The nurse opened the door with great alacrity. She was swift but not rash, opening the door just enough to let herself in. My grandma, my grandpa’s best friend, my parents and I were a few feet away from the door. The nurse watched us askance before quickly shutting the door. While everyone else looked in the direction of the entrance of the hospital awaiting a senior doctor, I saw through the miniscule opening that the nurse had left open for a fraction of a second, a sight that hides permanently behind my eyelids. Whenever my eyes would shut, the doors of that hospital room would open widely behind them. Inexplicably, much wider than the actual sight that the nimble nurse permitted me. It was the sight of the doctor and his support staff pounding on my grandpa’s chest, as he slipped away rapidly.
He was 61, and in very good health. He had gone for a walk to his best friend’s daughter’s place, tried to test-drive their newly acquired SUV and in the process, rammed the car into a wall. His spleen got ruptured and within two hours of this rather freak accident, he was gone. Just like that. No warning, no proper goodbyes, nothing. The sprightly old man who had gone for a walk in the morning was a pot of ashes submerged in the nearby beach by the end of the day.
Meanwhile, a sea of tears engulfed my grandma. She was 58 then. Having married my grandpa when she was 18, they were in their 40th year of a very happy marriage. Her wailing lasted days, not hours. But I misread one thing as inaccurately as an inept stock broker. I thought that his death was going to crush her. Far from it. Within a month, when my family was deep in thought around the future of the factory that my grandpa had owned, she stepped in and said, “It was his labor of love. I shall be the proprietor. I may have only finished high school but I will learn the ropes and continue to run this instead of shutting shop.” That was a moment of great truth to me. Truths, really.
I could see two things. Some people have a veneer of strength that obscures a frail inner structure. Grandma was the opposite. The tempest that had threatened to demolish her very existence only ended up proving how strong her inner structural foundation was. The cruel twist of fate that I thought was paralyzing her on multiple fronts was, in fact, strengthening her resolve to stand on her feet and move forward, taking along her fellow sufferers, despite the magnitude of her suffering being much larger.
The second thing I learned from her was something captured eloquently in the movie, Burnt - “There is strength in needing others, not weakness.” When my grandpa passed on, my grandma did get a lot of moral and emotional support from family members and trusted friends. She did share her grief with others. As a teenager, I shut my eyes only to open a window for the unfortunate incident to play continually in my mind’s eye. Whereas, my grandma shut the door on grief only after she had come face to face with it. That she was not averse to getting people’s support and yet very quickly, stepped in to take over my grandpa’s factory showed that she leaned on people, perceiving them as transient pillars of support, not permanent crutches. There are, of course, some people who possess tremendous inner resolve to deal with crises themselves. To get back on their feet, they do not rely as much on external support. That is strength of another kind, but not the only kind. I say this because there continues to be a popular misconception of people seeking support – of various kinds, be it therapy or personal outreach – as weak. People need the license to go through tragedy and adversity in their own way. As providers of support, we only have to help ensure that their wounds don’t turn into indelible scars that incapacitate them permanently.
Last month, my grandma passed on, aged 81. This time, my eyes were wide open. I registered my grief, while striving to provide support to my mother and 13-year old cousin who were most affected by this. I did not have to look far for inspiration – it was hidden in plain sight in our own home until May 22, 2018.