I have never been good at dealing with death, and perhaps this is because I’ve seldom faced it, thank god. I suppose this post will be how I deal with my emotions after a long week.
My great aunt passed away last weekend—my grandmother’s cousin. In my family, titles are insignificant—we come from an extensive family where love and closeness overrides the formality of titles. Parts of my family live together in large clumps, cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. I have never been accustomed to the culture of extended families, yet I often wish I was. I am envious of my cousins, who live with five or ten other people, calling their cousins siblings, and having those close ties that I have never had. It has always been just me and my parents. For this reason, I’ve never really had a chance to get to know my extended family in India. I talked about this in one of my posts while in India, but there is one part of my family that I am tremendously close to. We call their house Behala Bari, which means the house in Behala, a sector of Calcutta. I’ve grown up visiting this house. Some of my oldest memories are of running up and down the multiple levels, standing next to the mango tree in the front yard, where mosquitoes swarm, playing video games with my aunt who’s four years older than me, and spending time with everyone who lives there—some of my favorite people in the world. In the past few years, the house hasn’t felt the same: it has faced a string of tragic deaths. Going back is different—everyone slugs through life. Each death has broken away bits of happiness, and everything that house has meant in the past has faded.
My great aunt was one of my favorite people in the world. My most recent memory of her is her beaming face in November, when I stepped into the house, her hugging me and commenting on how much I’ve changed. I also live vicariously through stories of her. When I was born in the hospital, she was the first person to see me, carrying hot food for my parents. While growing up, my mom often confided in her aunt more than her mother. And throughout my grandmother’s life, her cousin has been her best friend. And although my mom and grandmother and impacted more than I am, it’s as India has suddenly become empty and without meaning.
I think the reason she was one of my favorites was because she was a child at heart. When I used to visit in early Novembers, she would have me sneak chocolate from my Halloween stash for her, and together, we’d nibble it in the corridors. Little did I realize that she was a diabetic. Every time I saw her, she always carried the same vitality in her words, though her physical state was deteriorating. And it makes me wonder why people die, why they are taken away from us, why we are constantly losing everyone we love.
I heard the news from my family members before my mom found out. And I had to break it to her. To tell your mom that her favorite person passed away—someone she treats like her own mother– is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. I hope nobody ever has to face that. And speaking to my grandmother has been worse—she’s trying to be strong, but the pain is unbearable for her. I know that it will truly hit me next time I visit Indian. I don’t think I can handle visiting Behala again, stepping into her empty room, seeing the sadness of the other family members, having to hear stories over and over again. Death is a ghost that keeps preying.
I think what’s hurting me the most is realizing that I will have to lose other people in my life. It always feels worse than it seems. I don’t expect anyone to understand why I am so hurt, or that I am even upset, because I haven’t shown it. But the thought of my aunt keeps bothering me, as well as the cries of my mom and grandmother. The only relieving part of it all is that she isn’t suffering anymore, and that she had an impact on everyone in her life. That is most rewarding and valuable gift she could have given to the world. She may have been a distant relative, but love is stronger than blood relations, and that is what family is built off of. I will miss her, and my heart goes out to the rest of my family.
Rest in peace.