A Letter on Grief to My Thatha

Dear Thatha,

Time moving on used to petrify me. You meant the world to me and the more we kept driving on, the more I left you behind. It took years to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t help you. Years to accept that you were gone, even as you stood right before me. In all but flesh and blood you were no longer the man I thought I knew, the man that my life revolved around.

Regret is a disease and no one knew that better than you did. I tried for years to run away from it; from that feeling of knowing you needed help but being so helpless at 16. Sitting with it and even living with it has made me realise that forgiving myself or anyone else for it is impossible. Sitting there for hours one end convincing you that we loved you – it haunts me wherever I go. I wish that would have been enough. Growing up without a father, you meant so much to me. I wish I had been enough, the way you had been for me.

Pleading with you for hours that I had your back only to be met with that singular conviction that you knew something that we did not was hard to digest. Doctors called it dementia, it seemed to us like paranoia. But whatever the label, nothing made the reality of it go down any smoother. All I could see was that you didn’t feel loved and accepted and the wounds went so deep that there was nothing I could do to fix it.

To see the same man who spent hours unravelling the mystery he thought was an induction stove, so heartbroken and lonely jarred me in a way I didn’t quite realise at the time. The same man who could on any given day explain the chemical composition of nuclear reactors, could now not even understand the explanation of his own diagnosis. The days you realised that the voices were only in your head hurt even more than your stubborn conviction did. Quarrelling over books you lent me, being ‘Sachin’ during those long days of test cricket are memories I desperately clung to so I could make some sense of the world I now occupied. The curiosity you had for the world, the emotional intelligence that put you light years ahead of your time were all dulled by something I did not want to accept.

Tired of your infirmities, you were so convinced that the one medicine would cure you of everything. Demanding we take you from house to house, convinced that the next one was where we were hiding it from you was a fool’s errand. I would run it a thousand times if it had meant you would have believed that we loved you. A single word, no matter how medically weighted, could not possibly encompass the deterioration I saw before me. Accepting or even understanding this diagnosis was beyond all of us.

Caring for someone you love is tricky, not taking things personally a near impossibility. The chaos of those times did not allow for any reflection let alone any constructive action. Whatever science might say, a part of me remains convinced that if we had all rallied around you and been able to put your needs above our own petty desires we could have fixed it. But reality is quite a bit harsher, isn’t it?

Also read: Snippets of Memories: My Most Cherished Moments With My Grandfather

Grief is non-linear, in a way I did not fully appreciate until now. For years I went about my day, graduating law school, moving countries, working hard, entering into ill-advised friendships and relationships trying to fix everyone and everything with a desperation I did not quite comprehend. I stayed stuck in a time when you were bursting with life and individuality in a staunch-Brahmin family so riddled with hate. I was stuck in a time when you were tired of being scapegoated and so badly wanted to be seen for the man you were. I wished so desperately that time would stand still long enough for me to find the words that I did not have then to reassure you that you were not alone. Feeling so minuscule in knowing that I no longer mattered to you never stopped my quest to fight for you and it never will.

I wish I had met you when you were younger, when I could have had more time with you. You had the biggest impact on my life and that will never change no matter how much time passes. Even if I didn’t make it in time to say goodbye you mattered to me and I really hope you knew that. I will never stop trying to fill that void you left in my life. But as it turns out, there is no one quite like you; maybe not even you.

The memories of you make you seem so much more ideal than you really were. Early memories of your selfishness and vanity have nearly disappeared over time. But does that really matter? You were so unapologetically human, I could never hold any of that against you. No one could have taught me to love the way you did, with all I had while knowing that you no longer loved anyone but yourself.

Growing up in a conservative South Indian family as averse to displays of affection as ours, I never got to tell you that I loved you. Life was never the same after you and trying to adjust to life without you was a task I did not think I was up for. It is incredibly hard to let people in or even to allow change to happen once you know what loss feels like. You didn’t approve of much, and it wasn’t peaceful even in the end, but I do hope you figure it out one day old man. You brought joy wherever you went until you couldn’t anymore. And I wish we could have seen it before it was too late.

This grief has taken me through to the limits of my sanity to come to terms with how God could present us with a problem we could not solve. I grappled to understand how He had designed a world in which community and love were not enough. Your illness brought out a side of selfishness and greed in people I wish I could unsee. It’s hard living among them or even with myself with the knowledge of what they were like during trying times. In some ways I realise that your diagnosis was something I could not forgive you for, for so selfishly robbing me of you and for leaving me behind.

For a time, the fact that we could not change it stared me in the face and I did not acknowledge it. The fact that you were beyond help was something I willed myself to forget. Anything I did for you over the years, whether it got through to you or not, I only did out of love. Love that was cruel, kind, selfish and everything in between. I removed myself from around you in the last days because I realised that my attachment had become selfish and I could no longer see the man in pain before me. I wish I could have been more astute, more detached. But the love that I knew then was one that wasn’t ready to give up no matter how lost the cause.

For whatever my philosophising is worth, I understand now that these things happen exactly as they are supposed to. But no matter how much I understand, the fact still remains that I wish that the illusion could have come to life. This mind plays tricks on me and convinces me that there was something more I could have done. The other side of reality is simply too real. I have had these thoughts a thousand times; these thoughts that are of no use to anyone now that you are gone. Yet here they still remain, right where I can catch them the moment my mind wanders.

Time might have passed, the world might have moved on but maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to move away from you. What you were and what you are, are now a part of me. Maybe I can move on while carrying you with me, and maybe that’s what love really means.

Marching on together,

Abhaya Ganashree is currently a Master of Laws student at the London School of Economics and is originally from Bangalore, India. 

Featured image credit: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay