Friday, January 02, 2009

Hello 2009!

We started 2009 on a sober note. Actually, we start every new year on a sober note.

It has been a family tradition to visit my grand-dad at the columbarium on New Year's Day every year since 2002 because 1 Jan is his death anniversary. And since Popo had died in July last year and her ashes interred in the same niche, we visited her as well.

We all spent some quiet time thinking our own private thoughts while the younger kids scampered quite irreverently around the columbarium. No one cried and there were smiles and some of us blew kisses and touched the cold marble of the niche. No mourning, quiet reminisces, lots of smiles and the occasional sound of laughter from the children to remind us that amid death, there is love, laughter and life.

Death anniversary or no, I think it is fitting to start every new year with a few minutes of thought and silent prayer for absent loved ones. Good for us too because we are reminded that we are given a new year, new chances, new opportunities and yet one thing never changes - that we are all mortal, we have one life to live, we have to make the best of this. What does a new year celebrate anyway, but a new beginning. I think this is quite fitting.

Whenever I think of Popo, Grandad, Marc, and the many people I love who have gone away, I feel a bit sad but optimistic too. I know that somewhere out there, they are in a good place and we will see them again one day. And while we have our countdowns and our celebrations in our mortal world, I'm sure the dead have their own milestones and timekeeping to reflect and celebrate too. They would not be far from us since they are in our thoughts.

It occurred to me that it has also been a year since Marc's death on Dec 23 2007. Since his ashes were scattered at Sepang, there is no physical 'memorial' to visit. It left me feeling a bit unsettled. We had our Christmas Eve party at Aunty Peg's place, but aside from a photograph of him, there was no other memorial there. The feeling was that he was just somewhere else, perhaps with a friend or travelling, not that he was gone. It was a strange feeling to have but not unfamiliar since Marc has been absent for several Christmases before his passing.

Still, I was very aware of the date. I guessed it must be hard on Aunty Pegs since Ryan was also away. I think she feels the loss keenly since the 24th was just a day after his death anniversary. As a mother myself now, I also feel a sympathetic grief. Still, I didn't know what to say to Aunty Peg. She didn't bring it up and I couldn't bring myself to either. It was just a feeling that was hanging there. Right at the end of the night, as I left, I gave her quick hug about her shoulders, saying nothing but feeling so much. Maybe she understood what I meant.

All this has left me wondering - mum wants her ashes scattered when it was her time to go. But what would I have left of her here with me? Selfish I know, but I know I would miss her so incredibly it would be unbearably sad to let all of her go into a sea somewhere as fish food, and to have nothing of her here. Also made me think - what about me? When it is time to go, where would I go?

Maybe it is better to just live with memories instead of having a physical space in a columbarium. No need for people to visit you, pay for literally what is a hole in a wall... no obligations, since we all came from dust and to dust and nothingness we will return. Perhaps that is the way life should be and maybe we hold onto our grief less if we let go early.

But there is a part of me that worries that memories fade and get sepia-toned by time. What then, do we have left of the one we loved so much? I jokingly asked mum if I could keep a bone fragment with me - maybe her pinky bone! - and she was shocked enough to object immediately. My aunt who was listening to all this said, no lah, you have to keep it all together! But, I countered, the very act of tossing the ashes into the sea means all would be scattered, so what was the difference between that and keeping one teensy bit? The conversation was clearly degenerating into the ludicrous.

The rest of the early afternoon passed with drinks and lunch with everybody, just catching up with each other and eagerly discussing the latest developments in that hit TV serial The Little Nyonya ("aiyoh, so many details all salah!" lamented Aunty Sue). Popo, true blue Nonya that she was, would have loved the serial though! The conversation spanned Hamas, real Nonya traditions and the intricacies of Pri 4 math before we all reluctantly stood up to leave.

Half of us then went to Borders where we had a great shopping spree. I had a 50% discount and my cousin promptly blew about $150 on Neil Gaiman's graphic novels. "It would have been much more!" he protested when our eyebrows shot up at the bill. Isaac and I gleefully shopped for books too and we took home about 10 books though the bill for our haul was more modest at $23 - after we used up all our Borders vouchers.

Lunch was late and prosaically chicken rice at popo's favourite chicken rice stall in the market in Lorong One. Dinner was simply rice with home-cooked chicken curry which I hadn't done for a long time and which garnered rave reviews from the children and three helpings of rice from just Owain alone! All of which is extremely gratifying to this sometime mummy-cook.

Then it was off to buy last minute stationery, home to watch The Little Nyonya and then packing all the kids off to bed the instant the show ended.

Thus ended the first day of the New Year.

Happy 2009!

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