“When I see my dad cry, I feel helpless and sad for him. But when I think about my grandma that died … I feel numb”
She got the call at 2am. She was in Toronto on business. The news was unexpected.
‘Grandma died,’ her sister wept to her on the phone. ‘Dad’s in pieces. Get the next flight home.’
So that’s what she did. Her manager understood. The client was more than sympathetic.
But she? She was numb.
She should be feeling something, right?
This was her grandmother. Not some stranger or neighbour she never got to know. She’d felt more when David Bowie died.
She didn’t’ cry on the flight. She chatted cheerily to the cab driver as he drove her from the airport to home. The news hadn’t registered.
Shouldn’t the crying start at some point?
Some obligatory tears at least?
As she opened the familiar door, her gaze immediately went to the floor.
Pairs of shoes from people she knew. People she didn’t know. Scattered on the floor like a morbid welcome mat.
The four-day funeral had started.
Her sister came to greet her.
She burst into tears (her sister. Not her).
She was still numb.
‘Where’s Dad?’ She asked.
‘I’ll go get him.’
As he arrived to see his daughter, her father looked like a broken man. His mother’s death had been sudden. Unexpected. A shock.
He hadn’t been close to his mother. He hadn’t been to Pakistan to see her in almost ten years. But she was his mother. Bonds like that are impenetrable.
‘I don’t know what to do, beta.’ He wept. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
She stretched up to hug her dad. Her heart ached. For him.
‘Go see your mum.’
Anxiety filled her chest as she made her way to the living room. She knew what awaited her.
A room rammed with women waiting to voice their condolences. About 20 minutes of It was God’s will from relatives and strangers alike. All while she tried really freakin hard to appear upset.
She went to her mum first.
The women waited for the scene to unfold. For mother and daughter to helplessly cling to one another and wail in pain. For the mother to ask why God had done this to them and for the daughter to cry words of comfort.
It didn’t happen.
She hugged her mum and sat next to her. Her mum wasn’t one for dramatic scenes to entertain onlookers. Patient. Stoic.
As she listened to stories from women who grew up with her grandmother, she started to understand more about her.
How poverty was the lifestyle in the village her grandmother was raised in.
She was married twice. The first in her family to divorce. She’d created a scandal back in the ‘60s.
How she was a quiet women who kept herself to herself and her thoughts to God.
Even though the stories were about her grandmother, she still felt nothing.
These women may as well have been talking about a famous actress.
You know the name but not the person.
She still felt numb. Immune to emotion. A little lost in the distinct lack of grief.
Perhaps I’m not numb, she considered. Perhaps I just don’t care?
I met my grandma twice. Once when she came to London, and once when I visited Pakistan. I was 18. That was ten years ago.
We don’t talk on the phone. I ask Dad about her but only because she’s his mother and it gives us something to talk about.
We’ve never really been in each other’s lives. And we don’t want to be.
I’m sure if it were the other way around, she’d be more upset her son had lost a daughter. The fact that she’d lost a granddaughter wouldn’t reflect the same level of grief.
Having the same blood pumping through your veins alone doesn’t create a bond
What creates that bond is: shared experiences.
Spending time together doing more than just talking about people you have in common.
Stumbling upon common ground and delighting in how close you now feel because of this discovery.
Laughter. Sorrow. Warmth.
Maintaining contact despite the miles between you.
Laughing so hard at something no one else would understand – like you have your own language.
Actively showing an interest in each other’s’ lives.
Making the effort to get in touch.
Missing one another.
Looking forward to meeting and catching up about .. something … nothing … anything.
Simply being in their company’s enough.
The desire to keep contact. That’s what creates a bond.
Taking another human being and creating a relative (whether you share a bloodline or not).
When our parents left their parents behind to move to the west, they’d already created those bonds.
With family, neighbours, friends.
They’d spent their formative years with those people. Imprints of experiences and emotions on their psyche would remain stamped forever.
Whenever they hear of any change back home, they’re taken straight back to the moment they left all of it behind.
And are reminded of how much they miss it. Of the comfort and familiarity of it. The nostalgia of it.
They cling onto relatives in the west because they remind them of that nostalgia. And they don’t want to let it go.
Move down one generation and the connections begin to fade.
We don’t know what the ache of that nostalgia feels like.
We don’t need to.
But we have created relationships of our own.
With relatives and non-relatives alike.
We have a life here. Where we were raised.
Connection to relatives back in the motherland’s … relative.
Bloodline doesn’t matter.
Our parent’s history with them isn’t significant.
Because true relationships?
They’re created through experience … not obligation.