Absence is all that is present
Once we leave high school we realise that pretty much everything around us is temporary – friends, teachers, boyfriends. As we move from school to college and then to university, and out of our hometowns and cities, we realise that this change and impermanence is actually quite fun – meeting new people and a chance to start over each time. All this while subconsciously we firmly believe that the only thing permanent in our life would be our family. No matter where are go and where we live, they’ll always be waiting for us- at ‘home’.
We then get so busy growing up that we forget that our parents (or grandparents) are getting old (or older) and inching toward ‘impermanence’ each day. The thought that someday they might not be in our lives is brushed off as “nonsense”. Or if you are like me, you don’t forget it, you just dread to acknowledge it even to yourself- thinking “if I ignore it, may be it wont happen”.
When I was a little child, my mum was always away for work and it was just me and my grandparents at home for as long as I can remember. They were the ones to get me to school, bring me back, check my homework, feed me the much hated veggies and do rest of the regular stuff that adults do to torture kids.
When I gradated from Aston Uni three years ago, they were both beaming with pride. All the hard-work I had put in seemed worth it now because of their happy faces. Now when I stand at the verge of losing one of them, I’m of course, unable to cope with it and find myself falling deeper and deeper into depression.
My grand mum, who has been suffering from a lot of age related illnesses for a while now, suddenly took a turn for the worse, when she had a series of mild strokes within a very short span of time.
As names, faces and words are seeping out of her memory, I feel that I have lost one of the most important persons in my life already. She doesn’t remember me anymore, or most people for that matter. (She didn’t even recognise herself when my mum showed her a pic of the two of us together).
It breaks my heart a little bit more each time, when on Skype she asks my mum who I am. I used to be her favourite grandchild (much to the dismay of my little cousins). She used to assure me that by the time I go home this year, she’ll be up onto her feet and if not, my presence will “cure” her and she’ll go visit our old neighborhood with me. None of that happened.
With my passport still with the border agency for visa extension and no way for me to leave the UK at the moment, I feel I have lost my grandmum already- to the stroke that wiped me right out of her memory.
On Sunday afternoon, when I was cooking dinner, my mum called me on Skype. I got a glimpse of my gran then. To be honest I’d prefer not to her see in that state but a part of me takes it as a reassurance that she’s still with us. The puzzled look on her face meant that she still had no clue who I am. To help things along, my mum reintroduced me to her and asked her to ask me what I was cooking. At this point my mum was trying hard, for my sake, to make a conversation happen.
And asking me what I am cooking or what I’m about to have, would definitely be the apt question. It used to be my gran’s favourite question. How was my day? How was work? How’s the weather outside? – nothing seemed to matter to her. The first question each day would be – “What did you have?” and inevitable followed by “What are you going to have in your next meal?”
Back to our Skype call on Sunday:
When I told her I was making chicken. She said, with a firm nod, “That has always been your favourite”. For a split second my heart stopped, I went speechless. It felt like I had my gran back. I didn’t know what to say, rather I didn’t want to say anything just so I could hold on to the feeling and I hoped that may be, just may be, she still remembers me. But who was I kidding? After a couple of seconds of awkward silence, she started saying random things again, which made me realise that my 15 seconds of happiness was up and I fell back into reality with a painful thud. It was very hard to fight back the tears at that point.
I’m still struggling to accept the fact that she might not be around for too long. Time off work, shoe shopping, tubs of Haagen Dazs, nothing seem to help. No matter what I do I have these sad thoughts- like a heavy weight in my chest that wouldn’t go away even with deep sighs.
My life, of course, will never be the same again. I’ll just have to accept that and find a way to deal with it. I know I will, eventually. (Not like I have an option anyway). What’s giving me strength right now are the memories we made in the last 26 years. Also, the fact that I never took them for granted. Every day they came on Skype, I reminded myself how lucky I was to have them. I would also take a snapshot each time , and that would go into a well preserved folder. I guess I always knew this wouldn’t last forever and I did all I could to hold on to the moments that we spent together.