5 Months After Burning My Grandfather, I’m Terrified of Forgetting Him

Sometimes you forget what you ought to remember, and sometimes you remember what you thought you would forget

Shruthi Sundaram
The Virago
6 min readJun 8, 2022

--

Photo by Mladen Borisov on Unsplash

Death of a near one changes you in unexplainable ways. You remember stuff about them you never expected to remember and forget things that you thought you would always remember, whatever the cost.

And you never truly understand this until you’re on the other side. Irrespective of what people tell you.

My granddad, or ‘thatha’ as I called him, meant more to me than my parents until the day he passed away. Okay, he still means.

When both my parents worked until 5th grade, he was the one who would tell me stories from Indian mythology, help me sleep, take me to music classes, satisfy my food cravings, push me on the swing when I demanded, and teach me History & English. Even after my mom stopped working to take care of me, he stayed home for my studies until I was 16 during my exams(2 to 3 months a year) and continued pouring his love. Then, after my exams, both my grandparents used to take me to my native town to spend the summer holidays and pour more love.

I used to spend a minimum of four to five months with him, right by my side.

Yeah, he did a lot. And I’ll be forever grateful.

Conversations bound us.

He always respected my opinions and treated me as an individual. While he bestowed all his love on his first granddaughter, I could talk about anything and everything with him, including my school problems or taking money to bunk college classes because they sucked.

He always said, “I thought I loved your mom. But no, you’re the closest to my heart.” (in Tamil, of course).

Thatha was awesome.

He kept repeating the same stories from his school days, life, and workdays in the last couple of years. Old age, I suppose. But I never got tired of listening to them because he got so excited while narrating them! It was beautiful. I guess the main reason I fell in love with English and Literature was because of his stories about our Indian war of Independence, World War II, old music, the relationship between India and Pakistan, the journey of cricket, astrology, and his experiences with it, and so much more.

Most of the time, I was enthralled by his world. It sucked me in and kept me in awe throughout.

But lately, I feel I cannot remember those precious stories. The details. The years. The characters. It feels like water slipping away through the creaks of my hand. And it feels like I’m frantically trying to note them down or remember them before my brain is completely drained out of those beautiful stories.

I’m filled with immense guilt because my grandad was nothing short of a prodigy—a man with tremendous knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, and more. And I was the one he spent the maximum time with—the only one he bestowed so much energy, time, and information on.

My heart breaks when I realize that if I forget those stories now, they’ll never see the daylight with the next generation. Who will pass on his knowledge? Who will inform my kids or my sister’s kids about all those fantastic stories their great grandfather had in his pocket?

The sense of helplessness swallows me.

Especially in the past few days, after we celebrated his 5th monthly death anniversary, these thoughts have plagued my mind and gripped my soul. These days, you’ll see me frantically typing and noting down what I remember, with a steady stream of tears hitting the laptop with splashes. I tried writing them down by hand, but the speed of my brain is much faster than my hand on paper. And I had to note it down before I forgot. So laptop it is.

While I’m going down this rabbit hole, I notice new information coming to light.

I remember aspects of my grandad I never fathomed to remember before.

For more than 12 to 13 years, I helped my grandad stroll, holding his hand, whenever we went on trips. And now I’m able to recall how rough his hand felt, the dry cracks on his arms and legs (I kept telling him to apply enough moisturizer, but it was never enough), and how he used to remove his slippers and pray if he came across a temple (even a tiny one) on the road.

How he knew what vegetable to get where, and how I used to navigate him through the circus called Indian roads. And how he used to introduce me to everyone he stopped and had a chat with.

I can see his feet in my mental mirror because I often used to cut his toenails, filled with inner skin. And throughout, he used to keep talking.

Our handshakes when India hit a 4 or 6 during a cricket match or when the opposite team lost wickets. Summers in India don’t have an excellent reputation. And we used to not have electricity for 3 hours a day in the evenings until I reached 10th grade or something. So thatha and I used to shut down all lights and fans (oh my god, fans) only to switch on the TV and watch the match through our invertor. It wouldn’t work otherwise. My grandmom kept shouting at us from the kitchen. Watching games was the best feeling with my thatha, even in the blistering heat.

I remember how his lap felt when I placed my head on it (him on a chair and me sitting on the ground). I remember the shape of his forehead. He was bald, you see, and used to get intense headaches, for which I used to help him by applying the balm. And I remember his morning routine.

The way he went around the house telling shlokas in the morning, doing his chores along the process. The way he dressed up in detail every morning even when he hardly went out. The way he sat in front of the god and spent hours praying for the family’s welfare.

He only ate on a unique silver plate that was in our family for decades.

In the evenings, he used to sit outside the house and talk with people walking on the street. They lived in the same place for 50+ years, you see. So he knew everyone there.

I remember his anger (oh, it wasn’t a normal one) and ego, toothless smile, and love for food. He used to get me whatever food I wanted most of the time because he could never eat what he wished for when he was young because of poverty. And when he had money in his old age, diabetes, cholesterol, and heart disease prevented him from eating anything.

Most importantly, I remember his calming voice that always encouraged me and nothing else.

I distinctly remember him sitting by my bed and telling stories of Mahabharata while I fell asleep. And he never left any scope to introduce me to politics, Tamil literature, and his love for alliteration.

Yeah, I guess I do remember a lot of things. But the idea of forgetting even one memory with him terrifies me. Especially the stories. Does it happen with you too? I don’t know.

Somehow in my heart, I still cannot believe he’s gone. Sometimes, he feels like he’s right beside me, combing his hands through my hair as he often did. It’s weird. I’m filled with regret for not asking him enough questions, not spending enough time with him, and focusing solely on my life during my college years. I guess I took his presence for granted; I don’t know.

There’s a lot of ‘I don’t know’s here. And probably they’ll never get clarity. Or probably I should accept it and move on.

So a lot of probably’s too.

I know this article won’t be enough of a dedication to him. I know it won’t. I would need to write a whole book. But my only hope is to tell you that the time you have with your near and dear ones is precious. You don’t realize it now but only realize it after they’re gone. Oh, the irony.

Go ahead, keep your laptop or phone down. Spend time with your kids, parents, grandparents, or even your best friends because they’re all that matter at the end of the day.

--

--

Shruthi Sundaram
The Virago

I help employees transition into their mission-driven, passionate coaching biz & scale up to high-ticket clients. Book a free call: http://shruthisundaram.com