EACH Hari Raya Aidilfitri brings me happy memories. The day would always be filled with activities — a house full of relatives and friends, and so much cooking and eating!
One memory is of the Hari Raya spent with my late mother, a year after my father passed away. That was a rather awkward year for my siblings and me. It was the first Hari Raya without our father and Mum was still grieving for him. It didn’t help that she had a faulty memory due to a diabetic coma.
We were apprehensive about opening our doors and exposing our frail mother. Our first question was: Should we continue with our parents’ tradition of the open house on the first day of Hari Raya? Mum was still living in her own home with my two sisters. Would people still come, knowing that my father had passed away? If they did, we would have to deal with the catering and logistics.
In the past, Mum had always run a busy kitchen with a full staff as she had been a caterer and hence, variety and quantity of food had never been an issue. The catering slowed down significantly after her coma and my father’s passing. So what were we to do?
Guessing the number of people who might show up was tricky because Mum’s open house was rarely an officially invited do. We never had RSVPs.
After lengthy discussions, we decided to go ahead with it, albeit on a more modest scale, as the cooking would now be done by us. Each sibling contributed something. The house was spruced up weeks before the big day.
Our biggest worry was keeping everything manageable, of visitors’ interactions with Mum, and monitoring her energy level. Too much noise and activity can be difficult for someone who is frail and confused. We were worried about Mum’s tricky memory too, and the awkward moments that may arise because of it.
We also had to anticipate visitors’ shock at seeing my mother’s weakened condition, a far cry from the cheerful, robust person she had been. We were prepared to talk about it — some we talked to before they arrived, others when they did. We took turns to be at Mum’s side, never leaving her alone, just in case.
As it turned out, our worries had all been for nothing. In the weeks of preparation for the open house, Mum was involved in the activities and the anticipation brought her out of her doldrums.
Family, relatives and friends came as they usually did. There was enough food and, best of all, Mum was in top form. When family and friends came, she was quite her old self again, having conversations and holding up quite well on her own. She recognised almost everyone and chatted away happily.
As it turned out, many of those who came as they would on their “annual pilgrimage” only found out then that Dad had passed away the year before. They had inadvertently been left out of the family loop on the news. Their visit offered them the opportunity to catch up with the latest.
Many who came said that they were so happy to be able to visit Mum because they were uncertain when the time would have been right with all the medical appointments she had. In our effort to care for our mother, we had become over-protective. What we learnt was that traditions that were hard to keep called for innovation and creativity. It was time to build our own traditions.
What was important was the fact that we pulled together as a family. We had so much to be grateful for. Mum was still around, we had great food onthe table, laughter, friends who reached out to help, and best of all, our hearts felt warm with love and good things.
In our case, this turned out to be our last Hari Raya with Mum. She passed away the following December. Imagine if we hadn’t done what we did.