We don’t mark the New Year, my husband and I. Growing up, it was more about Christmas, which, being Armenian, we celebrated on the eve of January 5th, so instead of opening our presents on December 25th or waiting till January 6th, it became our family’s tradition to open them on New Year’s Day.
I don’t remember big NYE celebrations with the family until well into my final years at high school. The holiday and its consumer-driven extravagance had reached Dubai in the early to mid-nineties. Still, as a family, it was about the joy of togetherness, so our celebrations were dinners dishing out love, love, and more love — not the nameless, soulless parties where large numbers thronged because they “had” to do something on NYE. In the first year we were married, my husband and I thought we’d give one of these the benefit of the doubt and we went with some colleague-friends — and never did again. We stopped marking it altogether.
Except for ten years ago on this night, we joined my mother and father at home. My father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer nine years before; the hormone treatment had stopped working and he’d been on chemotherapy for 18 months since the cancer had metastasized. He was frail, the shadow of the mighty man who had climbed stories multiple times a day checking on his team’s progress on construction sites, putting the fear of god in slackers, and demolishing incompetent engineers who, thanks to nepotism, were in positions of leaderships while still in diapers.
It was a last minute thing and though he barely had any strength left in him, he went about organizing the BBQ. He bought a gas cylinder, brought it home, set up the grill, and manned it till all my mother’s delicious marinated meats were ready to be served (devoured). There were prawns and skewers of chicken brochettes with mushrooms, lamb brochettes with onion and capsicum, and minced lamb with eggplants along with big, grilled chili peppers and tomatoes — our usual, abundant, mouth-watering BBQ spread, prepared at home under the expertise of my mother: culinary genius.
His joy for having us on that NYE was palpable. Even with the battering he’d got from chemotherapy you could still see the man with the once muscular arms, still fighting the fight. He wouldn’t be able to eat much — he had no appetite and he was nauseous most of the time — and he certainly wouldn’t, couldn’t, drink, but that joy shone through his spirit and was the star that NYE. This was in the days before we documented our every move in an Instastory, but I have three photos of that night and I am grateful to have captured that moment in time — that beautiful, happy smile — as he sat by the BBQ and grilled those prawns to perfection because in a week’s time he was admitted into the hospital and he didn’t make it to the end of the month.
We know a few things for sure: We are born, we die, and the only constant is change. That New Year certainly brought change with it. Devastation. Life was not going to be the same, most of all for my mother — two years short of celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. Even after ten years my mother still tears up at the mention of him and not a day passes without his presence in her heart and in her mind. I have taken to yawning like him and when I sneeze a big sneeze — the kind that makes diners at cafés trottoirs jump out of their skins — I smile because that is my father come to life in that moment.
New beginnings are more than fireworks, parties, and clichéd resolutions. They are celebrations of people and love, so to my mother and to all those struggling with their own challenges, I celebrate you and your courage and I hold you in my heart. I love you.
Tomorrow we wake up to a new day. What will we do with it?
I tried writing this without shedding any tears, but I did, and that’s alright because I miss him and ten years is a long time to miss someone you love.