After almost two and a half years apart, I finally got to hug my mother and youngest sister last week. They flew in from the autumn chill of Sydney into the sultry humidity of tropical Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. And we held each other in the middle of a heatwave.
Fortunately, we are always prepared for the heat. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the mixture of joy, relief and discomfort at reconnecting with them after so long. As much as video calls have been a life saver, it isn’t the same as being with someone in real life.
What’s more, the mother and sister whom I hugged goodbye two and a half years ago, on their last visit to Malaysia, have changed. So have I.
I’m no longer an exhausted mother with a newborn, two-year-old and four-and-a-half-year-old. I’m now an exhausted mother with a two-and-a-half-year old, four-and-a-half-year-old and seven-year-old. Now that I’m almost 40, I’m struggling with perimenopausal symptoms like mood swings and menorrhagia. Despite my health struggles, my freelance writing career is doing well. I am better at taking up space, and asking for what I need. I am unsure about when I can afford to fly back to Sydney with my husband and our three kids. I juggle so many realities all at once.
My mother is in her sixties, and after living with different children and their spouses, she is moving to her own apartment soon. My youngest sister is adjusting to being single again, and looking for a job in a very challenging job market.
So much of me wants to fix things. I wish I could be in so many places at once. I wish I could be living with my mother in her old age, and looking out for her the way she looked out for me when I was young. I wish I could be there for my youngest sister and magically point her to a dream job. Instead, I take a deep breath and make space for all of my big, messy feelings.
When I was freshly divorced in my early twenties, I remember how unmoored I felt. My mental health took a beating and I needed to take a break from medical school. I literally had to flee the country and seek solace in the newness of a whole new life. And yet, even beneath the breath-taking starry night of Wadi Rum, I would always be with me. Just as I learned to come to peace with myself, imperfections and all, I trust that my sister will do the same.
In this messy transition period, there is also much growth. I trust that my mother and sister will find their footing in this phase of their lives, just as they have in all the different stages of their lives up to this present moment.
I look back at the many stops and starts in my own life, and how even though my mother and sister were not physically present with me for some parts, I knew I could always count on their unconditional love and support. I hope to be there for them too, even from afar.
My feelings of discomfort around my family’s different struggles have a lot to do with my own fear of change. I love routine and find deep comfort in it. To this day, the vagaries of life continue to thwart me. Change is an inevitable part of life, even if I don’t like it to be. Change also happens to my loved ones, no matter where they live.
‘There is nothing to fix. There is absolutely nothing to fix.’
If I tell this to myself enough times, I hope I will believe it some day.
My baby sister is now a grown woman in her twenties, with the rest of her life ahead of her. She is brilliant, creative, deeply compassionate and a joy to be around. My eldest daughter says that “it’s very easy to make her laugh”. My younger daughter loves giving her hugs. My son wakes up and asks me sleepily as he walks down the stairs, “Where is Maksu?” They’ll miss her so much when she returns to Sydney.
My mother, although older now, is still healthy. She is resilient, caring and has an incredible sense of humour. Even though she will be living independently, her apartment is very close to my middle sister’s.
My biggest fear during our time apart was my mother suddenly passing away, without me being able to see her one last time. Thankfully, she is with me now, in the flesh. Now that she’s here, I am even more grateful for the new memories we are making. Only Mak would brave the Malaysian heat, walk to the markets and buy my favourite packet of nasi lemak with my favourite sides: bergedil, paru and telur masin.
Nothing in our life journeys has been linear, and is unlikely to ever be. I draw strength and hope from this, and am optimistic about the next leg of our respective journeys.