Employers take care of long-serving Sri Lankan domestic worker after she fell ill with cancer

Mary Thavithurasa Rabinayaki died on Nov 6, and was remembered by friends as someone always willing to lend a hand.
Mary Thavithurasa Rabinayaki died on Nov 6, and was remembered by friends as someone always willing to lend a hand.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MARY THAVITHURASA RABINAYAKI

SINGAPORE - When Mary Thavithurasa Rabinayaki, a Sri Lankan domestic maid, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, her employers of nearly 30 years helped with treatment costs and stuck with her throughout her ordeal.

Ms Thavithurasa died last Monday (Nov 6). Her funeral on Friday 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.

Her employers, who declined to be named, were often shuttling between Singapore and Australia for business, and left her in charge of the house. So she was like a 'big-sister' who took care of their four children, said one daughter.

The daughter, who also did not want to be named, said that her parents taught her always to treat Mary with respect.

She wouldn't hesitate to tell them off if she thought they stepped out of line, but mainly she loved to laugh, she recalled.

Those who knew the 59-year-old, who was single, said she was far more than a domestic helper, describing her as Singaporean as anyone else.

"She was a very friendly lady - she was always the first one to say hello," said Madam Theresa James, a housewife who lives in the same neighbourhood. She recalled that she first got to know Ms Thavithurasa when they bumped into each other during walks around the area.

"Even when she was ill, she was always very positive and looked on the bright side," said Madam James, 59.

Mrs Ginger Tiah, another neighbour and church member 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 employer's daughter, who flew back from Australia to attend the funeral, said that Ms Thavithurasa was a hardworking, generous and loyal individual.

"She came to all our weddings. We've known her since we were really little... we used to call her 'big sister' in Tamil."

Ms Thavithurasa was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012, and 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 that she got the best care possible.

Friends and neighbours also rallied to bring her food, take her to chemotherapy sessions and even 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.

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

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