WITH STRENGTH LIKE A DESERT ROSE

“You look at me and cry; everything hurts. I hold you and whisper: but everything can heal.” – Rupi Kaur

October 10 is World Mental Health Day and we have put together a two-part series featuring inspirational people whose life fell apart due to life-changing accidents, suffering great loss. Because of their resilience, grit and ability to adjust and move forward, they managed to successfully haul themselves out of the abyss and now embrace life with hope and happiness.

Column Editor, Angela May Tan, interviews 47 year old Yannie Yong, entrepreneur and single mum to four daughters. Yannie, who is founder of homegrown fashion boutique chain, Rose of Sharon, lost her husband to a tragic car accident in 2015, leaving her with four little girls. She was in so much grief that she packed her bags and relocated to Indonesia with her children, hoping a change of environment would help them cope. Fast forward six years, the supermum and her daughters have moved back to Singapore and are thriving at work and in school. Yannie has now even added speaker and mentor to her credentials.

SGLS: Tell us about yourself. How did you get into the business of fashion?

Yannie: My family ran businesses in various industries, one of which was in wholesale ladies’ fashion. My dad wanted me to be part of the family business eventually. Hence, after I graduated from university in Melbourne in 1997, I returned to Singapore to help my father.

Those were tough years as it was during the Asian Financial Crisis. Many wholesale businesses were struggling and we were not spared. At that time, we were stuck with over SGD200,000 worth of inventory in ladies’ fashion wear and we needed to clear our stock. Living overseas taught me how to think out of the box so we tried unconventional ways to sell our fashion wear: one of which was home parties. However, it was not sustainable. Hence, we decided to start our own retail business and named it Rose of Sharon. We currently have three stores in Singapore located at Parkway Parade, Novena Square and International Plaza.

SGLS: You are both an entrepreneur as well as a single mum to four daughters. What is your story?

Yannie: In 2015, I was waiting at home for Dick, my husband to pick me up for a Christmas lunch. He had texted me to say he was on his way. However, an hour later, there was still no sign of him, so I set off for the party on my own, assuming he might have headed to the venue directly. Two hours later, my domestic helper called to say that policemen were at my home. I rushed back and the police informed me that Dick met with a serious car accident and succumbed to his injuries. I went into shock and even though I didn’t acknowledge it at that time, I fell into a deep depression. I couldn’t stay here anymore and so, to cope, I relocated to Indonesia with my daughters to start my life anew.

Before I could recover emotionally, I lost my sister-in-law to breast cancer a year later. We were very close. The double losses led me to question the meaning of life. I was angry with God and felt that life was unfair. I thought of giving up on life, but I knew I needed to pull myself together for the sake of my children.

I later decided to move back to Singapore with my girls so as to reintroduce them to the local education system to prepare them for university. My faith in God strengthened when I made up my mind to trust in Him. And even though the pain of losing my husband was still there, things improved.

Yannie (centre) with her daughters Isabelle, Victoria, Audrey and Emma, who was only four when she lost her father.

SGLS: How did you feel and what were your immediate thoughts and actions after Dick passed away? What were your coping mechanisms?

Yannie: When the police told me about what happened to my husband, I went into shock and walked to my room to lie down. But when I woke up 10 minutes later, the police were still there. The next few days were a blur. I was angry and felt that life was unfair. I was also mentally and emotionally exhausted as I was dealing with so much all alone.

Different people handle grief differently. I coped with travel and food to momentarily numb the pain. But after every trip, when I returned home, the void was still there. It was only much later on that I started to process my grief and learnt to manage my emotions better. I started to take better care of myself, made new friends and found time to exercise, to practice self-care. I also made peace with God.

Yannie with her late-husband, Dick and their daughters at a church event in 2015.

SGLS: How did you explain to your daughters about their father’s accident and death? How did they cope?

Yannie: Telling the girls their father was killed in a car accident was the toughest thing I had to do. My daughters were very close to their father and Dick was an amazing dad – he was an involved father, guiding them in their school work, planned their holidays and did fun things with them. He loved them dearly and they love him too. All my daughters coped with the news differently. I know they still feel the loss but our bond as a family has strengthened.

SGLS: How would you encourage someone else who went through what you did.

Yannie: Take time to process your grief. Learn that it is ok to not be ok. Most of all, allow people to help you and take care of you. You don’t need to journey alone.

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Rose of Sharon celebrates its 24th anniversary this month. Check out their latest fashion collection at www.roseofsharon.com.sg

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Interview by Angela May Tan, Column Editor & Writer

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