Today is 5 November. The day my grandfather left us.
There will be no shop talk. Just reminiscing.
How his strong bony fingers held my hands the last time we said good bye. How bright his smile was, just because he was too weak to eat yet I bought him his favourite coffee as a treat. How he would look at me through his greyish cataract-clouded eyes, with total trust and affection. How adorable he would look with his shiny bald head and black rimmed glasses. And how happy he was, each time he saw me.
Being continents away, we seldom get to spend time together in his final few years, even though I grew up with him by my side. I would forever be grateful that my mother and sister called me and respectively told me how much he had missed me, and how weak he had become. He had just been warded yet again. Even though we spoke daily, I had not realised how frail he had gotten. The rest of my family did not want me to worry too much hence no one spoke up until things became more serious.
That propelled me to decide to go home. Call it a gut feeling, call it luck. I only knew there was love and peace in my heart when I made the decision. I was indeed blessed that I could put aside my work. And I was indeed fortunate to not have to worry about last minute air fare. I remember asking myself if I would regret not going home?
And that was enough to seal my decision.
We got to spend 14 days together. 14 uninterrupted days of joy, of reminiscing the past, of me being able to tell him how grateful I am to him. All 14 days spent in and out of the hospital, with my family and I taking care of him, accompanying him, bringing him comfort and joy. During that time, no matter how physically exhausting it was to take care of him, no matter how frustrating it was to battle against family politics from my other relatives, all I wanted to remember was the joy I felt to be by the side of this old man. I was warmed by the unity of my own family, comforted by the support we gave to each other, all because we love and care for Grampa, whom we regarded as a treasure in our family, even though in the eyes of his other children, he had become an old, useless burden.
One sunny afternoon many years ago, I plucked up the courage to ask him about his past. Stoical old Asian grandparents like mine never spoke about the old days. Maybe because those days were tough and it was painful to recall. Due to war and poverty, he had to leave his family at the age of 11 to journey half way across the world, to a new country, to seek a better life. That decision changed his life, as it changed my father’s and it changed mine. For all the hardship he endured in his youth, I witnessed it on his rough twisted feet, and large bony hands, blemished by long years of hard work. He and all my other grandparents suffered just so I can have a comfortable life now. The enormity of this realisation filled me with gratitude and sadness. And it made me cherish all of them dearly.
Love is ever important, love is all that remains. I am blessed to be so close to him, that I was the only grandchild he remembered in the hazy days of his old age. I count myself fortunate to have the opportunity to experience such close bond with this particular grandparent. A man I admire and respect, whose strength I imagine my father had inherited and passed on to us. It has enriched my life to experience how precious it could be to love an old person.
A few years back, after his medical check up at the hospital, we decided to bring him out for lunch as a treat. Amidst our conversation, he mentioned he had forgotten a lot of things due to old age. Mischievously, I said, “It doesn’t matter if you forget those things, but please don’t forget us.”
“I will never forget you, how could I?” Grandfather replied me ever so innocently, with a chuckle. A simple, straightforward answer filled with so much love, from a stoical grandfather who seldom showed tender emotions. Suffice to say, that was one of the happiest moments of my life.
To hurt still, to feel pain as I think of him, is a reminder of how deep our bond is. I will bravely endure it because this is the price I pay for true love.