Saying goodbye to my grandmother
Propped up on five white pillows, she struggled to breathe. She flailed her arms as her doctor, nurse, and family watched, while a machine pummeled her with oxygen.
In a private hospital room in Kottayam, her husband of 61 years, and her five daughters, waited for the inevitable. They watched as her breaths became shorter until she released a last, quiet one. She died dressed in her favourite white and orange floral kaftan.
At 81-years-old, Annamma Varghese didn’t die comfortably, but she had come to long for the end.
For months, she had been standing at death’s door. She was diagnosed with Interstitial Lung Disease in September 2010. It’s a degenerative lung condition that is a common side effect of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which inflames the joints and makes it harder to move wrists, fingers, feet and ankles. She had been living with that for decades.
I had last seen my grandmother at Christmas, 2015. I hugged her before I left. She had smelled of talcum powder that had been on her skin for too long. Her tired bones grasped me as tight as they could. She could barely stand, but she managed to walk with me out to her porch.
I had spent so many summers with her on that porch. Some with my cousins, some without, but all of them with her. When I was 13, she dug up an old board to play carrom with me just so I would be occupied. She wasn’t very good. But we sat on her verandah nearly every summer afternoon with tea and deep fried curry puffs (a variation of samosa), taking turns to flick the striker.
Towards the end of her life, her disease sapped her energy. She was slower, and crankier. Her words berated those close to her, especially my grandfather. Her kitchen, which used to be flooded with the smells of ginger, spices, fish curry, and banana fritters, now had a stillness to it.
When I finally realized she was gone, I cried. I cried alone. I cried a lot. Her kitchen would no longer smell of steaming hot appams. Her pond won’t be filled with fish for long. Her house would never be the same again.
The funeral procession went through the town where she had spent her whole life. For a few moments, everyone in Kottayam peered through the wide glass windows of her funeral car. Squinting under the Kerala sun, they caught a last glimpse of her.
Although her life had not been that different from her peers, she received an extraordinary farewell on a warm Thursday morning in January. The church was filled with people, including 15 priests. Nearly everyone in town had come to say goodbye.
Her energy, her sarcasm, her fastidiousness, her perpetual need to feed anyone who stepped into the house: all of that had waned towards the end. But the memories came rushing back to me on the morning of her funeral.
Her spirit had a longevity that her life did not.
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