Filipino maid in Singapore watched her husband take his last breath over video call

Ms Tara Dhar Hasnain (left) with her helper of four years, Ms Gelerina Hernandez. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MS TARA DHAR HASNAIN

SINGAPORE - As her maid watched her husband's life slowly slip away, Ms Tara Dhar Hasnain sat by her side, trying her best to comfort her.

Ms Tara, 71, sat with Ms Gelerina Hernandez, 49, in her Ulu Pandan condominium for about fours hours on that fateful afternoon on Oct 6 last year, looking on via Messenger video call as the younger woman's 53-year-old husband lay dying on his hospital bed in San Fernando, Philippines, stricken with throat cancer and unable to speak.

Knowing the end was near, Ms Hernandez, who could not be at his bedside due to travel difficulties because of the Covid-19 pandemic, told her husband not to worry about their three children and that she would take care of them.

Ms Tara told The Straits Times: "We saw him take his last breath and then his eyes closed. It was very, very hard to watch."

Ms Hernandez's husband died a day before his 54th birthday and she has yet to return home since the death.

"It was very difficult for me to accept that he was gone, but it was harder to deal with it while being far from my family, my children," said the Filipina, who last returned home in November 2019 for about four weeks to take care of him.

After the death, Ms Tara and her husband set out to help their distraught maid return home for the funeral and to be there for her children. But they found out she would have to quarantine in Manila for 14 days before returning to her home town, which meant she would miss the funeral.

Ms Tara also learnt from the Ministry of Manpower that the employer would have to bear the cost of a migrant worker's stint serving stay-home notice at a hotel and any treatment, should she be infected when she returned to Singapore. After a discussion, both parties agreed the best decision was for Ms Hernandez to stay.

"We talked to her and she said there was no use in going back, because she would be stuck in Manila," said Ms Tara.

Being able to come back to her job here was also at the forefront of Ms Hernandez's mind.

She said: "I was worried if I went home I would not be able to come back because of the Covid situation, and I need to work here to support my kids, for their future and education."

Ms Gelerina Hernandez's late husband (top row, centre) with their three children. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MS GELERINA HERNANDEZ

The widow, who is from Bacnotan, La Union, in the Philippines, about 280km from Metro Manila, has three children - a 27-year-old daughter who is a healthcare worker and two sons, aged 15 and 16, in high school - who live together. While they appreciate her efforts to earn money and support the boys' studies, not having both parents around has affected them, said their mum.

"They can understand why I need to work so far away but they want me to return home for good. Especially now, their father is not around any more, they need somebody to look after them," said Ms Hernandez.

To help her through the difficult time, Ms Tara gave her helper money for her husband's funeral expenses and invited one of Ms Hernandez's friends in Singapore to their home to be there for her.

She feels employers need to show more empathy and understanding to their domestic workers because of the strains brought about by Covid-19.

The retired university lecturer said: "We have to have a basic sense of humanity and ask ourselves how we would feel if we were in their situation.

"Domestic workers are usually very close to their families and many of them leave their husbands and children and come to work for us. It's been two years since Covid-19, and such tragedies are bound to happen in this time, and we need to show them a generosity of spirit."

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