When I was borne, I was handed over to my Mother’s second sister (Second Aunt) for six months. I never learn the reason why. For that first six crucial months of my life, I was lovingly cared for by Second Aunt and her whole family. So, it comes as no surprise that I was very close to this family, especially my cousins.
Apparently I was a nocturnal baby, keeping Second Aunt and Uncle up most of the night. Second Uncle would be the one entertaining, placating and cajoling me through the night. I was too young to remember but this story was told to me many times as I became older.
Yesterday, I learned that Second Uncle has passed away from a lung surgical complication. The news came as a total shock as the last time I saw him was a week ago at a cousin’s wedding. Although through the years that we had become distant , I will always remember Second Uncle as one of the most important persons in my earliest life.
I was saddened by the unexpected news but at the same time comforted by the thought that he had lived a good life, leaving behind a loving wife and three children who had done him proud. I was also concerned about Second Aunt and my cousins knowing very well how difficult this must be for them but I didn’t know how to react or what to say to them when I would see them for the first time after the news. I knew that nothing I would have said or done could have made things easier for them. So, I must confess that I was feeling nervous and awkward.
I then realise that as Asians (or maybe just my family), we are completely handicapped at expressing our feelings. We do not have the ability to say what we feel and even worse at extending physical affection to one another. When trouble hits, we are very good and quick at taking actions; helping out and chipping in but we are unable to offer comfort through verbal communication or providing a shoulder to cry on. Our way of showing we care or we love is through actions, rather than words.
I went through my head, trying to find the right words to say but everything just seemed so inappropriate. For instance, in Chinese, “how are you?” is asked in a way that means, “Are you well?” or “Have you eaten?” These are not words you say to someone who is mourning for a loved one.
So, as I was walking towards Second Aunt, I was consumed with awkwardness. However, the moment I saw the sadness and grief in her eyes, I finally did the right thing. I followed my heart and I just hugged her tight for the first time since I was a child.
I think it will be a long time before we learn how to say, “I love you” to our family members but for now, a sincere hug is all it takes to show how we feel.