Employers care for long-serving Sri Lankan maid who had cancer

A photograph of Ms Mary Thavithurasa Rabinayaki in her younger days. The 58-year-old was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, and throughout her battle with the illness, her employers worked with hospital social workers and Assisi Hospice to make sure that
A photograph of Ms Mary Thavithurasa Rabinayaki in her younger days. The 58-year-old was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, and throughout her battle with the illness, her employers worked with hospital social workers and Assisi Hospice to make sure that she got the best care possible. Friends and neighbours also rallied to bring her food and take her to chemotherapy sessions. Ms Thavithurasa died last Monday.

A day after Ms Mary Thavithurasa Rabinayaki died last week at the age of 58, her obituary appeared in this paper - placed by the family which had employed her for more than three decades.

It highlighted the close relationship the Sri Lankan maid had with her employers, who helped with treatment costs and stuck with her throughout after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.

Her employers, who declined to be named, also organised her funeral on Friday, which was attended by her Seletar Hills neighbours and friends from the Church of St Vincent de Paul in Yio Chu Kang who said she was always willing to lend a hand.

A reader alerted The Sunday Times to her story.

Ms Thavithurasa's employers often shuttle between Singapore and Australia for business, and left her in charge of the house. In addition, she was like a "big sister" who took care of their four children, said one daughter.

The daughter, who did not want to be named, said her parents taught her to treat Ms Thavithurasa with respect. Ms Thavithurasa was always laughing, she said, except when she was being "bossy".

Those who knew Ms Thavithurasa, who was single, said she was far more than a foreign domestic helper, calling her as Singaporean as anyone else. "She was a very friendly lady - always the first one to say hello," said Madam Theresa James, a housewife who lives in the neighbourhood. She first got to know Ms Thavithurasa when they bumped into each other during walks in the area. who attends the church Ms Thavithurasa went to, said: "She's been here for so long that she's part of the parish too... she's so much integrated into our society."

Over the years, and with her employers' help, she improved her English, picked up computer skills and even learnt a bit of Mandarin.

Ms Thavithurasa was first hired in 1985 and lived with her employers in Brunei. She was 27.

When her employers moved back to Singapore, she remained with them and eventually grew to become part of the family. Her employers' daughter, who flew back from Australia to attend the funeral, said she was hardworking, generous and loyal. "She came to all our weddings. We've known her since we were really little... we used to call her 'big sister' in Tamil."

When Ms Thavithurasa was diagnosed with lung cancer, she chose to seek treatment in Singapore. She recovered at first, but the cancer recurred earlier this year.

Throughout her battle with the disease, her employers worked with hospital social workers and Assisi Hospice to make sure she got the best care possible. Friends and neighbours rallied to bring her food, take her to chemotherapy sessions or helped the staunch Catholic fulfil her obligations when she was too ill to go to church. "Some people would have sent her back home when she fell ill, but her employers didn't," Madam James said.

Said Mrs Tiah: "When you think about it, she's given up her whole life. It's really a lot of dedication."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 12, 2017, with the headline 'Employers care for long-serving Sri Lankan maid who had cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe