Remembering my sister: Erly Tresnawaty Tanusondjaja.

My sister and I, probably sometime in 1973
My sister and I, probably sometime in 1973


It was a month ago that I lost my eldest sister – even that does not sound right, as we didn’t really lose her. Yes, she is not with us physically but we believe that she won the fight and that she is now with God, and has said hello to Dad and our younger brother Handy, who left us in 2008.

Grief is a peculiar thing. When I said goodbye to my younger brother in 2008, or to Dad in 2011, I was compelled to share my grief here on my blog and lay bare my raw emotions and thoughts. This time around, my grief was internalised as I wanted to keep the last moments that I shared with my sister with me, until I am ready to share them with you. The moments felt personal and sacred, and I wasn’t ready to reopen the wound.

That moment is now – a month after she left.

My eldest sister was born on November 30, 1959 and was named Tan Soen Ing, with an Indonesian name of Erly Tresnawaty Tanusondjaja. She was known to be a prickly person, with a fiery temper. I remember the angry exchanges that she had with my other siblings  and the quarrels that she had. I suppose this is also the side that most people remember of her – which is a pity, as I believe that she was a really beautiful person inside.

My sister, my niece and Mum went to visit Yani and me in Adelaide - March 2013.
My sister, my niece and Mum went to visit Yani and me in Adelaide – March 2013.

Although my sister had a fiery temper, she protected and loved those around her with a passion. It was her who would take me home from my English lessons, or to the local painting contests when I was a small boy on her scooter. I remember moments when I had to hug her tightly with her raincoat flowing and billowing around me as we rode in the rain. I remember her accompanying me to my junior highschool on registration day, even with her top soaking with breast milk. She left her eldest daughter at home so she could help me register to school. It’s moments like these that have left me with fond memories of her. Later on, after she got married and calmed down a lot – I remember moments when I would call home from Australia on Christmas or on Chinese New Year, and when it was turn for my eldest sister to speak to me on the phone, she would ask me, “Ry, Cie Iing nyieun angeun kacang, yeuh! Hayang teu?” – it’s hard to translate word for word, but it’s a sisterly offer whether I wanted the bean stew that she cooked. She could cook really well – her pork satays also rivalled my mother’s. She knew that I appreciated her cooking and she appreciated me back in return. Oh how I wish, we Asians are better in expressing our love to one other in words. We often take things for granted without expressing our feelings openly. It’s moments like this that I wish I had told her more that she had actually blessed me so much more than she thought she could.

Throughout her life, my sister hid behind his stubbornness and insecurities. It was her stubbornness that my parents had to battle so she would finish highschool. Dad wanted all of the children to at least finish highschool and have good education – an opportunity that was taken from him when he was young. So, Dad had to think hard to come up with a reward so she would get her highschool certificate. She went on to study at Akademi Ibu Rumah Tangga in Bandung – an academy to equip women with good homekeeping and domestic industry skills. She didn’t have the interest to study academically and her taking the course was almost a miracle in itself for my parents.

Later on, I believe that it was her insecurity that constrained her. All of us – her younger siblings – ended up with undergraduate degrees. Some of my sisters even had Masters degree, and even managed to lead better lives financially. Perhaps she couldn’t help comparing herself with her younger sisters and brothers. Maybe she felt as if she had failed somehow … all of these insecurities prevented her to see that she was so much loved and blessed by God, even in the darkest days before she left the world.

My sister was a loving person and she loved furiously. She protected her family like a lioness. If you dared to attack her children, in word or in deeds, you would have to face her. I only saw the beauty of this now, after she’s gone. In days past, as the family discussed the things that her son or daughter should do or shouldn’t do, she would defend them in a way that only a mother could. She loved furiously. I remember last year when Yani and I stayed at her house – even as she was already battling cancer, she still found time to cook us some fishball soup, because she wanted to show that she could still care for us, even in sickness.

I miss her – even just to say that I have finally got her. I understand her insecurities and anger, and that I wish I had told her not to worry of the trivial things because I loved her the way she was. I’m sure that my sister knew how much that we appreciated and loved her before she left – I will share more tomorrow of the last moments that I spent with her so I can write more coherently. My t-shirt is already soaked in tears as I’m writing this …

I miss you, Cie I’ing.


Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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