The Ties That Bind

Two Funerals and A Wedding

Abergavenny – Petaling Jaya – Ipoh / January – November 2015

In early 2015, I travelled to Wales for the funeral of a dear friend’s father. It was a meeting of friends – me from Singapore, MC from California, SA from Sweden.

S whose dad had passed away was an only child – MC, she and I met in Singapore while in university and we’d become fast friends. My family too knew and loved S and her parents; my grandma was particularly fond of S – theirs was a mutual admiration club. S and I shared so many similarities and within a few weeks of our meeting 32 years ago, we were completing each other’s sentences. We concluded we were twins – she the albino one. One of those friends who is ‘like family’.

12.1448807347.home-cooked-dinners-in-walesThe few days in Wales, were happy days, despite the occasion that had brought us together. There were 32 years of shared memories, much laughter (and tears) – and all in all a good-for-the-soul time. As we said goodbye and returned to our different corners of the world, we said we had to have more of these ‘meet-ups’, and not wait for another occasion like this one…though perhaps we all knew that once back at work and our manic schedules, it was more likely than not that it would be a crisis that will get us together again.

Fast forward to almost the end of 2015 and my niece’s wedding. Her mother is my first cousin – I’d regularly spent many happy holidays with this branch of the cousins at my grandfather’s home in Seremban, till I moved to Singapore in the late ’70s and the cousins went to university in India. While we continued to ‘keep in touch’, we saw each other less frequently – the last time was probably at my dad’s funeral in 2010 – another ‘crisis gathering’.

So here we were, my sister, her 4-year old (on flower girl duty) and I, in PJ for the wedding. We stayed a night at the home of our maternal aunt and uncle – also people we visit far too infrequently. It was the ‘usual’ Ceylonese wedding – attacking our senses on all fronts. It was a riot of colour, a cacophony of sounds, incense-filled air and, of course, a mad rush to tie the ‘thali’ within the recommended ‘good time’.

The highlight for me was seeing cousins and family again after years. All instantly familiar despite the intervening years and despite the short time we had to catch up before we left for Singapore. As we flew back, I wondered why we didn’t spend more holidays with family just across the Causeway, and instead chose to go to far-flung exotic locales, and to ‘see the world’.

Less than a week later I was back in Malaysia. My uncle, the bride’s grandfather, had passed away. He was 92 and frail. He’d set all his affairs in order, leaving handwritten instructions for each of his children. Once again, it was a coming together of family – the instant familiarity of cousins aided no doubt by our WhatsApp group, but also aided by the memories of all those childhood holidays and time spent together, playing Monopoly (“You’re hiding money?! Cheating!”), Scrabble (“That’s not a word!”), AEIOU (“You moved!”) in the era before iPads and laptops. There was too the easy familiarity of uncles and aunts – one of whom I’d not seen for close to 30 years. One or two had ‘stayed away’ for years, the usual family dysfunctions (or perhaps pride) getting in the way. But on this sad occasion it seemed right for everyone to be together.

As I write this on my flight back after the funeral, I think about these three events, unrelated and yet connected. It was a comforting familiarity being with family now, as it was when my father died.

‘Familiar’ – from the Latin ‘familiaris’ which means “belonging to a family, of a household”; or the 14th century definition – “of or pertaining to one’s family” and “of things, known from long association.” As time went on, the definition of familiar too evolved and in the 1590s it meant “ordinary or usual”.

So, why are the ties that bind ‘familiar’ – on the Wales trip, it was the ties of friendship – friends who were ‘like family’; the phrase ‘friends who are like family’ itself assumes that family would naturally come together at times of celebration or crisis – and my next two trips for the wedding and my uncle’s funeral seemed to validate that assumption.

Maybe we all are family – or have been over various lifetimes.

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