A Lonesome Christmas

emily lola tan diva channel hong kong

Don’t worry, this ain’t no Debbie Downer post, unless you make it one 😉

Christmas means something different to each of us, many don’t even celebrate this holiday. Whichever special day you celebrate throughout the year, you might still be able to relate.

The first things that come to mind about Christmas is being home with my parents and siblings.

One of my memories were when I was around 17 years old, after having baked a Red Velvet Cake on Christmas Day, gift sharing with the family, and actually left that night to go clubbing. I realized later how that might have made my Mom feel as my parents had been divorced for years at that point, and my brothers were probably gaming as usual that night.

I took Christmas for granted. In that sense, I took the important things that revolve around the holiday for granted.

10 years ago, I got up early for some holiday cooking. (I had started to do that over Thanksgiving and Christmas since we left America.) That Christmas morning, I borrowed my buddy’s kitchen that hosted a proper oven, to prepare Christmas brunch and bring them over to Grandma’s for the extended family after church.

About 8am, I felt an odd stab in my gut. As I was wondering what that was, my cell phone rang. As I looked at my dad’s name on the caller ID, my heart sank.

You see, my Ah Mah (Grandma), whom I was living with, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 72. Being the strong-willed devoted Christian that she was, she managed 2 harsh years living through that battle, more than what the doctor had predicted. 6 rounds of intensive chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation therapies for a woman in her 70’s is rough AF… her body eventually got really tired. She was finally relieved of that pain on Christmas Day – this day, a decade ago.

A major reason why I felt so much for my dad upon my diagnosis. He spent his mother’s last moments broken-heartedly trying to feed her, so she may sustain her strength, and then having to bear the thought of his daughter…

That woman was a bloody warrior, and so is my dad – I’m so proud to have come from that lineage of toughness.

Every Christmas since, I have a one-way conversation with Ah Mah, whichever city I was in. To reminisce the times we spent praying together, prepping dinner together, eating peanuts while she complained about my Ah Kong, and our talks about God. She had lived through so much hardship even after grandpa passed, including having suffered further injuries, limping made worse when she was shoved and robbed right in front of her house. (Yup, there are bullying assholes who do that to elderlies. I mean, seriously, a limping old woman is not gonna chase after you, did you really need to shove her to the ground?)

Ah Mah was the one who held her three sons together along with each of their families. Things were unpleasantly tensed and dramatically different since her passing. We just never really celebrated on Christmas Day the same way anymore, or any Sundays and major holidays. My cousin and I barely manage to keep some form of family gatherings going, mostly attended by our generation of cousins and friends. Since both of my brothers had moved back to America and me not having been in Malaysia much for Christmas since moving to Hong Kong in 2013, the tradition of Christmas and being with my immediate family became a scarcity for me.

Along with my female cousins and aunts, I had a hard time helping with the dressing of Ah Mah in her best clothes for her departure. She was the grandparent I was closest to and last of my grandparents to go. She was a mother figure I assigned as since the return to Malaysia, and I still mourn her today. I documented what I could for our family and relatives who live abroad. This was that…

This Christmas, the gift is clarity. A void I’ve felt for the longest time, exacerbated by this holiday season, is that I miss being physically closer (MUCH closer) to my parents and my siblings. To give you an idea, in the past 15 years, I’ve been in the same country as my Mom 5 times. 3 of those times were after cancer. (We just don’t come from money that way.) Between my parents, siblings and me spread out over 7 cities may sound all “worldly” and shit but honestly, it gets pretty fucking lonely for all of us.

I’m done with that.

To be put crassly, I miss the shit out of my family, and long to make one of my own.

The decade and a half of prioritizing career.. “work”.. resulted in family being taken for granted. In a way, I knew I wanted that to change but I was SCARED to face the heavy emotions that come with LOVING HARD. I distracted myself with busy schedules and chase of achievements.

FFS, it took me having cancer to REALLY wake the fuck up and bust outta this matrix.

Christmas 2018, I felt violently sick, ugly, isolated, anxious, depressed and suicidal in the hospital. The joy I clung on to was that my brother Andrew chose to spend 2 months with me in HK, came to see me on Christmas day bringing lil’ Christmas snackies from my beloved friends. It was a “normal” day in the isolation ward, that ended with a small volunteer carolling group who went around the ward spreading some holiday spirit to us bone marrow transplant patients.

I felt like an alien watching them through the room’s double doors, the sound of their singing non’ but 6 feet away from where I sat on my 2.5 feet wide bed, yet muffled and distant. Bless their giving souls.

All I wanted last Christmas was to not be in the hospital on Christmas Day this year. HE listened.

I wrote this post at a Starbucks, in one of the safest and cleanest countries in the world, not shivering my ass off in an air-conditioned hospital during a cold Hong Kong winter, not fighting off fevers, hives, nausea and pain…. admiring this sunrise…

Why is this a lonesome Christmas?

Because I’m nowhere near my parents, my siblings, my best friends and my special person. No “at least…”, no “just be grateful...”, I’m facing the fucking truth of how I can’t help feeling lonely.

I vow to never allow myself to be in this situation again.

If you had stumbled upon this post for whatever reason through this holiday, thanks for giving this read some time. How lucky WE are… to be alive, digitally connected, and to experience all kinds of love through this concept of time. To those who are also spending Christmas alone, duuuuuuude get yo’self caught up with these stand-up comedy Netflix specials – Deon Cole “Cole Hearted”, Tiffany Haddish “Black Mitzvah”, Wanda Sykes “Not Normal”, Michelle Wolf “Joke Show” and Cedric The Entertainer’s show!

aaaaand get back to making memories count with the people you love, while we’re all still around.


Published by Emily Lola Tan

I've been told that I'm tiny but tough, so I must have gotten SOME things right. On the inside, I feel like a mushy marshmellow who's a hopeless romantic and find corny cute. Writing "About Me" sections had evolved in the past x years of online profiles, currently, it sits at me still hungry for enlightening experiences and insightful traveling, particularly with human connections. My story at full length on the "About" page :) Thank you for poking around!

Leave a Reply