Lunar New Year, in the recent few years, has become a season of poignant reflection for me.
It was during Lunar New Year that I saw my grandmother and grandfather for the last time, in 2011 and 2014, respectively.
In my grandmother’s final years, she was really sick. My dad constantly nagged at me to visit her, but I chose not to do so for selfish reasons (I can’t communicate with her in her dialect anyway, We are not close anyway, I am very busy preparing for exams anyway). Two months after I last saw her on Lunar New Year, 2011, she passed away from complications after a limb amputation procedure.
I lived with regret for the months that followed. I replayed the last time I saw her over and over in my head. I regretted just sitting silently in one corner during that visit. I regretted the many times my dad invited me along to visit her, and I turned him down. I regretted not being really present even though I was physically present.
You’d think that I probably would’ve learnt my lesson, but sadly not. In Lunar New Year 2014, I saw my grandfather for the last time.
The second day of Lunar New Year also happens to fall on his birthday on the Lunar Calendar, and on that day each year we used to cook up a feast to honour him. It is a day we used to put aside our differences and intolerance towards each other, and sit down at the same table together, as one big family. In a family like mine with its strained relations, this was an occasion to be treasured.
The tradition went with my grandfather.
Nobody saw it coming. My late grandfather was always in the pink of health, and looked younger than his actual age of 81. After my grandmother passed away, we all said we’d visit him more often, but months passed and we didn’t. Everyone was all too busy with our own lives. He was always healthy and independent, apart from his poor hearing, and that gave us an extra false sense of assurance.
Then one night he was admitted to the hospital with a high fever, and within the next 12 hours his condition deteriorated precipitously. And then he was gone forever.
The regret I felt was all too familiar.
It’s time for meaningful conversations
I think most of us can identify with the feeling of sitting around quietly on a family visit, staring at our phones for a few hours to shield ourselves from awkward conversations with relatives whom we don’t actually recognise.
We head off to relatives’ houses with the expectation that it’s going to be really boring and they’re just going to ask the same old questions again. We pay no attention to what’s going on around us, and make no effort to have conversations that are actually meaningful.
We start to see Lunar New Year as a season of dreary family obligations to fulfil. This is especially sad for a season of joy that’s meant to bring families together.
You may only see this auntie or that cousin once a year on Lunar New Year. But how would you know if you’ll ever see them again?
Had I known that it would be the last time I’d ever see my grandmother, I would’ve made an effort to have at least one meaningful conversation with her. I would’ve at least found out more about her—why she came to Singapore as a single mother, how she brought up my aunt on her own, what her dreams were as a young woman, how she met my grandfather… There were so many things I did not know about the matriarch of the family.
And had I known that it would be the last time I’ll ever see my grandfather, I would’ve sat with him or gone on a walk with him. I would’ve asked him why he loved taking walks so much. I would’ve put in effort to have some meaningful conversations with him.
It’s time to reclaim the significance of the season
Instead of heading to visitations begrudgingly, and giving curt single-word answers to the unavoidable questions from our relatives, what if we took the effort to make the season more meaningful for our families, or at least for ourselves?
Look around you. That cousin who is younger than you? You can probably give some advice on his studies. That aunt who was recently widowed? You can ask her how she’s been doing. That high-flying cousin who seems to have it all? You can ask her how she really feels about all these glittering accomplishments. That uncle who got divorced? You can be his listening ear.
In the Old Testament times, priests were chosen to represent people before God and they were the only ones who could enter the presence of God. Now, we are called to be a royal priesthood that is set apart (1 Pet 2:9) for God. We are all priests of God in our own ways. So, as mediators between God and pre-believers, how can we represent God to the people around us this Lunar New Year?
Not everyone will appreciate our efforts to have meaningful conversations, but it’ll at least help to make this season more bearable, more purposeful. We can turn this annual snoozefest into an opportunity where we can minister to people we rarely get to meet.
It’s time to wake up. It’s time for some meaningful conversations—before it’s too late.
Christina Wong is the Managing Editor of Thir.st, a local digital platform calling the next generation to step out in bold faith. The article was first published on Thir.st and reproduced with permission. / Photo courtesy of Christina Wong