“See you at the next gathering,” said Eric, as he waved to his close friend, Philip, and other Air Force veterans leaving the Kopitiam food court. The group had just concluded their monthly veterans’ meet-up and unbeknownst to Eric and Philip, this would be Philip’s last gathering with the group.
In the 60s, the Royal Air Force often held recruitment drives in both Singapore and Malaysia. With a promise of good prospects and technical training, 21-year-old Eric signed up to be a technician and left his hometown of Penang for Singapore. Two years later, 19-year-old Philip also signed on with the Force as a technician, fives batches after Eric.
With technological advancements in aviation, technicians are constantly upgrading their skills set. “It was during one of these improvement courses that I met Eric,” Philip shared.
“Back then, we knew of each other, but we were not best friends,” Eric added.
Eric and Philip at the HCA Day Hospice, reminiscing on their younger days in Force.
Over the years, the young technicians saved up for their weddings and purchased their first homes, thanks to their modest income. One morning, whilst Philip was enjoying his coffee at a kopitiam* in his neighbourhood, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find a familiar face.
“What are you doing here,” asked a surprised Eric.
“I live here,” Philip replied matter-of-factly.
“So do I,” laughed Eric.
Later that week, the two would have this very same conversation along the pews of their neighbourhood church. Thus, began a friendship between the two colleagues, neighbours and now, brothers in Christ.
When the veterans retired from the Force, they were invited to join ‘Veterans’ Night’, which is a large gathering that takes place the day before Labour Day. For Eric and Philip, who left the Force in the late 70s and 80s respectively, these gatherings helped them discover new ‘old’ friends.
“We have known each other for so long, so we do not miss each other. These gatherings were more about meeting new people in our community instead,” admitted Eric.
As the attendance list grew, one ex-colleague initiated a second session, which would take place at a Kopitiam* food court every last Thursday of the month.
Patients at our Day Hospices receive free two-way transport from their homes to our centres and vice versa. Eric is one of the volunteers who helps patients like Philip onto the vehicle for their journeys.
“In our heyday, we had up to 50 people. We would meet at 12 noon and it would last for hours,” exclaimed Eric.
These long hours of catching up became precious moments for the long-time friends Eric and Philip, as the latter had moved out of their shared neighbourhood. The pair had much to catch up on but the hours flew by quickly. And before they knew it, it was time to leave.
“See you at the next gathering,” said Eric, as he waved to Philip and other Air Force veterans leaving the Kopitiam food court. Unbeknownst to Eric and Philip, this would be Philip’s last gathering.
After losing a significant amount of weight over a short period of time, Philip’s family arranged a check-up for him and learnt that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The sudden deterioration of his health caused Philip to involuntarily and abruptly retire from the veteran’s group, leaving Eric in the dark.
By late 2020, Philip’s doctor had referred him to HCA Hospice and upon further assessment by his attending nurse, Philip was recommended to HCA’s Day Hospice as a remedy for his lack of social interactions. It was then that Eric heard from Philip’s family that he was fighting a terminal illness and had been referred to a hospice.
Coincidentally, Eric had just signed up to be our Day Hospice volunteer.
One morning, whilst Philip was enjoying his coffee at the HCA Day Hospice ‘Kopitiam’ or dining area, he saw a familiar face and reached out.
“Eric!” he yelled.
Recognising a familiar voice, the volunteer turned to find his long-time and long-lost friend, Philip.
“What are you doing here?” asked a surprised Eric.
“What else can I be doing here?” Philip replied matter-of-factly.
Neither party realised that they would be reunited and it came as a pleasant surprise, when they did. The timely reunion brought a bittersweet smile to their faces.
A friendship spanning 50 years. It was a bittersweet reunion for the pair of friends, before Philip passed on several months after this photo was taken.
Having undergone the volunteers’ orientation session with HCA staff, Eric is confident in rendering appropriate care as both a friend and a volunteer. “I’m prepared to do whatever to make him feel comfortable and happy,” reassured Eric.
With an array of constructive and therapeutic activities and special attention from an old friend, Philip enjoyed his time at the Day Hospice and felt like there was always an ‘extra touch’ around.
“I like it here and we have a close relationship, so it means I always have someone who cares for me and greets me here,” Philip had said.
If having a good friend is treasure and enjoying a cup of coffee is pleasure, Eric and Philip must have enjoyed this precious blend of friendship and coffee. Their 50-year friendship is an inspiration to us all and it warms our hearts, that their reunion at our Day Hospice has truly Added Life to both their Days.
*Kopitiam: colloquial term for coffee (‘kopi’) shop (‘tiam’). Also, a local food court chain.