At first I thought that Christmastime wasn’t the best time of year to read such a heart-breaking book. Then I realized that, given the day the tsunami occurred, it was the perfect time to read it. Sonali Deraniyagala’s entire family was killed in the tsunami of December 26, 2004. This book is her story of how it happened and how she has come to terms with it over the years.
The book is broken up into sections, starting with the day of the tsunami and ending with a day in June, 2012. It is filled with her descriptions of the shock, anger, guilt, pain, and healing she experienced over the years, as well as the precious memories of her life before the wave.
“I thought nothing of it at first. The ocean looked a little closer to our hotel than usual. That was all.”
During the Wave:
“If this is not a dream, I must be dying. It can be nothing else, this terrible pain. That jeep turned over, and now something is killing me. But how can I be dying? Just now I was in our hotel room. Just now I was with the boys. My boys. My mind shook itself, it tried to focus. Vik and Malli. I can’t die. For them, I have to stay alive.”
Immediately after the Wave:
“Was it real, what just happened, that water? My crumpled mind couldn’t tell. And I wanted to stay in the unreal, in the not knowing.”
“I’d never heard shrieking like this before. So wild, wretched, it frightened me, rattled the wall I was holding on to. The noise was crackling into the numbness in my head. It was blasting the smallest stir of hope in my heart.”
In the years after the Wave:
“Such a puny life. Starved of their loveliness, I feel shrunken. Diminished and faded, without their sustenance, their beauty, their smiles.”
“And maybe I forfeit being their mother because, at times, I feel hopelessly responsible for their death.”
“For years I’ve told myself it’s pointless to cherish my children’s personalities and their passions, for they are now dead. But here in our home I am surrounded by proof of it all. I unlock my mind a little and allow myself to know the wonder of them.”
“Their promise, my children’s possibilities, still linger in our home.”
As a mother, this is the one that really gets me:
“In those terrifying moments, my children were as helpless as I was, and I couldn’t be there for them, and how they must have wanted me.”
Re-reading these passages is bringing back the tears.
I thought this was a powerful memoir about family and grief. How hard would it be to describe how it feels to lose everything you know and everything you are in a matter of minutes? I can’t even come close to imagining what it would be like to lose my family. In honor of Sonali Deraniyagala’s lost family, and all the other lost families of the many catastrophes of recent years, I will try to remember to cherish mine. Sometimes I forget. It’s good to be reminded. Because, who would I be without them?