It’s laughable, really, how you never truly understand something until it’s slowly approaching your own life. Only when it actually affects you, do you start to understand what it truly means, or the gravity of that situation.
My grandfather…doesn’t have much time to live.
Even at the airport, after clearing security and boarding the first flight. It was surreal. The hours slowly went by as I squeezed in moments of homework and movies and music through the flights, my mind elsewhere from where we were going to.
Even stepping foot in India didn’t feel real. How strange it was to be back only a little after a year. The memory of me crying on the car ride to the airport to fly back home greeted me. The moment where I cried, wondering if I wouldn’t be able to come back for years again. What would I have thought at that time, knowing I would return just as quickly, but under different circumstances?
Even after stepping into my uncle’s home and seeing my grandparents, I still didn’t understand my situation. It did, though, show me how age had left its mark on my grandfather.
He’s 76 and weaker than I had seen him a year ago. He had lost weight. A lot of it. His arms were skinny and he had lost a considerable amount of weight from his upper body. I learned that this was from an inability to eat. He could only eat a liquid form of rice and dal, and still only a small portion of it. His face also looked weary; his eyes yellow and frowned from sadness. He was frail; needing to sit down often and take frequent naps. His responses have slowed, and it takes him a minute to understand something said or asked.
Disregarding all this, I still can’t forget one thing that stood out to me that day. The happiness in his smile seeing me and my mother enter the house. The way he pulled both of us into a hug and held us there. I still didn’t understand the situation.
I guess I really understood the situation a few days later into my trip. It was when I saw my mother cry; when I saw my aunt cry; when I saw my grandmother cry. After seeing these three women- these three amazing women in my life who have supported me and stood stronger than I have- break down quietly and even loudly in front of me, I understood the situation.
I had never seen my mother cry. Heard, yes. Seen, no. She’s a strong woman, who sees things with a determined point of view. Seeing her cry was different. I didn’t know what to do other than quietly hug her and pat her back, like she does for me. Same with my aunt. It was my first time seeing her cry, and I tried to comfort her all the same. Seeing my grandmother cry was devastating.
On our last day, before we left for the airport she started crying- no, sobbing. She hugged my mother first, and as I slowly approached her she grabbed me into a tight hug as well. How hard it must be for her, but I did not know what to say.
The final hug with my grandfather upsets me. Why didn’t I cry? Why couldn’t I cry? How could I not cry? How foolish I have been to take the time I have with him for granted these past years, and how upsetting it is that I act this way in possibly the last moments I see him in person again.
My mother must have realized it as well. As we sat on the couch with him- my mother and I on opposite ends and laying our heads on his shoulder, his arms around us- I heard her cries. Why couldn’t I do that? To at least show what I truly felt at that moment. Perhaps it was my own brain not wanting this final memory to be of me crying as he hugged me.
I had cried a few times before during the trip. Once late at night while talking to my mother, another when my mother was talking to my cousin and I, and a third later on. I cried realizing how limited my interactions with him had been. The downside of being a child of immigrant parents appeared before my eyes. I had counted 7- maybe one or two more- visits in which I had been with him in person out of all 15 years of my life. I cried again as my mother explained my grandfather’s condition to my younger cousin and I, and how we needed to make use of the remaining time left: pictures, audio recordings, talking. I didn’t want to cry but it started to dawn on me more and more, just how serious things were becoming. I cried a third time when I realized how the world moves on regardless of what happens in your life.
My tears were mainly of frustration. I had gotten emails about making up the English STAAR I had missed, as well as completing my math test before an upcoming deadline. I had a Biology STAAR the day after I returned, and an orchestra concert two days afterward. ( I had not practiced in a week) I got frustrated with my dad- who at that time was trying to help me manage my studies and test preparations- every time he called me about homework. How could everything else keep going when I’m faced with this current situation? Why do I have to do this? I wanted to stop doing all my work and just use my time with my grandfather. Of course, I couldn’t. That’s the last thing he would want.
I cried while writing this post. Several times, actually. I video called him this morning and I wanted to cry. The way he greets me each phone call, saying ‘Hi beta,’ and waving. The way he quietly listens for the majority of the call as my aunt talks with us. The way he slowly understands what I say, and then responds a minute later.
Seeing how I am now, I don’t know what I’ll be like when he passes away. More importantly, what about my mother? I’ve known him 15 years of my life and with few interactions while she has for longer than I have. Before he was my grandfather, he was her dad. He being the person she cried to or argued with. He is the one who supported her more than anything. He is the one who pushed her and raised her. How can I help her at that moment? When she’s at her most vulnerable, most upset, and most devastated? I’m not ready for that moment.
Do you see how ridiculous it is? How can you only understand something until it affects you? You realize how sympathy does little to help, other than make you upset or somewhat comforted when others care. You want them to understand how you truly feel, but also hope they don’t have to go through this situation as well. Time is a cruel thing, and even crueler when you live halfway around the world from your family. If only I could turn back time to last year, or any point in the 7 years before that where I could have gone to India at least once just to visit. That way I could have spent more time with them- him. But time doesn’t work like that. So I have only one thing left. To call him. As often as I can, no matter what. Just to ask if he’s eaten, or how he is, or anything else. Something I want to do but can’t without some complications. But still, I must keep trying. Because, time is precious and you don’t realize it until you have a loved one close to dying.