My grandmother was sick. At that time, it didn’t seem like news. My grandmother’s general health had been in decline for the past year. She wove in and out of hospitals, but the general precedent was that she always recovered. But this time, something was different. Something compelled my mom to go and see her mother. My mom had never left my dad, my sister, and me to go visit her mom, even during my grandmother’s previous episodes of sickness and bouts of pneumonia, but when she heard that my grandmother had been wheeled into emergency surgery, she decided to catch the earliest flight to Bombay, from where she would take a train to Surat, her hometown.
Just three days later, my father, sister, and I embarked on what would be one of our shortest trips to India ever. My parents felt guilty pulling me out of a debate tournament, and I was to miss a full week of school. Looking back on the plane journey, I realize how naive I was. I hadn’t heard much about my grandmother’s status, but I didn’t think anything could happen to her. As far as I knew, she was invincible. Perhaps not this time, but surely next time I went to visit her, she would have her arms wide open, an array of snacks and coconut-water waiting for me.
When we landed in Bombay, I did not even see my paternal grandparents who live in the city. Instead, we caught the earliest train to Surat and were in the hospital six hours later. That’s when realization began to seep into my brain—seeing my grandmother with so many tubes, drugged into sleep, scared me. I cried and pushed at my mom, wanting to run away. Yet it was my terrified presence, my tentative hands on my grandmother’s IV bruises, which caused my grandmother to flutter her eyelids. She could barely fight the medicines to glance at me, but I promised to return the next day.
Three days passed quicker than we expected. Each day, I watched my younger sister run off into a rickshaw with another relative. I sat in the ICU’s waiting room, staring blankly at my Algebra book, hearing the chatter of hopeful families, relatives, and friends. I watched my grandmother grow stronger, because no one would let me see her weakening. She could not speak to me, but her eyes communicated, blessing me, and with her frail hand, she even wrote. She sent her army of relatives to find a dress for me, so we picked one out, and brought it to her bedside so she could inspect it. Not once had I come to her house and left with nothing.
But it wasn’t her dresses or her paper-thin rotis that I had come for this time. I knew I had come to encourage her to get better, get out of the hospital, and fight what was plaguing her. So I, in the vain hope that I could bring her home, chattered and pattered on about my friends, my school, my violin, my debate team, beaming every time I could make her smile. Finally, she blessed me, and I left to return to my own world.
My dad called Surat one last time before we boarded the plane, only to find out that my grandmother had passed away. I felt as though I was fine; I was told crying was okay, but I didn’t need to cry. Stony-faced, I proceeded to board the plane, only seeing my father’s red eyes and hearing his sighs. It was like a game for me—if I could keep my lips from trembling, I knew I wouldn’t break down. In 24 hours, I cried only twice, while listening to my playlist of slow songs. I stared out of the plane, and the view of the Golden Gate Bridge was beautiful, but my senses had been numbed. I neither saw, nor heard, as I headed back to school.
It was almost as though I didn’t want a moment to think. I buried myself in work, because the moment I paused to look up I felt my heart ache.
It hurt even more as I saw what my grandmother had left behind: how lovingly she had covered my violin books with floral paper; the small arrangements and goodies that littered my desk. I could not look at my wardrobe, because the entire right half of my closet was gifted by her. I wanted to take down every picture of her in the house, because I could not see her without my tears welling up. It was not my grief that I was afraid of facing, but more the reality that she was not there. I came home to a house temporarily devoid of my mom, but permanently empty of my grandmother, and when I brought home projects and essays bearing A+’s I realized that I had no one to call and make proud.
Living so far away from my grandmother, it would seem as though I would not have been extremely connected to her. But in fact, she was my greatest cheerleader, teacher, and friend. My grandmother scolded me, with care in her voice, about everything from my attitude to my embroidery. I called her weekly and could share anything with her. Living so far away, though, I know that her death will not really strike me until I return to her apartment in Surat to see it bare and vacant. I know that I won’t be able to believe that she is truly gone until I see it with my own eyes. My trip cost the debate team $250 to withdraw my partner and me from the tournament that weekend. But it saved me a lifetime of regret. Those final moments with my grandmother will eventually heal the sorrow that has placed a gaping hole in my heart.
Sanjana Parikh is a sophomore at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif.