Lessons in Loss

I wrote this post last year in an attempt to come to terms with losing my grandmother. From the fact that I dissolved into tears after rereading this post, I think I haven’t succeeded still, over a year later. And I don’t think my grandfather managed either. A little over a month after losing my grandmother, he developed Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. He began to believe that my grandmother is still alive and often complained that she goes out too much these days instead of spending time with him. 

One of his old students wrote a biography of him and gave him an advanced copy of it. Despite his shaky hands, he managed to read the whole book, and when his student returned to ask if he liked the book, he asked her why on earth she would print that my grandmother has passed on when she clearly hasn’t. The student stammeringly apologised and assured him that the error would be corrected in the mass market copy and that this is an advanced copy and not the final one. He then borrowed a pen from my mom and determinedly scratched out that sentence from the book viciously with his trembling hands. This scene just keeps replaying in my head whenever I think of either of them. And I want to cry and cry all over again.

I don’t think I truly understood the quiet love and devotion the older generation of arranged-marriage couples has for each other until I saw my grandfather deteriorate and recede into the past because of his inability to cope with his grief. 

I don’t share too many personal things on this blog but this is my personal story of heartbreak, loss and pain. Maybe if I write about it enough, I’ll learn to understand and accept it. Maybe. 

Here is what I wrote last year:

When I was around 9, my grandmother lost one of her gold earrings.

It was summer. I was in the habit of going to my maternal grandparents’ house for weeks during my vacation. It was blissful – lolling about, reading, watching TV and being fed till I could eat no more by my grandmother, and my uncle, who dotes on me. I wouldn’t talk to my friends back home at all those few weeks, not having the internet or a cell phone. Often, I didn’t talk to my mum either. The idea seems so strange now, now that we’re so “connected” all the time. Instead, I had made new friends near my grandmother’s house and I would play with them in the evenings. I barely got to see them the rest of the year, but we resumed our friendships each summer with minimal awkwardness. I feel bouts of wistful nostalgia thinking about those days even though I’m barely twenty one and far too young to feel this way. It’s probably a testimony to the fast-changing times, I suppose.

My grandfather is a simple, intellectual man with few wants and he expects his family to be the same way. My mother tells me that while she and her siblings never felt deprived of their needs, they did not have many fineries when they were growing up. He is a writer and a historian and a man of great strength and discipline. I do believe that my grandmother as much respected him and was in awe of him, as she loved him. He is a stern man, serious; although he is also loving. The earrings were a gift from him to my grandmother.

I remember that my grandfather never said anything to my grandmother about the loss, but it was apparent that he was hurt. He was not the type to give gifts or demonstrate his affection in any way and this was one of the few times that he had. My grandmother, for her part, was crushed and ashamed. She looked for it for weeks. She had me look under their bed more than once because I was smaller than she was. She had the maidservant look for it every time she swept the house. Unfortunately, the earring was never found. I was a sensitive child and I could feel her pain and distress each time she spoke about it, but I never quite understood it. I was a spoilt brat and I have been told by my parents that I have no value for things because they automatically get replaced every time I lose them.

I stopped going over there in the summer as I grew older and went only on Sundays with my mum. I got swimming lessons instead, and music lessons and God knows what else. We didn’t get to stay very long on most Sundays either so I honestly don’t know if my grandmother ever stopped looking for that earring.

About two months ago, I received a call from my mother that my grandmother has passed away. I go to college in a different city and I didn’t get to say goodbye, and I didn’t visit her the last time I was at home for around four days. She’s gone and she can’t be gotten back, as hard as I wish it.  It is so tempting to look under that same bed in that unchanging room and hope very hard that I can find her hiding from me there, just the way she hoped to find that earring all those years ago. That’s what life seems to me to be about now: Losing valuable things and people and finding the strength to move past the pain, and the shame of not valuing them enough when they were there. I don’t know if my grandmother ever stopped hoping to find that earring, but I know I’ll never stop wishing I could have had one last summer with her.

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