Monday, 20 August 2012

Shining Star

My paternal grandmother died when I was 7 years old. She was also my most favourite person in the whole world. Despite the generation gap, I can safely say that in pop culture terms, she was the Meredith to my Christina. Despite her having passed on for most of my life, I would always revert back to "What would Grandma do?" in situations that are less than desirable. I think she is the single most amazing person I've encountered in my life. She was strong when she was frail. She was stern, yet she was approachable.

Most of my childhood memories that I keep close to heart would usually involve having my Grandma in the picture. Because she died when I was in Primary 1, most of these memories occurred when I was in kindergarten. I remember her cooking black squid ink fried rice just because I don't like eating the gravy sauce for fear of turning dark. I also remember the time when I underwent the procedure every Muslim boy goes through and having her around just to take care of me. I remember the time when she would fetch me from kindergarten that one day and the lights in the lift were flickering. I remember the time when she was warded in the hospital and she would save a portion of her meal because she knew I loved hospital food. I also remember the last time I saw her alive, just as I was going to school in the afternoon session.

My grandmother was gone too soon but I think her death matured me as a 7 year old boy. At a very young age, I got to know that life isn't always fair and the people you love will die. That's a very poignant lesson to learn and I think it's shaped me to be a strong person. When my grandfather died 2 years later, I didn't cry because I knew that it was his time to go. This was a man who was married for 50 over years to the same woman, and after her death, he was never the same person. Yes, he was still a grandfather to me, but even then I knew he missed he too much. Up until now, whenever I hear about the death of a family member, I would utter a silent prayer and then remain stoic because I knew death would eventually claim its intended person.

In a way, I am grateful that both my grandparents passed on when I was still young, when I hadn't yet develop the emotional capacity that I have now. Ironically, despite maturing as a person, I don't think I could handle their death now because I think it will literally crush me emotionally to see their health deteriorate. When you are young, you are rarely kept in the loop and visits to the hospital were a treat to roam around in the car. The family had this habit of going to the beach after visiting hours were over. As a child, it was fun to build sandcastles and enjoy the cool breeze. In hindsight, the adults probably needed the reprieve from having come to the realization that their mother was slipping away from them, hence the excuse to bring us out.

As a child, I was extremely quiet. I think that's the reason why I had gotten special attention from my grandmother. I started looking through picture books even before I would speak and my uncle had initially thought that I was autistic. Every single family event, I would be reminded of how I was an obedient child whom my grandmother doted on so much and whom she would protect because I literally did not speak to anyone, not even to my parents. I did not run around like my cousins. I would just sit in the corner and read my pop-up books. I only ever owned one toy train set and the only reason I remember them was because there was a picture of it.

Because of my demeanour, I never know how to appropriately convey my condolences to friends who has had the misfortune of experiencing loss. There is no guidebook for it and it makes the whole thing too damn difficult. I don't want to run the risk of trivialising the loss yet I don't want to sound like I'm in as much pain as they are because obviously, how could an outsider even compare to that feeling of loss. Only someone who's had to experience loss at a young age could have this sense of emotional guardedness that many would label as insensitivity.

I miss my grandmother too much I don't think there's enough words in my vocabulary to express what I'm really feeling. I think because of this, I keep every relationship I have at arm's length, even with my parents, because I know everyone's going to die and there is no way I can handle the kind of loss similar to that of my granmother's. The kind of loss that's so gut-wrenching that even after 11 years, I can still remember the look on my grandmother's face the last time I saw her alive.

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