Grief still fresh for parents of teacher who perished in fire

A photo of Catherine (in her graduation gown), with her parents and brothers, kept at her family home.

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By Nancy Nais and Lian Cheng

BAU, Oct 24: Fifteen months have passed, but the memory of the late Catherine Janet Tiwi lingers on and her parents are still grieving over her passing.

The shocking and heart-breaking moment when her father, Tiwi Nios, 54, heard the news that his only daughter had perished in a teacher’s quarters fire at Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Batu Bungan, Mulu on July 25, last year is still vivid in his mind and hard to forget.

Tiwi, who is a Senior Fire Officer II attached to Bau fire station and his wife Wency Seimon, 49, were in tears when they spoke to DayakDaily today, more than one year after Catherine’s sudden passing.

“Our sadness is something that will never fade. She was our only daughter. She was a very responsible, good, kind-hearted child and never felt embarrassed to tell people who we are or bring us out to meet her friends. She never failed to give a portion of her salary to her mother every month to help me support the family. Catherine was a perfect daughter that we could not ask for more.

“We raised her up well, we taught her the best that we could from young and she made us very proud when she graduated as a teacher. Then she left us at the age of 25. Although we accept the reality that she is no longer with us, our daily lives are still affected until today because almost everything we do, it will remind us of her,” Tiwi said at his house in Kampung Skio.

Relating some examples, he said the hardest was when they attend church services, where someone will be on the lectern to read the gospels because Catherine used to read the gospels.

An active church goer, Catherine was very much involved with missionary activities, including in the church that she used to attend in Miri when she was studying at Miri Teachers Training College.

“When I am driving, each time I see road signage, it reminds me of Catherine. She was only three-years-old when she started to ask so many questions. She would make me explain to her what are all the signage or posters that she sees on the road when we were riding on my motorcycle. Seeing her talent and eagerness to learn, we started her kindergarten education when she was only three. In school, up till the end of secondary school, she achieved many awards,” Tiwi said, as he showed all her medals that were displayed in a special cupboard.

Catherine’s closeness with her father was very obvious when Tiwi was transferred to Miri fire station, and she chose to follow her father. A few years later, when he was transferred back to Bau, she followed suit.

Sharing about Catherine’s future plans, Tiwi said just before her passing, she sought her parents’ blessings to continue her studies to pursue a Masters.

Any parent would definitely give their blessing to their child who wanted to further their studies.

“She has a very high vision to be a successful teacher. When she told us she wanted to study up to PhD level, I told her to go ahead, aim for it as long as you can cope and I will support you through whatever means that I can,” he said, adding that Catherine was planning to work and study at the same time.

At the moment, Tiwi said the family is still coping and they know that ‘life must go on’.

People may see them smiling or laughing, but no one will know the pain that they are still going through until today, he shared.

“For me, when I am on duty, my workplace is where I can forget about this sadness for a while. This is because I strongly hold the principle not to bring my sadness to the workplace, especially when I am a firefighter who sees many fire cases,” Tiwi said.

Meanwhile, Wency said sometimes she will wake up in the middle of the night, in fear that a similar incident will happen again because her husband is a firefighter.

Whenever her husband and eldest son are at work, and her youngest son in school, she feels very lonely and would end up crying.

That deep sense of loss was still apparent as she showed DayakDaily her daughter’s bedroom, where all Catherine’s personal belongings are still undisturbed as how she left it.

“As a mother, who gave birth to her, looked after and nurtured her to be a good person, I am very proud she chose to be a teacher, to contribute back to society and our family.

“Catherine would always call me everyday, without fail, regardless of her location and as long as there is a telecommunication line. Now I don’t receive her call anymore and I get very lonely at home. Now we can only pray that she is in peace at the other side,” Wency said, adding that she seeks solace through prayers. — DayakDaily