she lives on in my dreams

My heart cracked and ached as my grandfather hobbled out till the gate and applied vermilion paste and rice grains to our foreheads for good luck before we departed.
What would it feel like to live with someone for a few years shy of fifty?
To lose that someone?

He stepped in to fulfill the role of a mother and a father to my mother, as she learned to live without my naani.

Being the eldest of four siblings, mum shared everything with her.
I cannot gauge the loss of a parent; I saw my mother fall apart as my grandmother was cremated.

I felt nothing. It was too unreal. Even after I was home, I’d expect the door bell to ring and there she would be, chuckling that we did think she’d gone away.
She was a fighter. Her face was softened by kindness and grace. Resilience too; she dealt with the most unfavorable of cards dealt to her in the spirit of the game and suddenly, she went away.

That she was mortal never really occurred to me. She was my naani, she loved hanging out with us and she loved being happy.
She’s always been around. She will always be around.

I was in the tenth grade when my father called. My last pre board examination had ended; I reached home, packed what I could find and left for the nursing home she was admitted to.

My grandmother’s siblings were there too. Chatting, assuring each other that it would be fine. Their eldest sister would be back in shape in no time.
Tubes and wires snaked in and out of her: that’s the best my memory has to offer.
I did not even enter her room because I knew she’d come back. She was strong.

She didn’t.

I wish I hadn’t been so sure. I wish I’d seen her alive one last time. That will remain a lifelong regret.
My relatives tell me that she could see and hear people. Her eyes were moist.

The following day was a blur. As soon as an aunt from across arrived to see naani, we received news that her health was repeatedly deteriorating.

It was almost as if she was waiting for her younger daughter to return home.

Her lifeless body was prepared for cremation according to Hindu rituals. I felt disconnected. Her? Dead?

As she lay on the ground, her eyes were half open. A relative closed them but the y remained open. My nanaji said that she was a kind soul; when the saintly die that their souls escape through the eyes.
Her right hand was a pale yellow, swollen. It looked painful.
I really wish I had seen her alive.
Since I had to study intensively for my tenth grade board exams, I postponed my trip to the farm with naani till the eleventh grade.
The last time we travelled together, and the only time, was in the sixth grade.

After her death my disdain for doctors and medicine in general intensified.
They could’ve saved her… If only they’d bother to screen her lungs once. She was an asthma patient.
I’ve come a long way since them, so has my mother.
She has learned to smile despite the void that naani’s absence left. We have grown closer since then. We give each other reasons to laugh and rant and vent and chat.
I still dream about my grandmother. Mumma says maybe it’s her way of saying hi to me.
I always sob in sleep, sans tears, sans any sound. And that’s when I almost always wake up.
My grandfather has mellowed down a lot. He has no one to bandy blows with, no one to have morning tea with. There is no one who cares if he has eaten at all. The light of his life passed away, and the light in his heart seems to have too.
Yet he lives on. Despite the maid the not cleaning the house regularly and her shabby cooking skills. Despite some of his own relatives eyeing his money and not caring to hide it very well.
His knees have weakened with time and he can hardly see.
I’m scared what will happen when he goes away.
Death makes fools of us all.
I miss you, naani.

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