Popcorn Zone

The Day Grandmother Died

Paati* died on a Friday. In the wee hours of a cold December morning in Bangalore, she breathed her last at the age of 97. As the first rays of the sun brought in the much needed warmth, we heaved a sigh of relief amidst the coldness of death.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I loved Paati, in fact all of us did. She was the back bone of the family. Yet, standing by the bedside that morning and looking at her still face, I was glad it was all over. It was a long drawn battle with Alzheimer’s. Days passed into weeks and weeks into years, until she was reduced to a mere frame. It was a painful sight. Unable to move she would have pipes to feed her and an attender who would take care of the body and its needs. Lying still on her bed, Paati slowly failed to recognize any one of us. But for some strange reason her life clung on to her body, refusing to let go.

She was the kindest of souls in my life. I still remember my childhood days spent in her lovely little home in Chennai. The kitchen would be stocked up with the most yummy savories and sweets and every meal would be a surprise. She did belong to a generation that was far healthier. No wonder Paati outlived many family members who were younger than her.

One person’s belief is absurdity to another

Paati believed that there was more to life than eye can see. She would tell me tales of angels & demons, and that it is only good deeds that would land you a place in heaven. Stirring the demons inside would warrant a place in hell. She had once sat me down and expressed her deep down desire to leave the mortal world on “Vaikunta Ekadasi” day. An extremely auspicious days for Hindus, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it is believed that dying on this day could liberate the soul from the cycle of birth and death. To me this seemed to be an absurd thought. I would spend hours arguing with her with all my scientific practicality that we humans are just a complex structure of energy blocks. The existence of hell & heaven and soul liberation is just religious folklore.

During the days leading to her end, I would spend a great deal of time by her side holding her hand and staring at its great detail. The bulging nerves, the pale skin,the shriveled up palm and it’s hardened lines, it spoke volumes of who we actually are. That Friday morning as we sat preparing for her journey to the other side of life, my eyes casually fell on the Tamil calendar hanging by her bedside. It was Vaikunta Ekadasi day!

Did the soul deliberately hang on? Was it paranormal or, just a mere co-incidence? I didn’t have an answer. But I heaved a bigger sigh of relief that her deepest desire of liberation from birth and death had been fulfilled. It didn’t matter any more if it sounded absurd. It just was her belief.

How far do we need to go?

Death begins when life ceases. And life ceases when we lose the ability to be an active part of our home, society and world; when we are robbed of our creativity and who we actually are. Paati had already died when she began her energy-sapping battle with Alzheimer’s. Just that her soul thought otherwise, and preferred to cling on to her body.

Advancements in modern medicine present us with opportunities to live longer lives and fight life threatening diseases at a chronic stage for longer periods of time. But living too long with a declining state of health is worse than death in itself. Much as we all want our loved ones to live life for eternity- life that is just hanging on by a thin string is pain that only death can cure.

A tear drop and a smile, life goes on

It is said that the brain stays active for a few moments after that last breath. In those wee hours of morning, as Paati finally let go, a single tear drop fell from her eye. A faint smile froze on her face; it seemed she was at peace finally. Life sure did move on. Her rocking chair, the prayer beads and her memories became prized possessions.

*Paati- Grandmother in Tamil| Featured Image : Pixabay

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19 Comments

  • Modern Gypsy

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Death after such a long battle can be a blessing. And it’s so special for your Pauti that she passed on the day she so wished. It was probably her soul holding on, waiting for the auspicious day, so the cycle of birth and death could be broken.

  • Holly Jahangiri

    My own death doesn’t scare me. The sorrow, for me, comes in the form of loss when others close to me die. It’s a bit selfish. And I realize that the pain is proportional to the depth of the relationship – that it wouldn’t HURT so much, if only I’d loved them less. So I count myself lucky to have had them in my life at all, and remind myself that the pain of loss is the price of love. Sometimes, as with your Paati, death comes in due time; we know that the end is a kindness and a relief, and we’ve had time to accept it even before it happens. Sometimes, as when my own mother died at age 58, it’s an unexpected blow – we’re just not emotionally prepared to let go. I don’t want to live past my ability to enjoy life and recognize the people I love, to be totally dependent on strangers at the expense of loved ones. And I don’t want to die young, before they’re ready to let go. Ultimately, I know that it’s not up to me. I can only hope for the best of both worlds. And for those I leave behind to remember the love and laughter more than the pain of loss, because then I will always be a part of them.

  • Vinitha

    Death isn’t always bad when it liberates the soul and body from the clutches of pain and helplessness. This is a beautifully written post, Ramya, stirred up emotions within me. I had similar feelings when my dad passed away 7 years ago. He was only 57, but cancer sucked the life out of him even before death could. It was heartbreaking. But he isn’t in pain anymore. That’s a relief. Of course, memories play a bittersweet role every now and then. Hugs, Ramya!

  • Anonymous

    The contrast in generations is nicely drawn in your discussion of beliefs for the afterworld and something a lot of readers can relate to —even across cultural divides. Sounds like she was a wise woman.

  • mynachang

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    I like the way your essay explores both your love for her, and the sadness of her lingering suffering. I think you are spot-on with the statement that death begins when we start losing the ability to participate in home, etc. You capture many of the complex feelings we have when a loved one suffers through Alzheimers. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Kala Ravi

    Ramya this post is so relatable, I can’t begin to tell you! My paati too passed away on Vaikuntha Ekadasi! It is a trying time to watch a loved one wither away slowly. A time when you pray for their swift departure just to ease their suffering and your paim watching them suffer. Beautifully written! Love and hugs!

  • writershilpa

    I saw this post yesterday and decided I just HAD to read it…Glad I did!
    Such an emotional post, and you wrote it from the bottom of your heart, bringing alive every emotion one can relate to with their own grandparents. These old souls are such an important part of our lives–the love they shower on us, the pampering that they consider their birth right…reminded me of my grand father, who was the kindest soul I had ever met—he was my father’s father…and my father being a strict man, I used to wonder how come his father was such a gentle soul!? 🙂
    I am glad your grandma was finally released from the clutches of Alzheimer’s.
    Beautiful post, dear girl!

  • Balaka

    You are a brilliant writer. This is a sensitive post and I loved the layers of sentiments in the post. It is not easy to let go a dear one but at times we do need to let them go. Loved every word of your post.

  • Soumya Prasad

    So sorry for your loss Ramya, but I’m sure she’s at peace now having got her last wish.

    More strength and support to you and the family.

  • Esha M Dutta

    Your beautiful post stirred so many emotions and memories in me. It reminded me of the day when I lost my grandad—my Dadu (maternal grandfather). I’ve always been very disturbed to see how some people cling on to life even after all their faculties have almost gone. It is a heart breaking sight and one that has always made me pray for the person quietly wishing them deliverance from hanging on, suspended by a thin thread to life itself.

  • Still Loved...Still Missed

    Very touchy note, friend. I know how hard it is to explain the loss of a dear person. For me, it was my chittappa’s (father’s younger brother) demise that evoked too strong feeling of loss. I was close to him that any other cousin in the family and his death was a shock to all.He met with an accident and died at a relatively younger age. You have written well, putting to emotions to words is not something everyone can do. Keep writing!

  • Shalzmojo

    Hugs for your loss Ramya. How wonderful is the way that the universe works- she got her last wish! Its so heart warming to see the maturity in your thoughts about her final days. Yes modern science has made an impact on increasing our life span but certainly not the quality of life.

  • the bespectacled mother

    The post evokes mixed feelings in me. The topic is emotional and your writing makes it thought-provoking. I lost my grandparents at various stages of life from the age of 7 to 28. I was never close to any of them and yet when I recieved the news of my grandmother’s (paternal) death while I was at my workstation in office, unknowingly tears began rolling down. She suffered from a mental illness in her last years which nobody understood what it was though she recieved treatment for a while.
    Ath the end, all that remains are memories, some good some bad.

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