Of Tikoy and Memories

Today, on the second day of the Chinese New Year, I am missing my father more than ever. My father always loved this lunar holiday. Growing up in a Chinese-Filipino household, ours was always an extended season of merrymaking, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year included in an already unusually long holiday season. And because Daddy was a tireless giver, he always found reasons to present us simple little gifts, even if we didn’t necessarily deserve them. Now that he is gone, nothing about today feels the same anymore.

I suppose I can always look back to the celebrations of the past for inspiration. My strongest memories of Chinese New Year were always associated with boxes and boxes of sweet, sticky rice cakes (tikoy), all meant for giving away to family and friends, and how my father always made sure that I had boxes of my own to give away to classmates and teachers. It was a tradition that he cherished and shared with us- me- most of all. The other night, as we ushered in another New Year, it felt strangely devoid of all significance, other than that he is gone.

Still, life goes on, right? And if this sudden apathy for this past holiday is a reminder of how unsettling and new and unexpected our lives have been since Daddy left us, I find strange comfort in how appropriate it is that the New Year’s Eve Celebrations this year fell on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. While Cardinal Tagle gave Chinese-Filipinos the dispensation to continue with their festive preparations, given the way I was feeling, I was more inclined to honor the fast. So that night, amid the sounds of firecrackers and revelry, we chose to do away with all that.

They say grief comes in waves, in large tsunami-like crests that overwhelm and inundate you one after another without let-up and without mercy. This is grief within memory’s reach, when the wounds are fresh and bleeding. In time, they also say, the waves come less often, spaced farther and farther apart. They lose the ferocity of their strength. They let you forget the depths of your anguish and ease you to healing and forgetting, But once in a long while, just when you thought that the worst of your pain has passed, a strong memory conjures a grief so strong that it knocks the breath out of you, rendering you raw, bruised, and hurting. Then you remember again how it was to feel vulnerable and afraid, to feel helpless and alone in the darkness of your sorrow.

Funny how a box of tikoy can undo all those months of “moving on.”

In these moments of weakness, I cling to the reassurance of my faith. This is what Lent is to me: a renewal of the promise of His love for us. And just as the New Year heralds another beginning, Lent signals our rebirth in the spirit. If only for this promise, I am once again strong enough to be washed in pain. I just wish I didn’t have to miss Daddy so much.

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