SINGAPORE: Rachel Ho’s parents could never imagine that their time with her at Changi Airport was to be their last.
She departed for Kota Kinabalu last Wednesday (Jun 3) for an overseas learning trip together with 28 other students and eight teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School. Rachel was to reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu, but that did not materialise.
Neither did she make it back home. She was one of six students who died on the mountain after a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Malaysian city of Sabah last Friday. One student and a teacher are still listed as missing.
The 12-year-old had sleepless nights thinking about the trip, out of excitement. "But on the other hand, there was also a bit of fear given it's a long trip, but they've been training very hard,” said her father Mr James Ho.
He also revealed that Rachel cried before she left. This was surprising as she had always been brave and independent, he said.
“Just before she went, she actually cried, hugged both my wife and myself and she said she missed us,” said the 45-year-old banker who was teary-eyed as he recounted the final moment he and his wife shared with Rachel. “We thought that was probably a sign before she went for the trip."
Her last words to them were: "I miss you a lot."
The family’s last outing with Rachel was last Monday, two days before her trip. They had gone to watch a SEA Games netball match between Singapore and Thailand.
Rachel herself was an avid player of the sport and was the vice-captain of the netball team in Tanjong Katong Primary School. “That was the highlight before her trip," said Mr Ho.
It was a fitting tribute then that the national netball team attended her wake to pay their last respects to an ardent fan of the sport. They also presented her father with a replica of the SEA Games medal which had signatures from all of the players. The team had won the gold medal on Sunday after narrowly beating Malaysia in the finals. That was a match which Rachel had hoped to watch, said Mr Ho.
But throughout the ordeal, he has been touched by the support given to the grieving families, adding that the nation has “stood by” the grieving families. In particular, he noted the efforts made by the Education Ministry to assist the families who have lost their loved ones.
"The sense of the whole country behind us was really felt when we were in Kota Kinabalu. We were given as much information, as much comfort and as much assurance we can possibly ask for,” said Mr Ho.
The second of three children, Rachel was described as bubbly and friendly by her father. She was also proactive in both her studies and extra co-curricular activities.
Rachel has an elder brother, 15-year-old Ryan, and a younger brother, Raphael, who is seven. Mr Ho said she was the link between them. In the last few days, her loss was deeply felt by the family. “Being the only daughter in the family, she is very close to my wife. We will definitely miss her in terms of her being the nucleus that holds the family together,” Mr Ho said.
And the one thing that he will most about Rachel is their ritual before she went to bed. Every night, she would give him five kisses on the cheek and forehead before Mr Ho walked Rachel to her room.
Rachel’s wake will be held at her house - 7 Poole Road - till Thursday.