I’m Still in this Dark Tsunami Wave Looking for Her

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Moanalei Sarah Long cuddles her younger sister Galoiolalealofa. Moanalei would have turned 20 in July.

September sorrows haunt me. A kind of haunting that follows you like a ghostly shadow. Even in sleep, it comes to you, tall and dark, but hollow. Emptiness isn’t the word for it, because fulfillment lies on the other side. It is, I guess, a narrow road with a dead end, no opposite, no place of rest, no relief. 

You may have heard this story before but it comes in parts, as holes in the wall of my mind.

Rumi the poet saw these holes as hope for light. Imagine stars in the darkest of nights. Imagine grief with blue wings. 

When I write about the tsunami, I feel the fall of shooting stars. I feel the sky of my childhood hovering over me, to love me back.

Moanalei is my daughter’s name. It literally means, an ocean flower in words and inspiration.  A white hibiscus flower in the dusk, swept into the wind. She finds the mouth of the river, to search for the open sea. That is how my beloved child, came and went. 

Moanalei drowned in the tsunami of 2009, 29th September. The day was just another one in paradise. Work was to mind the tourists. The air of the week prior was peaceful. If you look back as a historian from a century away, you would not remember the strange crabs crawling into the beach fales. You would not think of the boar and her piglets, and how she saved them from the wrathful wave. You would be ignorant of the pain in a strange man’s eyes. The ones which mirrored mine. He spoke to me at the morgue where we met, as strangers with the same grief. He too lost his three children. I looked into the station wagon carrying them, and remember them as sleeping children forever. I told him that they were his angels. If I had smiled, it was to hide my secret disbelief. The sky of my childhood seemed to have abandoned me.

Moanalei holding her younger sister Galoiolalealofa (Galo).

But why the year 2009 belongs to the tragedy is not so important to the by passer. 

But for the ones who were inside the wave, and their loved ones, each day is a day without the ones we lost. 

It is as if a tear of joy is stained with bitterness. And a sweeping wind of despair sits on a window pane, looking out to the passing world. It’s as if the air we breathe is a regret.

When Moanalei’s body was found, the evil sun was in the middle of the sky.  I cursed its warm sunbeams.  What is the meaning of life, if it has you carrying your lifeless child to the grave? 

If I hadn’t known loneliness, it became my friend that day. My daughter’s lifeless body on my shoulders, became my darkest day yet. She still lies there as I write this. And I am looking through the leaves of banyan trees, trying to find the sky. The sky, in her aloofness, ignores me.

But this is the 11th year since the tragic day that changed us overnight. It’s only a day in my life as a grieving mother to Moanalei. The thing is, I can pretend to have loved life completely detached anyway. 

But it’s not true. I’m inside the tsunami wave looking for her. The wave is a dark night  underneath. I hear the sounds of grief coming at me from the center of the ocean. They howl like I’m sitting by the wild volcanoes and gods of stormy weather. They roar as if I’m sitting on top of a lonely waterfall. Waterfalls drown out the noise of life, you know. 

And when life touches my shoulder, to bring me back to the living, I enter life, as a shooting star in the darkest night. I reach out to rekindle the hope that left me. I point to your eyes, to reflect rainbows of gifts they hide. I urge you to love this terrible life.

For Moanalei, I will forever stay under the tsunami sea. Till we meet again. So September sorrows own me. I’m probably a leaf in her sea breezes, floating by you. And you, my dear reader, the sun, touching my back with warmth.


Lumepa Hald