I had originally planned to put this to paper last week, but I was still busy trying to get something vaguely resembling a routine going again. Now that I’m on leave for a few days, I have plenty of time to explain my absence. Just so you know, shit gets real here so if you don’t want to hear about all my personal issues then just move along.
So there’s a few things that have been a source of stress for the past few weeks, and I’m going to break them up into different sections so that it’s easier to process. So let’s get started.
The issues surrounding the recent passing of father’s mother
It was a late Saturday evening, and I’d just gotten back from a movie with a friend of mine. We were eating the last of our takeout for supper, and I was having a rant about some of the stress back home. My mother has more than her fair share on her plate, and my dad doesn’t do as much as he should to help out. I was also pissed off about the number of things that my father takes on without thinking of the impact it will have on the rest of the family, and how in the end my mother ends up having to deal with it.
I was in the middle of this rant when the phone rang. I remember it being pretty close to 10 pm, which could only mean it was the family calling. And if it was the family calling this late, then the news couldn’t be good. It was my mum. My father’s mother, who had been pretty sick since early December, wasn’t looking good. She asked me to call my brother and sister and let them know. I put the phone down and explained to my friend what was going on. I went upstairs to get my cellphone while he finished eating. I came back downstairs and started going through the address book on my cell. The phone rang again, and I knew what was coming. My mother was on the other side. It was over. My gran was gone.
While I was shocked, I wasn’t sad. My grandmother was a cold, distant woman who spent most of her time sitting on the couch complaining about her ageing arthritic body. I’m sitting here now, trying to dig up some kind of happy memory about this woman, and while I vaguely remember her occasionally smiling, and how delicious her chicken curry used to be, I am also hit with the reality that I have no memory of my grandmother’s laugh.
My friend who was with me made sure I was okay, finished eating, and left. I got on the phone and called my brother and sister. The next morning all three of us were on a plane back home.
Arriving back home was surreal. The road in front of our house was usually pretty empty, except for Friday and Saturday nights when guys would usually park their cars and stop to drink and smoke away from their families. We arrived to find our driveway and both sides of the road near our house filled with cars. We drove a little bit in the hope that a spot would miraculously appear, but it didn’t. We decided to take the car around to the back entrance to our house. We called and asked someone to let us in.
After I’d dumped my few things in my room and said hello to the immediate family, I took a walk around the house. I was greeted with condolences by faces that were distantly familiar, and by faces that I’d never seen before. I later discovered that some of these unfamiliar faces were (by Indian standards) close relatives. I eventually found my father, said what little I had to say, and tried to spend time with the people in my home, most of whom were strangers to me.
The next day was the actual funeral, an event that caused me some degree of emotional turmoil.
Firstly, while my father is Hindu, I am basically an atheist (my mother is Anglican, just by the way). While I respect the right for every individual to practice their religion, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others, I really don’t put much faith in it as a system in the modern era. Unfortunately, family being family, I knew I had to put up with it, even if I thought it was a complete waste of time. And don’t mistaken my issues with religion to mean that I have issues with the importance of ritual. Almost every time I go back home I go to the spot where we buried my dog Shadow, and I spend a minute or two there. I understand the purpose of ritual to the individual, but honestly, being forced to take part beyond a point I was happy with something that really pushed the boundaries of my patience.
One such instance was having to touch my dead grandmother’s feet. Something I had issue with because A, it’s meant to be a sign of respect (sorry, but I don’t automatically respect you just because you’re blood), and because B, it’s something you might want to tell someone about a bit before hand. Again, I was forced to take part despite my issues because I knew what the fallout for my mother would be if I didn’t.
Secondly, there’s the fact that that even though I am an adult, there are two things that can turn me into a whining short-tempered brat incredibly quickly: hunger, and boredom. I am well aware of this, as is my family. So being forced to sit in a hall for an entire afternoon doing pretty much nothing while even more people I didn’t know came to pay their respects to a woman I didn’t really care much for…. well, my family said I handled it very well.
Finally, I was filled with a bit of regret. Despite what I knew about my grandmother, it was strange to see these people who had an entirely different impression of her when she was younger. My one uncle was always talking about the things my grandmother did for his mother, and how he was eternally grateful. My father asked the priest to talk about the things my grandmother did, despite only having a couple of years of schooling.
It did seem that by the time I joined the circle of life, the universe had broken my grandmother, and turned her into the cold woman I knew growing up. My grandmother came from a family with very little, and later on in her life, lost her daughter at a very young age. It seems her daughter’s death was too much for her, and so she became very bitter. This bitterness drove her husband to drink (or so I’ve been told), and pushed her daughter-in-law, grandkids, and son away from her too (while my father was undoubtedly upset by her passing, the fact that he left my mother to deal with his mother for most of her later years speaks for itself).
In regards to the events on the day of the funeral, apart from the fact that the priest got my father’s surname wrong (total facepalm moment), and the fact that the catering arrived very late, it went reasonably smoothly. This was thanks to many of my relatives, some of whom I barely knew, who stepped up and helped with organising everything (and for which I am genuinely grateful). It was also interesting to see how modern cremations take place, and how it’s nothing like you see in the movies. They basically just roll the casket into a giant metal box, close it, and that’s it. It’s all very anti-climactic if you ask me.
So needless to say it was a very stressful few days back home. When I got on the plane that Tuesday evening, I was grateful to be returning to my reasonably stress free life back in Cape Town.
It seemed however, that life had other plans…