A Light that still Glows
Jan 1st 2015 - Australia
An evening walk in Adelaide. The air is still. Warm. A magpie warbles. And then I see it—a thick wall of smoke beyond the trees. Is that fire? I race home and put on the TV. Yes, scary news. Bushfires are burning very close to us—far too close for comfort. We’ve lived 16 years in Australia, but this is a first … for us. The phone rings. There’s more bad news. Mum’s gravely ill in Sri Lanka. But I’m oceans away. My looked forward to New Year turns into a walk in a forest of dread. Early next day Shan braves the extreme temperatures to hose down our home. The fires gain momentum. We pack a bag in case we have to flee. Far away in Sri Lanka, Mum’s entered hospital. I long to see her, but I can't leave my family when our home is at risk. My head aches and fear grips me, a bull terrier grabbing my ankle and not letting go.
Will Mum be OK? Oh God, please take care of her. Should I go? Should I stay? My mind races in circles—and I am a mouse trapped in a maze. On Sunday, at church, a friend prays with me and I find comfort. Thank you God. Back home, I rush to check my emails but it's the news I didn’t want to hear. Mum’s dying.
My hope flickers; a lone candle in a storm, about to be snuffed out.
Fire. Mum. I remember another day … another time.
July 25th 1983 – Sri Lanka (32 years before)
We cross the road, Mum and I, furtive, hurried, holding hands. The key I clasp in my right hand cuts into my palm but I don’t feel the pain. A loud crackling noise erupts and Mum’s eyes widen in fear. I turn my head. A blaze engulfs shops on the main road—large orange flames, gigantic tongues greedily devouring everything in its wake. My heart stops; my breath escapes in shallow gasps.
Mum touches my arm. I look at her. She smiles encouragement, but worry lines paint her forehead. I breathe. I open my neighbour’s front door. We enter the flat. As I move my arm to turn on the light, Mum draws me away. Oh! I’d forgotten the curfew. Mum switches on her torch and we find the kitchen. We open the larder. Mum pulls out a sack of rice and I grab several tins of food. I open the fridge and find some tomatoes and carrots. A vehicle whizzes past. A police car? I freeze. Would they find us? Would they arrest us as looters?
My heart thuds so loud, I’m sure Mum hears it too. We get what we can and finally … we leave, our arms laden with heavy bags. The streets are deserted and an eerie silence prevails. Fear envelops me like a python wrapping itself around its prey. I’m glad of my rubber soles. One little step at a time, we make it home. I step indoors, relief flooding over me.
That black Monday in our beautiful Sri Lanka, the unthinkable happened. Race riots broke out and numerous people lost their lives. Houses were burnt to the ground. Ours was almost set alight by a mob who stampeded down our road, incensed, screaming; intent on destruction. It was a world gone mad. In our home, we sheltered 23 neighbours whose home and lives were in danger. Mum and Dad reached out as always to those in need of a safe haven. That was what they did. Feeding our guests was a huge challenge—hence our foray into their houses at dusk braving the curfew. Keeping them safe was even harder. It was surreal. Like being in a movie. I look back in wonder. Did it really happen? It was a dark time in our nation's history and I am very grateful we got through it. I'm deeply thankful that the war finally came to an end.
I’m so glad of Mum and Dad’s example all through our lives, THAT PEOPLE MATTER!
Jan 7th 2015 – Sri Lanka
The plane lands at 12.05 a.m. I reach home bleary eyed and tearful. The van zooms towards the home of my childhood. I can’t do this. I can’t see Mum in a coffin. And yet, I must. I hug my sisters, my throat catching; not daring to speak lest the dam bursts. I walk in, enter the hall where her beloved body is laid. That’s not Mum? She looks so different. I burst into tears. My sister cradles me. I go up to my beloved Mama’s body and kiss her. I stroke her precious face. It is cold.
Jan 13th 2015 – Sri Lanka
The days disappear in a blur. People are kind, sending us delicious meals, caring for us in thoughtful ways. We’ve spent bitter-sweet moments together as family, bound together by our parents’ infinite love. Smiles, tears, hugs, remembrances. Sharing together, sitting around Mum’s dining table. One final time.
On Election Day, a miracle occurs. Mum has always been a courageous journalist, one who ‘told it like it is’. And now … a new era has dawned—one Mum would have rejoiced in. In an instant, the truth grabs me. Mum’s work was done. Peace envelops me, her own sweet smile reaching down into my heart. Hers was a voice of hope for the future. And now, the future she strived for had arrived.
Hope flickers within me; a tiny candle that has overcome the darkness.
Jan 14th 2015 – Changi airport
I book into a hotel room for my 15 hour layover. After a 4 hour sleep, I am awake. I splash some water on my face, then I make myself a cup of tea. Sitting up in bed, I sip it slowly, waking from my stupor. Then, I remember . Quickly, I jump out of bed and rush to my bag. “This book is for Anusha when I am gone. 4/5/07” What a precious gift—thank you Mama! I turn its pages, careful not to spill any tea on it. I soak in Mum’s journal, filled with wisdom and humour, enjoying its poetry and prose, all copied neatly in her own dear familiar handwriting. And then … and then ... the dam bursts and tears begin to fall, soaking my nightdress. I grieve. Deeply. I miss her so.
Jan 4th 2016 - Australia
It’s one year today since Mama left this world for eternity. She was my special friend and my favourite daily email correspondent of 16 years. How can I share all the love I have for her and all the love she's given me? AAA—Annette Aurelia Abayasekara; known to most folk as Anne Abaysekara. A devoted wife to her beloved Earle. An ever present Mum to her 7 children and their 7 spouses. A beloved Mum, Grandmum and Great grandmum to all 35 in her clan. A courageous journalist for over 70 years. A friend and counsellor to many. Living life as if every moment mattered. Caring deeply as if each person mattered. With the zest of a 21 year old at the ripe age of 89. She and Dad loved our country passionately. And loved people even more. She was a light that death could not snuff out.
A light that still glows.
Her love affair with books and writing made me what I am today—a Christian writer. Her generosity of spirit enabled us, her seven children to follow our dreams. The security of her love gave us wings. I am warmed by a plethora of precious memories; wrapped soft around my heart in a mother’s sweet embrace. I know she’s still with me. I see her smile each time I think of her. I hear her voice whisper in my heart. I know I am loved and always will be. I look forward so much to our reunion. What a sure and confident hope it is for all who believe! Jesus sealed it for us through His death and resurrection bringing life and freedom and joy.
Now, as I read her countless loving emails, I feel as if she's in her study, chatting to me as of yore.
“Dearestest & Sweetestest of Anu-girls,
Thank you for yours which I have just read with pleasure, as always………
I reciprocate all your love a thousand fold. Holding you close in heart always,
Your forever friend,
The email she wrote when she became gravely ill on the 30th Dec 2014 held no clue that it would be her last letter to me.
Anu-kins, My Precious Darlint,
Don't worry about me - I'm sure I'll feel okay tomorrow. Your farmhouse sounds the ideal place for a family get-together. More tomorrow, darlintest.
All my love forever,
What a shock it was then that "that tomorrow” never arrived. But I am now at peace. Death might steal those we love for an instant. But like the glowing embers of a fire which refuse to be extinguished, or a candle that pierces thick darkness, we in Christ can rejoice, because we know that relationships endure beyond the grave.