A partner in grief.

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I have made myself an open wound to grief. I allow it to quietly settle into the recesses of my heart.

Its tentacles spread out in directions countless, frozen – it binds everything that it touches.

I nurse it, for I am addicted. Within its blue knot, there’s an orange fire secure.

That’s where the embers glow amid dead coal.

In that deep pit, my sturdy soul.

Can I lay by your side?

I find it funny, and pathetic that I have no control over how my day could go after a night’s sleep. This, despite all the discipline and self-control and my so-called right choices, which in the larger scheme don’t seem to be the best after all. Just a realistic dream of my beautiful, late grandmother leaves me tortured when I wake up… not because I’m reminded of her loss, but because I saw her suffer in living once more in my dream. It was so painful to think once more of the pain she died of- what a pity that we could do nothing but watch and offer sympathetic service, while she lived through it all, on medicines, on morphine. I cannot seem to let go of those scenes in my head, when she would cough, hardly able to breathe, when she would throw up, unable to keep her food down, when she was so weak and would scarcely be able to walk by herself to the dinner table. All that pain that we watched her undergo alone, comes back to haunt me in my dreams.

Those were the last dregs of my childhood; of my life as I knew it. Suddenly I find myself thrown into an unfamiliar landscape, similar in many ways to how it was before, but in many ways starkly different. It’s a different kind of isolation that I experience now. It isn’t one of never having known love, but to have loved and lost. It’s a feeling of powerlessness, instead of pity. It’s a sense of not being of this world in the present, such a sudden onset of detachment, and then after a minute, none of that – just the comforting coldness of reality. Go about breakfast as usual, smile at people you know, greet them, tell them about your weekend, go for walks, chatter over lunch, shop for groceries, text a friend, cook a meal, and try to fall asleep, knowing that your dreams can destroy you once again and you can’t always let it show. You can’t let it show because there’s only so long that you can dampen others’ spirits. You can’t let it show because to others, it is not real. It’s just very vivid memories haunting you senseless. And you are yielding to them, against your better judgment.

That was cathartic.

I’m struggling.

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I took a nap today afternoon. And I had a dream that struck me quite significantly. I was on a plane with my grandparents. The plane crash lands and a lot of its passengers slip into the water, including us. For a split second I find myself wanting to just float and relax before having to get into something of a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. Then I realize that my grandparents couldn’t swim, and I spot them at a short distance. I swim frantically towards my grandmother first, thinking that her lungs were weak from the cancer and she would be in more desperate need for air. I manage to help her up, and somebody else helps me by taking her ashore. I find my grandfather, and I pull his head above water, and assisting him on the back of my shoulder, I take him ashore. I woke up after that, and for a moment there I wanted to call up my grandparents and chat them up about things. Then for a single unreal moment, I stood there, and thought back to last year when my grandmother passed away. In fact, it was exactly a year ago plus another two days, when I flew along with my grandparents for their annual vacation.

I have to admit, I’m struggling to juggle all these thoughts in my head. All of these emotions swirling in my psyche, barely keeping afloat… a lot like last year around this season actually. But there is a difference. This time, I don’t want to give in and just let it be. This time I want to make the effort, go the extra mile, and take control of situations that are within my control.

That’s what is going to make this time different. I know it.

Adieu, my precious.

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.

Just two months before her departure. Isn't she looking radiant? :)

Just two months before her departure: an evening with my grandfather who seems to be lost deep in his thoughts. Isn’t she looking radiant? 🙂

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.

Some days are tough.

Some days I’m screaming inside my head, begging the cosmos, the universe, and whatever else may be so expansive and powerful, even if only in the concepts of certain people; I beg them to give me back what was once mine, laying claim on my happy memories, my source of joys, my sense of self, my sense of family and home, and the source of my comfort. I am begging for the existence of people long gone to be restored at their best. I don’t mean to be selfish, but some days are harder than others.

Losing my grandmother in June has been tough. I cannot say I have overcome the grief. It was most tragic, and certain circumstances made me feel bitter at the time. However, this time around, most people are me were respectful and supportive of each other. The atmosphere was calm, and the memory of the departed was vivid. Everybody felt the presence and treated it with the kindness that it deserves. I recognize this because losing my paternal grandmother over a decade ago was one of the harshest experiences of my childhood. It felt like dominoes toppling down one after the other. For starters, I lost my grandfather two days later. It made me keep my guard up for years after. I had to purge myself of it, and cried hard when I finally let it go. And I might not have been successful had I been by myself – if it wasn’t for my maternal grandmother, frequently demanding to be let in and have my affection and shower me with hers, as I eventually allowed.

My maternal grandmother and I. Here I was probably a year old, not more.

My maternal grandmother and I. Here I am not older than about a year. 

Death is never easy. Its permanence strikes you and sinks in at a painfully slow rate. As much as I rationalize it to myself and regain outward composure, I only have to take a nap in the afternoon to be flung into the world of dreams where my subconscious shows me what I crave for. I want her hands in mine. I miss her sense of humour. I miss her overwhelming concern about me and everything that was about me. I miss lying next to her, simply hugging, not necessarily talking, on particularly rough days. I miss her by the side of my grandfather, for whom I feel miserably incomplete. I miss her till I am sure that it is my soul that hurts inside my chest, throbbing and struggling to be released. Every other endeavour seems like meaningless pursuit and pales in comparison to the meaningfulness of the relationship we nurtured. To me, she was not a person but a world unto herself.

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

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And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Love, Attachment, and Memories.

Last month, my grandmother passed away. Just writing that feels like a meaningless observation. Over the past month, she has been living with me in a more potent way than when she was alive. Although I’ve been working and meeting friends before I move out of this city (yes, I’m moving out, but there is no cause-effect relationship between the two), every morning I wake up to the reality that she isn’t around, and it is just my grandfather. I call him to greet him in the morning, let him know that I’m on my way to work, have finished lunch, and am going into dinner. I’m simply going through the motions, living by the schedule. Every morning isn’t just a day that I’m going into, but a recovery from the vivid dreams that I’ve had of her the previous night.

Every train ride, every rote and mundane part of the day finds me trying to define reality. For instance the other day, I was waiting for a friend whom I was meeting for dinner. It was a crowded huddle of various offices and even for a Monday night, there was plenty of bustle with young people trying to decide where to grab a beer, or go on a date, or catch-up with their friends. Everybody’s existence felt so meaningless and impersonal, and yet everybody was alive, thinking, having opinions, taking their bodies and movement for granted, their hearts and all their internal organs, as well as their emotions. All of these people, complete human beings, felt useless to my own purpose and existence. It was unlike me to think this way, but I curiously followed my thoughts, wondering where it may lead. To no surprise, I thought of her, how she had been willful like me, but embodied everything opposite of my reticence and inhibited expression of feelings. Her soul, so eternally special to me, taught me true love. We had great moments of conflict and frustration as she insisted on making my choices her way, and I insisted on hers. But in retrospect, I see all of those moments with undertones of deep love and care- two beings, her and I, among several other members of our family, dealing with the facts of our existences – that she was ill and old and utterly open with her feelings- insisting on being engaged with her loved ones as she once could be; and I was young and precocious at the same time, reckless and reserved, with all conflicting expectations still smashing together to form a coherent fabric of being and becoming, and ideas of a world very different from the one that she only learnt about through reading magazines and newspapers in her bed – struggling to be close, yet still apart given our lives and perspectives, but always persisting in our individual attempts to understand the other. I can’t tell apart love and attachment in this case. I always told her that I loved her, and she always reasoned that she said/did what she said/did out of a strong attachment to me.

Today, I was walking down the road to catch a train in the evening, and I noticed an internal monologue about how she was no more. I was convincing myself that it was a reality that I must come to terms with. But then another part of me retorted that while it was true that she would not be in my future, it was also true that she featured prominently in my past, and continued to be in my thoughts in the present. So, what really what the reality that I had to come to terms with when truth is tinged with this sort of multi-dimensionality?

And so, whenever it feels unreal, I sentence myself to relive those three days during the course of which she lived on in a final spurt of pure willpower- breathing and making the most of her failing body, and we decided to rid her of her pain and let her go.

I was talking to a friend earlier today, and said that I hoped to reach some sort of homeostasis, referring to it as a stage from which there was only an onward movement, in a while. She agreed, but suggested that homeostasis may be a process, and an ongoing unfurling of events as a result of a coping mechanism, a story we tell ourselves and live by, rather than just a Eureka-esque moment. That was both an easy as well as startling advice to accept. Easy because, perhaps, I have already achieved homeostasis, because I certainly feel like I’ve received closure. Startling because the suddenness of her demise will never quite ease in, because it has already been downed in a single, quick gulp.

I know she’s gone, I know she’s gone, but… I don’t feel what I know.

Here’s something I’d written close to a year ago, about her AND our battle with her illness.