On my grandfather’s death
I think Death itself isn’t as scary as the moment when it begins to dawn on someone. This thought wrapped around my mind as I gazed upon the face of my grandfather. Confined to the hospital bed, dark color of dead skins dispatched all over his broken arm, he resembled the remnants of living. There were skins, then some hair, and bones. Boney, angular features. Nothing less, nothing more, nothing left in between the frail exteriority and the failing interiority. I wasn’t sure if he really saw me the moment his eyes landed on me. His eyes widened, but not in recognition. They simply functioned the way they were supposed to — to capture the sight that lies ahead. He saw a young woman approaching his bed — that I’m certain of — but his face was telling me that he had little to no recollection of what I was, what I meant to him.
I knew dying could be swift transpiration, termination, and a foray into oblivion in the blink of an eye, but I wasn’t prepared to witness it eating someone away so slowly. To see it chew someone’s spirit until there was nothing left except the thinnest, tinniest fabric of mind. To see it feed on someone’s vital essences like mere fodder. Maybe that was why my grandfather became skeletal, skins all papery and soaked deep in a palette of gruesome colors, a pigment of his struggles, a testimony of his longevity, or prolonged inevitability. Death was claiming his body. It wasn’t beautiful.
I used to think a lot about anticipatory grief — mourning the loss of what still exists. Mostly for myself. That took place in private. It was different this time. This grief passes from hand to hand like unwanted heritage. Anticipating one’s grief is about being cognizant of the arrival of one’s ending. You see it coming to you, like morning light hitting window panes, and probably with enough willpower you could crawl out of the shadows the light was set to destroy. This one popped out like bubbles in a soft drink. You see it, and know it’s going to burst into thin air any moment, and it could have happened so many times. Still, you don’t know when, until it really happens. To so many people.
I tiptoed around the outskirts of tragedy. This death came crashing down on me. Like a time-honored Giant falling, an incident that took place as quickly as it ended. For others, it burned and burned and burned. It’s still burning. I heard my aunts and uncles couldn’t sleep the tragic night away. I and my mother did. But I don’t know what happened in her dream, or what plays in her fully conscious mind when the day awakens. We don’t talk about heartbreaks, even when we were breaking each other’s hearts like it was something written in the constitution, something legally binding. I don’t really cry in front of her, or anyone. She doesn’t do that in front of me, as well. Instead, a man she once loved as a husband bore witness to her mourning. Marriage is such a mystery. It bonds love and indignation, violence and vulnerabilities, splendor and misery — together. The most violent man in the family is the one who commits the act of caring for her. Me, a person she loves as a daughter, cannot do that. Fucking insane. What the fuck even is a marriage? What am I without being a daughter, then? Because I know we can never stand on the same footing, as an equal woman.
My mother moves like a storm — emotions unwinding at god’s speed, bleeding havocs instead of teardrops’ trails. I learned to step aside, trying not to get hurt, and probably hurting her in the process. But I am just a human with a body and a tired heart. My hands cannot hold or console the storm. When it happens, I let it happen, in her own room. No words. No physical touch. We live in cordiality, not intimacy. At least for me. My usual offering is my ears. They hear and remember stories, jokes, buried secrets that rear their ugly heads under hushed whispers. Well, they discard many, but tuck some close to my heart, far from the perils of being forgotten.
The latest story wasn’t funny or ugly. It was about my grandparents. After a really long time, grandma finally visited her long divorced husband, now on his deathbed. Not a visit, really, in nature it was a farewell. Grandma knew that her visit would release my grandfather from the earthly chains. With a glimpse of her face, her promise of burden-bearing, her grace, her life. And it really did. They all did. After all this time, even when Death was everywhere, he saw — and remembered — her, and what she meant to him. I’m not sure if love has anything to do with this. I do not have that much knowledge of their lives, besides the fact that there were so many years of sunken marriage standing between them. At the end, she reached out — across all of that — to him. He grabbed her hand with all the might he could muster. Then he let go.
Again, I am not in the place to say this is a love story. I only see people living through webs of intertwined fates. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t always ugly. It wasn’t painless and it wasn’t forever hurtful. And Death wasn’t always beautiful, or ugly. All I know is that — at last — when hunger died down and there was nothing left to devour, it turned its head to look at him, like an old friend.