In the minutes after, she looks just the same. She is still warm, her face clear and beautiful, her skin smooth and supple [“Coconut oil keeps my skin young”]. She is in her night clothes, her mouth slightly open, her hands are on her chest. She could be sleeping. She doesn’t respond as we call out to her.
In the hours after, she looks little like the person she was. Her face has turned pale white, the skin beneath her chin sags, her neck doesn’t hold up.
There are too many people, she wouldn’t have liked that. The house is a mess. Ask someone to clean it up. Ask everyone to leave, crowds annoy her.
We have to dress her in the clothes she will wear to her cremation. Not a stiff saree. Not an old one, she might feel she appears washed out. Find a saree that is soft like a baby’s palm, that smells of her.
Leave her alone.
Take off the watch, someone says. Her wrist is limp. I gave it to her on her birthday, she never removed it even when she slept. I shall take it back, and wear it as though it were her gift to me.
We always knew, of course. When the hospital visits increased, as she lost her memory and her ability to take care of herself. But we were selfish, we wanted her for ourselves, for a few more years at least. We knew, but we didn’t know it would happen this way. Quiet, no sudden illness to speak of, no extraordinary complication that we could blame doctors for, unexpected and without fanfare; she said her farewell to us in her sleep. We didn’t hear.
Grief is in the phone call that doesn’t come, in the photograph that will soon hang on a wall, with fresh flowers adorning it every day. Grief is in the clack clack of the walking stick we don’t hear, in the television shows and the radio programs we want to ask her to turn off so we can have a moment’s peace. Grief is in the wails and the silent tears that shake the body. Grief is the tar that has been poured into our underbellies, it settles there and pulls us down; we buckle because the weight is too much to bear.
Grief is in the knowledge that she can’t call me Anukutty again.
Matriarch of a large and unwieldy clan, beloved grandmother – loved by all, but especially loved by me, or this is what we each tell ourselves.
This essay was published in Perigee, the online platform of Apogee Journal. This essay was also the one that made me one of the Voices Of The Year at BlogHer 2017.
Paati must be smiling.