Bill’s words and what he was going through.

“Bill said, ‘The backslider in heart will always judge God by what He didn’t do, but those who run with tenderness for Who He is will always define Him by what He’s said, by what He’s promised, and by what He’s done.’”

“I will not be someone who only trusts in God in good times. But especially through darkness.”

Said Tee Loon: “I have determined that I will be as one who runs with tenderness towards God.

“I will not be someone who only trusts in God when times are good and everything is going my way. But especially through times of darkness, we need even more to turn to God.

“Through my darkest valley, I have experienced God in deeper, more profound ways that I ever have before.”

Hiking to heal: In the year after Serene’s passing, Tee Loon went on long walks – like this one with medical missionary Dr Tan Lai Yong and their friends in Shillong, India.

Teo Tee Loon

Long walks, personal as well as silent retreats have given Tee Loon time to weep and also, to talk with God. He also journals. “God always gives me fresh words of assurance, comfort and guidance when I am on my retreats with Him,” he says.

“On one retreat, God impressed on my heart that this is a new season of my life and that I can move forward with faith and hope in Him. 

“I know that the past is covered and safe in His hands, and I can embrace the present and look forward to the future with hope.

Tee Loon also finds comfort in multiple reassurances that Serene is well. One came from a young woman from his church who went for an operation around the time that Serene passed on.

“She told me that during the operation, she went into cardiac arrest and flatlined. While in a coma in ICU, she saw Serene, who was wearing a white shirt with stripes. In the background was a big green field with daisies. She saw Serene smile at her. She looked very well and happy and there was dazzling blue light all around,” said Tee Loon.

Teo Tee Loon

“God doesn’t work for me. I work for Him’,” said Tee Loon, quoting Bill Johnson. “It means that God doesn’t owe us an explanation. To accept this requires childlike faith, complete trust in our Heavenly Father. I know that this is difficult for many to accept, but that’s the whole basis of faith.”

“Each time I go to God, He ministers to me and speaks to me.

“The assurance is always the same: Serene is fine. God is good. There is still purpose for what I am doing. And that is good enough for me.” 

“Grief is very complicated. We all grieve differently in the face of loss.”

However, he said: “Grief is very complicated. We all grieve differently in the face of loss.

“I’m not in any way minimising the great grief that others who have lost loved ones are going through. I am not saying ‘Just pray and read your Bible every day and you will be okay.’ It is not so simple.

“I’m just sharing the things that have helped me.”

In Hudson Taylor’s footsteps

One of Tee Loon’s role models is Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission (now known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship).

“When his wife Maria passed away from illness while they were serving in China, he knelt down, committed her to the Lord, and re-committed his own life to continue serving God.

“In the same way, I have rededicated my life to God for the rest of my time here on earth,” said Tee Loon in a tribute to Serene one year after her passing. 

“That is what keeps me going every day.”

This August, for the fourth year running, Tee Loon led staff and supporters of Lakeside on a 40km overnight walk from Jurong to Changi Prison to raise funds for their work, and to symbolise their commitment to help the incarcerated move from darkness to light.

Teo Tee Loon

“How can I do my job excellently as a professional, and how can I be a good Christian witness wherever I am?” Tee Loon asks himself this question in whatever arenas God has placed him in – from the time he was in junior college, and subsequently the army, Lakeside and at church.

“So I continue to serve in all these areas that God has given me, including Lakeside. I do this as my way of honouring Serene. I know it is what she would have wanted and what the Lord would be pleased with.

“God wants me to do it. Serene wants me to do it. I’m happy to do it.”

Will you help Lakeside transform lives?

Lakeside Family Services is a social service agency which has served the community since 1993, regardless of race, language or religion. They develop resilience in disadvantaged children, mould troubled youths into contributing individuals, empower active seniors to help lonely seniors, assist ex-offenders in reintegrating into society, and help women with unsupported pregnancies.

Lakeside hopes to raise $3,000,000 (from May till end December 2023) in their 30th year of changing lives.

Click here if you are moved to find out more or to donate.

Donations are eligible for 250% tax deduction and qualify for one for one matching grants from the government.


“My JC classmate has dedicated his life to helping the poor – I was one of them”: Kampong boy who now pays it forward

Answering God’s call to serve Jurong: Teo Tee Loon and Lakeside Family Services

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