Becoming a Single Parent After The Loss of Husband & Father of 3 Children

By Natasha Sim, Parents Avenue’s Writer

Life took an unexpected turn for Mary James when the 33-year-old found herself thrust forcefully into the act of solo parenting. 

In March 2019, Mary became a single mother of two young girls, with one baby on the way, when her husband Adrian Robert Galisin Jr passed away unexpectedly due to illness. 

At 28 weeks pregnant, she did not choose the path of singlehood for herself, nor could she have foreseen her children losing a father. 

Here, she shares her story with Parents Avenue. 

“I had hopes that Adrian would recover when I called the ambulance that day. I had no expectation that it would be the last time I would see him conscious,” she said. 

Adrian was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital on 27 February 2019 after slipping into a coma. Four days later on 3 March 2019, he passed away. 

On cross-examination, doctors found abnormalities in his brain that could have contributed to his lifelong struggle with migraines. In addition to high blood pressure, Adrian was already having multiple health issues. 

Mary recalls that fateful day as one where she was surrounded by angels. 

“We were going home from UMS after a delivery, but I had noticed Adrian becoming unstable when he drove,” she said. 

The husband-and-wife duo managed a food home delivery business.

Sensing something amiss, she asked for them to stop by so she could buy some dates as a snack. At the same time, she took it as an opportunity for him to rest.

 “We were at a coffee shop in Kolombong when I realised his arms were clammy and cold. A few moments later, I noticed his vision blurring,” she said. 

However, Adrian had already gone unconscious when he entered the ambulance. “Before Emergency arrived, I told Adrian to pray and reassured him that it will be okay. Adrian grabbed my arm and gave me a smile,” she said. “I remember it now as ‘the last look’ he gave me.” 

It was right about that time that she decided to call 999. However, her phone was not with her, and his phone was low on battery. 

“I say angels were with me that day because the strangers around me were so helpful,” as Mary recalled. A lady at the coffee shop they were at had lent her phone for Mary to make that 999 call. 

Practicing gratitude amidst tough circumstances


“I did not pray in the months after he died,” she said. Mary described her mourning phase as stricken with questions about her circumstances. “I did ask God, ‘why me? Why now? And what did I do to deserve this?”, she recalls. 

Mary found herself overwhelmed and unable to understand her situation that was completely out of her control. It was only when she approached a friend for emotional support that she was prompted to search for gratitude amidst her grief. 

“My friend asked me to be thankful to God that he is gone,” she said. At first, she could not understand the logic behind that statement, but after reflection she found that it could mean that Adrian is in a better place now. 

“I said to myself, if Adrian lived he could have been paralyzed and that would be an even bigger burden to bear for us as a family.” 

According to Mary, Adrian was the kind of person to put family before all else and had told his mother that he would rather die than see his wife and family in suffering. With this thought, Mary found appreciation in her situation.

Mary and Adrian in the good old days.

“I want my children to see me as the epitome of strength”


Through it all, Mary hopes her two daughters, Neenavau Mary Anne and Seendha Roberta, 6- and 4-years-old respectively, see her as the epitome of strength even though she herself does not. 


“I am not strong. I just carry on. And I want my girls to look to me as being able to live through all of this and survive,” Mary says. 


To Mary, the biggest struggle so far has been to help her children cope with their father’s absence, while she is still grieving herself. According to her, daddy’s girl Neenavau had become more aggressive and even refused to give her dad one last look during the funeral. 


While it was easier to explain that ‘daddy is no more’ to the younger Seendha, both children have had bouts of out-of-the-norm tantrums since his passing. 


“My girls seem more anxious now, especially if I’m not around. They would even tell me, ‘Mummy please don’t die”, sometimes even when it’s just me going to the toilet,” Mary explained.


“It breaks my heart to see my girls this way,” Mary continued. “Sometimes I have to stop myself from going out to run errands because they get so worked up if I leave.” 


Mary says she has to consistently reassure them that “today, we are going to be okay.”  


“And I tell them every day that we will have to get through this as a team when times are tough.” 


Most of all, she hopes her daughters may be able to grow up resilient.  

Mary James with her newborn for full moon party surrounded by loved ones.

“Never be alone. Always surround yourself with loved ones.”


Mary asserts that her strongest support has been from close family and friends. She feels blessed to have a close-knitted family unit that has been able to be there for her. 


“I was too depressed to function for a while. When it happened, my cousins and family were the ones that helped me plan the funeral while I mourned,” she said.


“They even helped take care of the girls for a while. This was important especially since I was made to pantang and was not able to hold or touch my girls,” she said.


In Kadazan culture, widows are not able to be physically close to their own kin, as well as be in close contact with other people for fear that their grief my ‘transfer’ to others. 


“Being surrounded by loved ones is one way my children and I have been able to cope. And it teaches my daughters that they should not isolate themselves, especially in times of distress,” she said. 


Even now, four months after Adrian’s death, her family is still helping her care for her children. For example, her cousins take turns to pick up and send Neenavau to school, while she cares for her newborn Coheed Michael at home. 


Mary gave birth to a beautiful baby boy at 34 weeks of pregnancy in June 2019. She described drawing her strength from her pregnancy and birth. 


“I know that Adrian would not have wanted anything untoward to happen to our baby. And more so, he would have wanted me to take care of myself and our children.”

Mary taking over her late husband's business.

Carrying on with life after him. 


The days can be very challenging and Mary grits her teeth daily. In times of overwhelming emotion, she tries hard to remember what a blessed and fulfilling 7 years of marriage she had prior.


“Not often does one get so lucky as to find a husband like Adrian,” she says. 


Even during the funeral, many had asked her how could she keep a straight face.  Her reply to them, “I cry but not in front of my girls. I keep calm so my girls can do the same.”


She shared her thoughts about Adrian, “[His] perfect love for me was what made me who I am on the day he left me to accept his new career in Heaven. I was able to accept his death with [an] open heart because his love for me during his lifetime was great enough to sustain me in this great sadness.”


And thankfully Mary and Adrian had discussed at length what would happen if he died. 


“We talked often. And often in our midnight chats, I’d ask him ‘macam mana la kalau kau mati’  following his first hospitalisation after Chinese New Year,” she said.


And the first thing that Adrian did was to give his wife his popular pork burger recipe. 


“Just a week before his passing, Adrian was also extremely loving towards me and was finding all sorts of ways to give me things,” said Mary. “In hindsight, maybe he was already sensing something.”


To keep herself busy, about two weeks ago, Mary revived their joint catering business Adrian’s Food Corner.


“Our regular customers have started coming back and approaching me for orders,” she said. “And apart from that, I am now handling my own online sales business.”


“People often ask me how do I move on? And I tell them, I don’t. How can I? I see Adrian every day in my children; in my in-laws. I live on to carry his legacy and for our children,” she said.  



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