The heart breaks in many ways


Messages from the heart: A tourist walks past a board with prayers and condolences for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight, displayed on a board outside Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. - AFP

Like all Malaysians, our columnist is emotionally affected by what happened to MH370 and now, MH17.

One of my New Year resolutions for 2014 was to travel more. After all, nothing beats the feeling of embarking on a journey to the unknown, the anticipation of what’s to come.

But like most people, I am emotionally affected by what happened to MH370 ... and now, MH17.

Suddenly, the thought of flying lost a bit of its lustre.

Regardless of who you are or your social stature, this is something that can happen to anyone; it’s the unfortunate case of being on the wrong plane at the wrong time. (The latest airline disaster saw an Air Algerie flight crashing in northern Mali last Thursday, carrying 116 passengers and crew. A day before, TransAsia Airways Flight GE222 crashed in Taiwan during an emergency landing; 47 people were killed.)

Four days after MH370 vanished with 239 people aboard on March 8, I had to fly to Chiangmai to attend a watch seminar.

During my stay in Thailand, MH370 was all that people could talk about. Whenever we met up, the first question amongst Malaysian editors was: “What’s the latest?”

At a packed restaurant, a Thai friend observed a family in animated conversation at the next table, and said: “Guess what they’re talking about?”

On our last night in Chiangmai, at a dinner in a beautiful restaurant that overlooks a river, we were given lanterns to release into the night sky. In Thailand, it’s symbolical to wish for something. On that night, everyone wished for MH370 to return home safely.

In my hotel room, CNN was on 24/7, and I could not tear my eyes away from the screen. It was the first time that Anderson Cooper – my favourite newscaster – had mentioned “Malaysia” so many times in the span of an hour, but I wish it was in happier circumstances.

One early morning, I was completely transfixed by an interview conducted with Danica Weeks on TV. The New Zealander’s husband, Paul, was one of the missing passengers from MH370.

Paul left his wedding ring and watch at home, with instructions to Danica to pass them on to their two sons “should anything happen” to him.

Gripping her husband’s wedding ring, Danica was fighting back tears, and I soon realised my eyes, too, were welling up. At that time, it had been five days since MH370 vanished, but with little information about the plane’s whereabouts, Danica said “the wait feels like an eternity.”

“That’s the toughest part every day – waking up and watching the news and seeing that there’s nothing; and there are no calls from Malaysia to say ‘we’ve found something’,” related Danica.

That’s when it hit me. More than anything else, the uncertainty of your loved one’s fate is what kills you.

Although it’s under completely different circumstances, watching Danica’s interview brought back painful memories of two Novembers ago, as my dad laid in a hospital bed in Penang, fighting for his life.

During that one week, as I flew back and forth between KL and Penang, I was in a zombie-like state of mind. As doctors told my family to prepare for the worst, I kept hoping and praying for a miracle. But the uncertainty ... Will he live? Will he die? That feeling haunted me every single minute.

When he finally passed away, I was consumed by grief, naturally, but yet relieved that he was no longer suffering and in a better place. At least I knew the answer to his fate and could prepare for some sort of closure.

Four months later, we still don’t have an answer as to what happened to MH370. My heart ached for the victims and families affected ... but little did any of us expect another heartbreak, so soon.

On the late evening of July 17, when I got a phone call from a friend about MH17, I initiallly thought it was a hoax.

But no, it was a real life nightmare; the Malaysia Airlines plane had crashed in strife-torn east Ukraine, with US officials saying it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. That night, I doubt Malaysians got any sleep, as they stayed glued to the TV or Internet for latest updates.

Two days ago, on the first day of Raya, I turned 40.

As I blew out the candles on my cake, I made a birthday wish. It was a simple, perhaps naive one: For the tragedies that keep befalling our beloved country – and her countrymen – to stop.

It’s going to take a long, long time for these wounds to heal ... if ever.

Let’s continue to pray for MH370 and MH17, not just for the missing/deceased passengers and crew, but for their loved ones left behind.

Although William found it difficult to pen this particular column, he’s glad he did. He promises to go back to being fun and discussing fashion in the next instalment. Send your feedback to star2@thestar.com.my.

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