Monday, August 5, 2013

A tsunami of emotional turmoil

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

On Sunday, December 26th 2004, I welcomed visitors into my home to meet our three day old baby girl, Raina June.  She quietly greeted her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and our best friends.  Most of the day, she spent rolled in her burrito swaddling blanket patiently looking around her new home.  Every once in awhile she cried gently, and she was promptly handed to me to be fed while our guests engaged in lively after Christmas banter.  I, too, sat quietly most of the day as an endless stream of visitors came through our front door to welcome Raina into the world and celebrate Christmas with my husband and me. I felt overwhelmed by emotions - I was a new mother.  Our new baby girl had so much love surrounding her.  It was Christmas and somehow in the flood of the anticipation of Raina's arrival, the birth, hospital stay and arriving home, I had missed the actual holiday, but I still felt the rush of holiday happiness.  Warmth, new life and holiday spirit washed over me on that December morning.

Sonali Deraniyagala, half way around the world, experienced a different flood on that same morning.  As she and her family quietly basked in the afterglow of their holiday celebrations - her two young boys sat in their resort hotel room playing with their Christmas toys, and she and her husband were leisurely getting up to their morning vacation routine - a tsunami rushed toward their Sri Lankan, nature preserve, beach front resort.  After glancing outside, Deraniyagala felt panic as the ocean met the horizon at an abnormally high peak and was moving toward them fast.  No warning was given.

She yelled at her boys to run.  She shouted for her husband to hurry, and not until he heard her repeated cries to move did he react to the danger.  She did not have time to warn her parents in the room next to her as they ran out of the resort and hopped in a jeep.  All the moments of panic were quickly overtaken by the huge wave as it reached land and swept the jeep and anything else in its path away, away, away.  She remembered turning over and over again and then resurfacing to catch hold of a branch, disoriented, turning in circles over and over as the water surrounded her.

On Sunday, December 26th as we welcomed new life into our family, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her two young sons, her husband, and her parents to the tsunami.

I remember the pictures on the news and how I had to turn it off not wanting those sad emotions or images in my fantasy baby moon land.  I wanted to protect my new baby from even the thought of such a natural disaster.  That could never happen here.  I will keep you safe, baby.  I will never let a wave sweep you away.

But sometimes life doesn't turn out the way you want it to, and Deraniyagala explains her devastating loss and return to life after being the only surviving member of her family in her memoir "Wave."  I choked on Deraniyagala's words.  They caught in my throat and sometimes I found it hard to turn the pages as waves of nausea swept over me - how can anyone recover from such loss?  Her battle with depression, her questions about life, her battle to find a new reality after her entire life was swept away, her desire to die and her overriding feeling of "Why did I survive when all those that I loved died?" . . . I was painfully reminded on every page how delicate life is.  How fragile we all are.  How everything can change in our lives so quickly no matter how successful or happy or careful we are.

I wasn't sure I wanted to read "Wave" because I knew it would be sad.  It was sad.  I ached when I read it for Deraniyagala's losses.  Her ability to tell her story with strength, insight, honesty and raw emotion inspired me. Anyone who reads this book will be inspired by her story of recovery in a tidal wave of so much sadness.

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