Alden Boon

He Built Woodlands Botanical Garden From Scratch Alongside His Father. Now, Ganesh Kumar Wants It to Be a Bastion of Mental Wellness.



This garden I’m sure is not just a space blossoming with flowers but also with beautiful stories.

Marsiling’s a mature estate that teems with elderlies. Many of them are cooped up in their houses, ever since their children have moved out. This garden is really blessed in that it offers an amazing view of both the sunrise and sunset. Many elderlies share that they now wake up early as they want to catch the sunrise, and appreciate the flowers as they glow in the sunlight. Once, I encountered an elderly Chinese lady who was walking with a limp. She told me that she had back problem. The surgery she underwent didn’t alleviate her problem. While she knew it was better for her to take it easy and recuperate at home, she shared that she felt happiness whenever she’s hiking up the slope. Seeing the colourful flowers made her forget her worries. She couldn’t speak much English, but she was trying so hard to make sure I knew how much she appreciated my effort. She thanked me profusely. It was a very touching moment for me.

Periodically I would encounter this young guy, who would push his wheelchair-bound mother up the steps. I’d never spoken to the two of them before, as I usually am engrossed when I’m working. The sight of them really moved me: the son was so filial to carry his mother step by step up a nine-storey-high hill. One day, I saw him again, this time alone. He shared with me that his mother had just passed away, and that before she departed all she wanted to do was to come and see the plants. He said that visiting this garden reminded him of his time with his mother. It’s something I can relate to: whenever I’m gardening, it brings back the memories of my late mother, who passed away in June 2018.

Are you able to share what happened with your mother?

Prior to her passing, my mother underwent a surgery, which was supposed to be a routine procedure. But it unexpectedly led to complications. She was then put on medications, which led to a whole host of problems such as high blood pressure and heart palpitations. When she was in the hospital, she had a fall. The ensuing tests found nothing severely wrong. The bruise she had was thought to be minor, and she was discharged. We were so joyous to have her home, because it coincided with the month that she was supposed to retire after working forty-two long years as a public servant. She had also missed her birthday as she was hospitalised. So, we were so relieved to have her back home. A few days later, however, her urine started to show traces of blood — this was unusual. She was admitted into the hospital, and that was when the doctors found that her injury from the fall was more serious than they had thought. There was in fact internal bruising. She was rushed into surgery. That was the last time we ever saw her alive: she never made it out of the operating theatre.

It’s a grief that many of my friends are familiar with, as they too are losing their loved ones. I tell them that until we’re ready to let go, we shouldn’t be forced to do so. After so many years, I still bring a photo of my mother along when I’m doing my prayers. I feel that my mother is still around, listening to my woes. And whenever I talk to her, that very night she would appear in my dreams. My family and I still celebrate Mother’s Day every year. I think as long as you’re not hurting anyone, as long as it doesn’t affect your life negatively, it’s okay to mourn however you want.

What was your mother like?

My mother was my most favourite person. She was the first person I saw every morning: our bedroom doors were always left open, so I would see her sitting on the edge of her bed. She would be reading letters or doing her work. I don’t get to see that anymore.

In all my years of living with her, she had never spoken ill about anyone, not even litterbugs that we came across. She never complained, not about the hot weather. She looked after us: even when there were financial struggles, she never lay the burden on us. She went through a lot when my grandfather fell ill and eventually passed away, but still put on a strong façade for us.

We had urged her to retire for so many years, but she had the typical mentality of a public servant: she only wanted to retire at sixty-two, because that was the official age of retirement. We had already planned a trip to Europe that was ten years in the making. I’m not a person who enjoys travelling as I find it to be a hassle, but I thought that my mother deserved a really good break. Even till today, I still keep the brochure. I don’t know if that can be called ‘regrets’ — maybe ‘unfulfilled dreams’. Even this jumbo house that I bought, I bought it specifically for her. She loved to entertain, and this house was for her to welcome weekend guests. She was there with me at the first viewings. It was supposed to be our forever home. My mother who would have made this house a home is not here anymore — that is something that is always on my mind. She passed away two months before the renovation works were complete.

I think I took after her resilient character: I didn’t blame anyone for her untimely passing. My mother was the main breadwinner along with me. She, like many mothers, was the one who ran the show in the house. Because she passed on suddenly, her assets were frozen. That put me in a tight spot. As the eldest, the responsibility of taking care of my family fell squarely on my shoulders. From living a relaxed life, I was suddenly thrown into the ocean. I had to be the pillar of support; I had to put food on the table and pay for everything. Because of that, I didn’t have the time or luxury to properly grieve for my mother.

About seventeen months after her death, things were beginning to look up. Then, the health of my father, who already had pre-existing medical conditions, suddenly deteriorated. To see him shuffling in and out of the hospital brought back a lot of trauma for me: I recalled the days when my mother was hospitalised, how she was discharged and suddenly passed away a week later. Also, the fear of losing my father, the only living parent I have left, was gripping.  All the bad memories I had suppressed and all the grief undealt with resurfaced. I had to take a leave of absence from school. Eventually, I was clinically diagnosed with severe depression.

What were the signs of depression?

I ate for the sake of eating, and that was only when people were around. Whenever I was alone, I didn’t even want to eat. I had no motivation to work and it was a chore just to get up every day. I couldn’t sleep: I didn’t have nightmares but my mind could never rest. I just had so much on my mind. Financially, how was I going to cope, this month and the next? I had my coursework as a PhD student, and I couldn’t focus. It was like an avalanche: when I fell back on my work, the following week I had a lot to catch up on. And there was the persistent thought of why my mother had to die, especially when it was finally her time to enjoy life. Because my mind was inundated with so many thoughts, at night, I would wake up every half or an hour. Thankfully, I had my routine of daily prayers, which helped to calm my thoughts and keep me sane.

Read: How My Dog, Clifford, Uplifts and Gets Me Through My Chronic Depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder: Rajes Balachanther

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.