The hardest part wasn’t the funeral. Entering her house and being greeted by silence. That was the hardest part. For a moment we were all lost, not knowing what to do, where to start. After what seemed to be like an eternity, Mom took the reins. I was assigned the cellar. It was kind of ironic because as far as I can remember, grandma never wanted us down there and although we were curious children, the tone of her voice convinced us never to try.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I found. The “cellar” was in fact a bedroom. It was just big enough to contain the double bed with a nightstand, a closet and a simple table and a chair. They appeared old but well kept. The few clothes in the closet reminded me of the late 80s. The bedsheets looked fresh and clean. On top of the nightstand were a stack of letters and a worn rosary. I smiled; Mamie always kept a rosary in every room of her house but why would she keep a stack of letters though? She could barely read.
Curiosity got the best of me, and I started reading one of the letters. The more I read, the more things started making sense. This scenery, past conversations, the heavy silences during family reunions, everything felt like a puzzle coming together. These were letters from my uncle Kamal. They were a reminder of the son she lost but couldn’t grieve. He had left some thirty years ago to pursue a medical degree abroad, but five years after his departure, Kamal had abruptly stopped sending letters. And despite all the efforts, the family had never been able to re-establish contact with him.
Seeing this room and reading those letters broke my heart for my grandma. In one of his last letters, he was telling her that he would soon be back, and he couldn’t wait to introduce her to his fiancée. Until that moment, I had never really grasped the depth of the situation. Now, I was having a peak at another side of my granny’s humanity and surely what must have been her greatest pain. Loosing a child and not being able to fully grieve him, because it would mean that you lost all hope.
Did she come down here at night and cry herself to sleep? Did she fervently pray the rosary for her son’s return? How many times and how long did she sit on the bed, wondering what had happened to him? How did she manage to not let bitterness overtake her? How did she keep it all together? How did you not lose your sanity?
A hand grazed my shoulder; it was my mom’s. I was so deep in my thoughts, I did not hear when she entered the room. Looking into her eyes I ask, “How do you do it?”
Her answer was muffled in her tears and it was ok.