I’m envious of the people who have the good fortune of being able to live with their grandparents and grow up with that influence in their lives. A great many of my friends have their grandparents living here with them or with their family members. Whenever I visit my best friend’s house, I always say hello to her grandparents and accept the tea or the warm meal that they sometimes offer for me. I always feel a pang of yearning when this happens. I’ve only met my own grandparents a handful of times. I’ve met both of my grandfathers twice in my life, and my grandmothers three times. None of my grandparents had ever immigrated over to Canada, the harsh weather that we sometimes have is what deterred them from considering a life here.
One day, after her father passed away, my mom actually told me about how her parents were supposed to come live with us in Canada. Back when I was just a small child, my parents wanted my sister and I to grow up with our grandparents’ influence. All of their papers and passports were ready for them to immigrate here. Unfortunately, they decided last minute to stay in Sri Lanka because they didn’t want to be overly dependent on us and were afraid to take the leap and fly across the world. My grandparents were used to being independent back home after my mom and her siblings left their nest. After years of caring for their children, they became accustomed to their simple way of life with just each other for company. My maternal grandparents were together for more than half a century, they were life-long companions.
When I think about the decision that they made to stay in Sri Lanka, I wonder how my life would have changed had they been a bigger part of my upbringing. My sister and I would have been raised knowing the constant presence of our grandparents, their love more evident as opposed to the yearly phone call on our birthdays that we had over the years. My mom would likely have been able to enter the workforce a lot sooner instead of being a stay-at-home mom for the first few years of my life. At that age, I loved having my mom welcoming me home from school, but in another world I would have had my grandparents welcoming me home too.
Out of my grandparents, only my maternal grandmother is still alive. My grandmother suffers from what’s commonly known as Alzheimer’s disease. This is a chronic condition that slowly deteriorates memory and other mental functions over time. Alzheimer’s is a common cause of Dementia, a mental condition that will eventually cause the loss of the brain’s functionality as the brain cells die instead of regenerate.
My grandmother stubbornly refuses to get the help that her condition requires unless my family forces it upon her. She lives by herself in Jaffna and sometimes a housekeeper or nearby friends and family would stop by to make sure she’s doing okay on her own. My mom and uncle went back to visit her a few months ago to check in and make sure she is being taken care of. She was taken to a specialist for patients with Alzheimer’s to stay updated on her condition. It’s difficult to find a caretaker who is experienced or knowledgeable enough about the condition to take care of her on a full time basis. The disease had manifested itself sometime after my grandfather passed away. My family believes that her age and loneliness is what caused the disease to appear and worsen over time.
I remember when we went to visit her a few summers ago, my sister and I would sit with her in the kitchen and she would cut up vegetables while telling us stories of how she migrated to Sri Lanka from Malaysia when she was a girl and her stories of raising my mom and her siblings. I remember her stories very well, she would recite them several times in one sitting because she didn’t remember that she already told us the story a few minutes previously. My sister and I would exchange a quick, sad glance and pretend we were hearing them for the first time with each telling, our reactions as genuine as we can make them the fifth time around. We didn’t want to make her sad or scared of her condition.
In my eyes, my grandmother is a noble woman. She has several back problems that causes her to walk hunched over, her body almost at a complete right angle because she can’t hold herself up straight without any support. My most vivid memory of her from our trip was when I saw her stand up straight for the first time, with the assistance of her cane. She held it in front of her with both hands and slowly stretched out her back until she was standing at her full height. If you stood beside her, you could hear each joint of her spine popping as she straightened out. I was stricken by how regal she looked, she carried herself like a queen. I still see her as one, the queen of my family. I wish I could see her again, because I know that I won’t have many more chances to before she leaves this world to join my grandfather in the next life.
We left her house very early one morning, just before the sun came up so that we could catch our flight at the airport. She woke up early with us to see us off on our journey. She stood at the doorstep of her house crying as she watched us load all our luggage into the rental van. Finally, when we were all ready to go, she came up to us and pleaded with us to return. My sister and I could barely keep our tears in, we promised her we would return but we knew that it may or may not be likely. Despite her memory troubles, I think she knew deep down that she might not see us again. On some level she knows that she is sick, and when my grandfather passed away a few years ago, she was left to live on her own for the first time in decades. That mental strain is too much for someone who’s never been alone in her life. I wish I could bring my grandmother to Canada and show her all the luxuries that we have here, but her frail body can’t handle the strain and stress of travelling to a country that’s so far and so cold.
People don’t know what they have until it’s gone. In the few moments that I’ve had with my grandparents I’ve noticed how their smiles are always so pure with the joy of seeing the family that they don’t get to see often, but always with a hint of sadness when they realize we have to leave. I adore their eyes, so crinkled with love and dewed with happiness. Their faces aged and wizened by the years under the sun, each wrinkle being a part of a map that portrays the long life they’ve lived and the trials and tribulations they’ve faced. Grandparents are truly the guardian angels of mankind, I only wish I got to know mine.