Seasonal sadness

Yesterday was the festival of Eid Al-Adha. For my husband’s family, this year was more special than usual, as one of his sisters was off performing the Hajj.

Next week is Christmas – yet another Xmas which I don’t spend with any of my own family. The last time we were all together at Christmas? I can’t remember the year; certainly more than five years ago. In Scotland, it was, and it snowed.

Yesterday, we went to the old family home in the Malacca village where my husband grew up, the very house where I first met all his sisters and his parents and his brother, so very long ago. It was late at night, the year was 1968 and a coconut tree had fallen across the power lines. So I met them all for the first time by lamplight. It was Eid Al Fitr and Christmas, both, and I was sick with apprehension. So, I suppose, were they, although that never occurred to me at the time.

This time, when our car pulls into the yard, my husband looks anguished. The garden – once so lovingly tended by his mother – is all dead. All her beautiful orchids are gone and the orchid shade-house pulled down. The rambutan tree my father-in-law used to sit under in the evenings is no more, and the earth is hard and bare, the grass dead.

My parents-in-law have both gone now, and their eldest daughter- so kind in heart and generous of spirit – gone as well. No one lives in the house. One of my Malaysian sisters opens up the house for the festival, and those of us who remain go back. We eat, and talk, and exchange news. There are gaps at the table, not just for those who are gone, for there are divisions in the family now, when once they were strong and united.

Time has moved on. We have moved on. Yet, so suddenly yesterday, we discovered happy memories have the power to hurt.


Seasonal sadness — 5 Comments

  1. Oh dear, you’re beginning to sound like me – all nostalgia and elegy! The aching beauty of memories.

    Perhaps this is another reason why we should try to have children around us at Christmas time. Not because Christmas is for children, but because their presence reminds us of the joy of new lives and new generations, where otherwise we can become weighed down with the sadness of remembering absent friends and relatives who have passed on and share our Christmas cheer no more. At a midwinter festival we need the balance between honouring the past and welcoming the future – between which we ourselves stand as the bridge.

    Sorry, getting moody again. That aside, your post reminded me of the opening of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again…’

  2. So true.

    Actually on Christmas day I will have children around, just not mine…looking forward to that.

    And that line from Rebecca – amazing how something so simple can resonate still, years later. It does with me too. Another opening line that does that for me: “The past is another country…” from The Go-between.

  3. Yes, the past is another country, and another person lived in this skin then. When bitter-sweet memories arise, I try to feel that person’s joy without the filter of cynicism that time necessarily imposes. I can never succeed for long, though. The pain that put that filter in place is still there, not far below the surface.

    Letting go is hard to do:-)

  4. The human condition, eh?

    Time to remember that people who have to take drugs for certain brain chemistry problems often hate them because they also smooth out the highs as well as the lows. Normal sorrow is manageable, and the highs were great.

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