Disbelief, followed by complete denial and then shock; a wave of these feelings overtook me. My eyes burned as I willed myself not to cry “Nadia.. He’s gone”. The words echoed in my head over and over. But why so soon? And how so suddenly? He was supposed to be there to watch me get married and have kids. My mind began to yell questions but my mouth remained tightly shut. My eyes met my sisters and just like that we both knew as a steady stream of tears began to fall uncontrollably. Thirty days in and I still can’t begin to fully fathom the loss of my grandfather. The way my world stood still on that night of new year..
It was January the first and I had just come home from work. I received a call from my cousin as I was getting undressed. Her voice was frantic. Give your mum the phone. Nanajee (granddad) is having a heart attack. My mind went numb. I raced down the stairs screaming for my mother as I tried my best to shun all possible thoughts. Dinner was left untouched as my brother drove my parents over. That hour of waiting was one of the longest hours of my life.. A month later yet that day is etched into my memory like it was just yesterday. I cannot forget the look on his lifeless face as the medic’s stood by, finally giving up on their resuscitation attempts. I remember watching my mother kiss his forehead. The pain, the tears the cries in the room. A blur of activities; the ambulance, the flashing police lights, and the family friends who came in that same night, holding us while we grieved. The shock began to settle in..
A prolonged week of complications and uncertainty as we waited for the cause of death to be determined, followed by the funeral. It was an overcast day and the rain fell hard as we drove over to the mosque for funeral prayers. Sleep had eluded me for the past week as the thought of seeing him one last time dawned on me. I couldn’t let him go.. Not so soon.
As soon as I stepped inside and saw the brown box of his coffin, the feelings flooded back. I remember the mahogany colour of the wooden coffin, the golden latch and how the entire thing was draped in a green cloth, embroidered with golden Arabic verses..Details, I remember thinking, I can’t let myself ever forget. It was actually happening. He was moving on and leaving us behind…
I held back my tears long enough for the coffin lid to be lifted. I watched my father, grim-faced and moist eyed as he held my mother while she cried. Her pain was deep and etched into her eyes. As I saw my youngest sister stand up and go towards my mother, memories of my paternal grandmother flooded my mind. My beautiful daadi with her piercing grey eyes and warm hugs. I remember being the same age as my sister when I lost her, my first ever funeral.
It took me a long time to muster the courage to walk up to my grandfather’s coffin one last time. I held hands with my sisters and cousin. As soon as I laid eyes on his face, I was overcome by a loss so deep it felt as though the air had been sucked right out of me. I turned and buried my head in the closest available embrace, an aunty I had never seen before. She whispered words of comfort as I poured my heart out.
I received hugs and condolences from well wishers I hardly recognised. The mosque rooms were full. Soon it was time to take him to his final resting place. The clouds suddenly parted and I noticed the way the sun fell on his face. He looked so peaceful and distant lying there. The pain had finally left him. My brother, father and uncles closed the lid and pushed the coffin out of the room. Once again, we all broke down as the reality of the situation hit us anew.
We stood in prayer then, and I realised it was the first time I was offering a funeral prayer in congregation . People had travelled from across the city to pay their respects. I marvelled at the position my grandfather had held in the community. After we prayed, his friends and co-workers gave beautiful speeches about the role my grandfather had played, his effort as counsellor, his time as deputy mayor and the lives he had affected. Standing there, collectively mourning with strangers I had never before met, I felt blessed to have been such a close part of his life.
Just twelve months ago we celebrated his 81st birthday.. He had gathered us all and made a speech about how lucky he was to have us by his side, to have met two of his great grand sons. Thirty days since he’s gone and I still can’t make myself re-watch that video.
That’s the thing about loss. It’s so hard to describe. Only someone who has been through the ordeal of losing a loved one can truly understand and fathom the amount of devastation a person goes through. How your world is rocked from the very core. How things fails to excite you and mundane issues seem so ridiculously unnecessary.
Day’s pass and life slowly begins to go back to normal. You begin to smile again, laugh even. But then unexpectedly in the middle of a crowd you become overwhelmed by sorrow.The feeling of loss permeates your being and settles inside you. Always there, lurking just under the surface ready to drown you without a second’s warning.
Footnote: This has been one of the hardest posts I have ever written to date. Despite being such a private person, I chose to share this as a tribute to the amazing person my grandfather was as well as a source through which I can cherish his memory and remember that day. Nanajee,I miss you with all my heart.