What it’s like to love and miss my dead grandfather

On some nights, I would be up until very late at night, brooding in the dark. I was never an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ person. I’d lie in bed silently watching my grandfather sleeping next to me, observing the steady rise and fall of his belly with every breath he took. He would snore loudly, almost in a constant rhythm with his mouth slightly open. Sometimes I wondered if there was a chance he’d accidentally swallowed any spiders while he was asleep.

While he was fast asleep, I would hold his hand sometimes. I would feel his soft palm; he had big, strong, hairy hands but soft palms, unlike my grandmother’s. He had never done the dishes. My uncle who would sleep in the same room had a thing for talking to himself. Sometimes, he would stomp around the room all night or wake up suddenly saying, “Huh?” Sometimes he would set off a stream of “huh’s” that would cause my grandfather to wake up and yell at him.

Shut up you, *insert choicest expletive*!

It’s a wonder why I never learned any of those swear words by heart by then. He taught me how to eat a half fried egg perfectly. He would eat around the yolk and then get to it at the end. In hindsight, I think he may have had OCD. I was happy to do it his way. But I lost practice after he died. I always felt like he was too elite for the others around him, too refined, often snubbing those that didn’t keep up with him. His distaste for people who didn’t know as much extended to his own blood, except for me. I was the apple of his eye.

His open mouth was an image I still remember clearly in my mind’s eye because that was the last I ever saw of him — him lying on the couch with his mouth open, dead of a heart attack. I distinctly remember touching his bald head. He was cold, clammy, the way I’d feel if I stepped into an air-conditioned place. They kept his body for up to 5 hours after his death but it felt like a million hours and when they took him away, I felt nothing. But at the same time, I felt like something heavy had dropped to the pit of my stomach, something that made my stomach clench and churn with anxiety, that there was no one for me to watch over in the middle of the night. No one whose hand I’d hold when we went out for ice-cream. No one to teach me all the shlokas and tell me stories and teach me swear words, even if accidentally. No one who could be wildly inappropriate one moment and highly sophisticated in the next.

I still miss him tremendously. He’s still around in my subconscious so I wouldn’t say there’s a physical void. Just a turn-back-time-and-bring-him-back-to-life-level-void. If only to feel the softness of his palms again. When he had just passed away, I often woke up in the middle of the night wondering if he would come back the next day. I knew what death was by then, its permanence, its irreversible nature. What I didn’t know about was its inevitability. I thought I’d grow up, sure, but he’d be around anyway. After he was gone, I always wondered why other people ever had grandparents that were still alive.

I remember frequently seeing an elderly, nearly bald neighbour, who would go for his evening walks dressed in formals, wearing suspenders like my grandfather did. I would always stare at his back from a distance, wondering if I should go hold his hand. On those days, it felt like he had come back.

When I write about children and their experiences with adults, I draw from my own experiences with him and my grandmother. It was always he who brought out the best in me. It was always with him that I spent the best and the quietest moments of my childhood, something I cherish to this day. Those times, those memories, they didn’t seem significant then but they do now.

I guess what they say really is true — you are only truly gone when all the people who knew you are gone. Maybe he’ll only be gone when I am. Tomorrow, there will be something new that will remind me of him.

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