Bittersweet Raya for Sabah standoff heroes' kin

As the takbir raya emanates from mosques and surau today to herald the arrival of the month of Syawal and Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration, scores of Muslims nationwide will greet it with joy in their hearts.

But for the families of the security personnel who died defending Malaysia's sovereignty against Sulu intruders in Lahad Datu, the celebrations will be a bittersweet one.

It has been more than five months since 10 security personnel lost their lives in Lahad Datu, but for their families, the Raya atmosphere has only served as a stark reminder of their loved ones' absence.

For Sumiati Suarah, the widow of Sergeant Major Baharin Hamit, the absence is palpable as her late husband was always the one who handled the Raya preparations.

"I still find it hard to believe that he is no longer with us because he had left a strong presence at home and places we had been together. Each time I feel sad, I remind myself he died a hero.

"This year's Raya is not the same but we will celebrate it with him in our minds and hearts," said Sumiati, who cares for her children Muhammad Izzat Syafiq, 16, and Nur Izzaty Syafiqah, 11.

Muhammad Izat said he missed his father but knows that he died bravely.

"My dad is a hero and I am very proud of him. Being the man of the house now, I will make him proud and take care of my family."

Sitti Bandorah Mahalil, widow of Sergeant Major Abdul Azis Sarikon, said this year's celebration with her five children in Semporna would be a modest one.

She said she had been putting up a brave front and has remained strong with support from family members, friends and even her husband's former colleagues.

Marlina Utan, widow of Sergeant Salam Tugiran, is also putting on a brave front.

She said they would celebrate among themselves with only some close relatives and friends.

"It's better this way," said Marlinah when met with her three children Mohd Azreen, 16, Mohd Azizie, 13, Umie Alia Aulia, 11, and Umie Anira Umairah, in their Tawau home recently.

Meanwhile, in Kangar, , the family of the late VAT 69 commando, Assistant Superintendent Zulkifli Mamat, believed that Aidilfitri would never be the same again without him.

"Words can hardly describe the sadness that has engulfed the house as the family members are still struggling to come to terms with his death. The house is 'empty' without him and the kids are always asking about their father.

"All I can tell them is that their father is in syurga (heaven)," his widow, Noor Aziah Noor, who is six months' pregnant said.

The mother of two said this year's Raya would be celebrated on a small scale for her children.

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