I had been standing outside the Cardio ER for close to two hours. I had been waiting in the hospital itself for close to 6 hours. The visiting hours were over, but it does not apply to you when your loved one is in the ER and has little chance of survival. I could not move to seated waiting area since I was worried the guy watching the entrance would forget that he had promised to let me in once the doctors, who were dealing with an emergency inside, gave him the green signal. Relatives came and left because it was dinnertime, and they were old themselves. My grandfather and uncle were waiting for me in the room we had taken for caretakers’ boarding. We also hoped to move her- my grandmother, into the room; the doctors had said that she might recover from her critical condition, but there were little chances of full recovery or mobility. They said that there was a slim chance for her survival for another 3 months or less.
The previous day, she was conscious, woke up and held my hand. I had landed in the city just half an hour earlier. The previous time I had landed in the city was less than a month before. I was accompanying her and my granddad. I vividly remember her conversing with another old woman at the airport before boarding the flight. Always the warm-hearted extrovert. After landing, I proceeded to collect our the bags while I requested the airport attendant to wheel my grandmother’s chair and accompany my grandfather to the exit where my mother awaited our arrival, who was within my view. On the way home, there was a bit of a ruffle that delayed our journey home. My mother got nervous as my grandmother complained of her discomfort. I remembered every detail so clearly – it all came rushing back to me. A week after my time home it was time for me to go back to work. On my way out, I registered something unusual. My grandmother did not see me off at the door as she usually would. She kissed my cheek and enquired again about how I would make my way home from the airport in the city. I assured her that I would call her. A week later, on a phone call, she asked me how summer was treating me. I told her that it was really hot and draining. Resourceful as ever, she taught me to make ‘aam panna’ out of raw mangoes and I did. I told her so, and she was glad to hear that I found it to be a refreshing drink every evening when I returned home.
Less than a fortnight later, there I was, wondering if I was going to lose my grandmother. To steady my mind, I read on my phone and stumbled upon a post that seemed to suggest that in intimate equations, the other person cares less for you, and it is what the relationship itself offers and means to them that affects them the most. In that moment, I realized that the only reason I hoped for my grandmother to be around was because of my own sense of family and comfort when she was around. I realized that true as that might be, I would console myself, grieve, and accept her loss, if it meant that she would be out of pain and this absurd misery.
In that moment I thought back to the different instances when her illness made her incapable of sitting up straight for long, the pain that accompanied in doing so; that which killed her interest in TV soaps and their plots – she would once consume them religiously regardless of how ridiculously unrealistic they were and how much the rest of the family complained about them; the pain that made her so dependent on the rest of us, unable to make dosas for her grandchildren, which she insisted on even a year toward the end; the crippling drugs that made her unable to go about her life as usual. I thought about how much these episodes weighed on her self-esteem.
She was unanimously appreciated for her beauty, grace, and style among friends, neighbours, and relatives in the years before the onset of her illness, and she managed to maintain herself even a few years into therapy. At a post-illness wedding that we attended, her hair was in a manageable bob, and she posed for a family photograph looking like a fashionable septuagenarian socialite. Ah, her ageless glamour. Her illness must have been insufferable for her as my cousin recounted to me one instance when she made a comment in a conversation with my grandfather that seemed to suggest that she did not feel beautiful anymore. Perhaps not in the way she used to be- I will be objective here and admit that her jawline was not as sharp as before, and she did not have the stamina to tie her sari any longer and therefore, never wore them. In fact, for her final flight, we purchased a colourful tunic that she might pair with one of our tights- not an outfit she usually wore. She seemed to like it, and my cousin texted me several pictures of them posing while she tried it on at home for the first time.
But let me return to what I mean by my grandmother’s timeless beauty- it was her spirit for life till the very end, and her immaculate self-awareness, which allowed her to care for others despite her debilitating pain and overwhelming discomfort. She was larger than life. And to speak objectively, her physical beauty never really went away either.
Holding onto all these thoughts and memories, I decided to let her go. She meant more to me than what the relationship meant for my psyche. May her soul rest in peace and boundless joy. This was simply an end to the fatal disease, not the least to her timeless preciousness.