This Chinese New Year (CNY) is different. Pa is still in the High Dependency Unit and Ma is there with him every day. To be honest, I had no mood to be involved in any CNY visitation. I just didn’t want Ma to feel worse than she has already been feeling. It isn’t easy to feel upbeat during an important festive season when someone you love so dearly barely responds and is still lying in the hospital.
For most people, CNY is a time of gathering with family that you most likely only meet once a year, answering awkward questions about your life, feasting at every home you visit and most likely, having a round (or many rounds) of different card games or mahjong. Facebook is plastered with photos of everyone all dressed up and made up, taking tons of selfies and group photos.
This year, I took zero photos. Not even with Ben and Phoebie, not even with my grandmothers, whom I make it a point to take photos with every year. I had no mood. I made minimal visits. The only places I went to, were of my in-laws’ and my two grandmothers’. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.
On the first day of CNY, we went to the hospital to visit Pa and to spend time with Ma after we visited my in-laws and one of my grandmothers. I wanted Pa to know that it was already Chinese New Year and we are all waiting for him to recover and go home with us.
Ben stayed with Phoebie at the waiting area while I went in to Pa’s ward. I put an angbao in his hand and told him I wish him health and happiness. I could see some movement in the eyes area even though his eyes were closed. I then played the video of Phoebie wishing him a happy new year and placed my phone next to his ear. Pa opened his eyes when he heard Phoebie. This is not the first time he has opened his eyes but I couldn’t help crying, seeing him respond to his granddaughter. I played the 2 minute video over and over and talked to Pa at the same time. I told him not to give up because we are all rooting for him.
Pa can definitely hear what we say but is just unable to respond much yet.
Much later, in the evening, Ma, my brothers and I gathered around Pa. I told Pa that we were all gathered as a family on the first day of CNY. I wished he would open his eyes to look at us, but he didn’t. He was probably tired because he had opened his eyes a number of times earlier. That day was the first time that we all gathered in Pa’s ward as a family, ever since he was hospitalized.
On the same day, we had a family meeting, discussing what our plans were if a medical emergency arose and we had to make a decision on Pa’s condition. It wasn’t a meeting I wanted to have but I knew we all had to discuss this. There are many concerns and many factors we have to consider. Whatever the decision is, I told Ma and my brothers that I just don’t want us to look back and regret.
So what has CNY taught me this year? Make meaningful connections with people you care about. Let people you love know that they matter.
I don’t think I have held Pa’s hand as much as I have in the past weeks compared to my whole life. I don’t think I have told him how much he mattered to me this often.
Sure, some family members can be hard to talk to. They may have this steel-like front that makes that hard to approach or get close to. But hey, someone has to make the first move. Why have I waited till Pa is in a coma for me to tell him how much he matters?
Of the few homes that I have visited for CNY this year, one place spoke to me. It was one of my maternal uncle’s place where my maternal grandma is. My uncle has two sons and these are cousins that I really only see once a year.
Both of them were in their room while uncles and aunties were gathered in the living room, playing card games. I decided to go to their room and have a chat with them. To be honest, I was expecting a certain level of hostility because they probably wanted their privacy. I used to chat more regularly with the older boy, who is now about 21 years old, so I started by chatting with him. His younger brother is in his second year in junior college and used to attend the same secondary school that I had gone to, so I made use of that as a common ground to break the ice with him.
After 5 or 10 minutes, I found that it wasn’t difficult to talk to them. We even managed to joke a little. I asked the younger boy why he was “hiding” in his room while everyone was in the living room. “I don’t know them well. Not familiar with them at all,” was his answer. I don’t blame him for feeling that way. My mum’s side of the family is very big and there are cousins that we don’t even see on an annual basis.
We chatted for a little while longer and he shared with me about his current struggles, preparing for major exams and thinking about whether to sign on in the military when he eventually serves his National Service. He also didn’t know what he wanted to do in University yet and had a lot to think about. It wasn’t a long chat but I appreciated that he shared his thoughts with me. If I had appropriate advice, I would be able to share more with him.
It wasn’t a long conversation but it was probably the longest I had with any relative this festive season. I don’t know if this conversation would mean anything to my cousin, but I was glad I knocked on the door instead of staying in the living room with everyone else. A connection was made with my cousin. I would probably choose such a connection over sitting at the table with a deck of cards. Sure, there’s definitely some kind of bonding when loved ones play games together, but having a good chat is necessary too.
We probably cannot capture everyone’s attention for a good chat because some of us come from really big families. But if we could just make a connection with that one or two or maybe even three persons, I think the CNY festive season would become extra special.
Angbaos, good food, good drinks, visiting and gambling aside, it’s all about making the connection.
CNY celebrations isn’t over yet and people will continue with visitations over the next 10 days or so. May you find new meaning as you meet and connect with people, especially with your family members who may mean more to you than you realize.