Since Sept. 11, Rebecca Shum has adopted a vegetarian diet and started chanting Buddhist prayers. It is these religious rituals that help Shum cope with the loss of her husband, See-Wong Shum, who announced a week before the World Trade Center attacks that he was converting to Buddhism.
He made this decision after spending endless hours in the public library exploring texts about Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
“If I’m chanting, I feel like I’m connected with him somehow,” said Shum, who was not affiliated with any religious group before the terrorist attacks. “Somehow I feel like if I do something for him in the practice of Buddhism, I think that’s all I can do for him.”
Mr. Shum, 44, was on the 82nd floor of One World Trade Center when a hijacked airliner crashed into the building. The Westfield resident managed computer systems for New York Metropolitan Transportation Council and reportedly answered phones amid the chaos of that Tuesday morning.
Rebecca Shum did not get a chance to talk to her husband one last time. However, when she returned home that day after dropping their 3-year-old daughter Chanel off at nursery school, there was a message on the answering machine. There were no voices on the message, just the sound of wailing sirens in the background.
“I bet that might’ve been him,” she said.
Mr. Shum was a restless spirit who was always seeking new adventures. Raised in Hong Kong, Mr. Shum worked as a high school teacher, corrections officer and suicide hotline counselor. During his free time, he backpacked through Europe, China, Israel, Peru, Egypt and Thailand.
It was in Thailand where Mr. Shum was first exposed to Buddhism and meditated in a temple for the first time. He felt at peace there and wondered if he was a Thai monk in a previous life. But years would pass before he announced that he was Buddhist.
“Maybe he knew that something would happen to him,” Shum said.
After numerous career changes, Mr. Shum finally settled on a computer-related job and started working at the transportation council nine years ago. He rarely missed a day of work — taking off only to tend to his wife or children if they were sick.
These days, the couple’s 6-year-old son, Leon, is having problems sleeping and is disturbed by nightmares he has of a monster carrying a bomb. He insists he’s feeling better, but he cannot sleep unless the lights are on in his bedroom.
“I think so far he is handling it good, considering his age,” Shum said.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the First Methodist Church, East Broad Street, Westfield.
In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Mr. Shum is survived two sisters, Christina Shum and Sandy Shum of Hong Kong, and his parents, Soo-Chu Cheng and Ching-Ho Shum of Hong Kong.