Monday, October 24, 2011

One Missed Flight

There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. - Victor Hugo

Two years ago yesterday, my mother and father rushed down to Florida (we live in Virginia) as my aunt had called to indicate that my grandfather was getting worse, and not better, after his latest bought with cancer, this time oesophageal as opposed to lung cancer, which he’d beaten almost two decades ago.  I didn’t go; not wanting to miss work, or go running onto a plane and paying God knows what to get there.  It is now, on the anniversary of his death, that I reflect on what was one of my poorest decisions.

I was never close to my grandfather, either of them actually.  My father’s father died when I was less than fifteen, I’d met him maybe twice.  I knew of him, but never knew him.  My mother’s father, as is often the case I find, we knew quite well.  My mother’s parents have always been a huge part of our life, and it is rather telling, I think, about the family aspect that men or women have as they start their own families.  I find men seem less committed to keeping their family ties close, whereas girls have a tendency to maintain very strong bonds.

My grandfather and grandmother lived in India most of their lives, having an arranged marriage.  My grandmother stayed at home with the kids while my grandfather was a professor at Delhi University.  He was a very intelligent man, very well read, and studied at Leeds in England, a premier school even then.  He penned a book or two and contributed to a dictionary between Arabic, English and Urdu, or what you Americans call ‘Indian.’  I never really knew much about my grandfather save for the interactions we had within the family.

As you may know, I’m not terribly popular in the family.  I never do things the ‘way’ you should, but I’m always respectful.  My grandfather never really liked me, I think.  If he did, it was never clear.  Despite that, duty to family is something most girls in my culture are indoctrinated to.  When he moved here, after my grandmother died, he stayed briefly with my aunt before destroying the relationship between my aunt and uncle, and was forced to move to Virginia.  He lived with us for some years, and while I can’t say I ever looked back on that time as positive, he was another family member you had to live with.  I find that American families I see have a tendency to ship their older parents into homes, as opposed to taking care of them.  I can’t even imagine putting my parents in a home.  And I couldn’t imagine putting my grandfather in a home, but he was never dependent upon anyone for much.

After staying with us for a short period of time, my uncle moved to West Virginia, and he decided to move out there.  It wasn’t long before he had worn out his welcome, so my parents ‘convinced’ my sister and I to buy a home for my grandfather to live in.  This is one reason I don’t heed my parent’s financial advice today, as I’m still paying that debt, long after he’s passed on.  He was thankful, of course, he knew the burden we were taking on, though I doubt he ever fully realised why it was necessary.

My grandfather, like most older people, demand respect from the youth, but in this day and age, and I find on this site a lot, young people don’t show any respect to anyone older than them.  It is as if young people have seen it and done it all, which is not even close to true.  I read the general rudeness on this site and often think of the tart comments you’d receive from my grandfather.  He never outright denigrated or insulted anyone, no, he was far too clever for that, he would use the passive aggressive approach and loop it to infinity.  If you were being too loud, he would say, ‘You’re doing that wonderfully, but can you do it louder?’  As a child, I never understood how condescending he was being, and even now I can’t fault him for it.

On my mother’s side of the family, we always had an unwritten list of who his favourite grandchildren were.  My sister always topped the list, as she was the first grandchild he had, my uncle’s oldest son often swapped second with my uncle’s daughter, while my aunt’s middle daughter and I were in the middle, with my aunt’s oldest daughter always at the bottom.  I have another cousin, but he was born late and never really made the list.  It was quite a bone of contention to increase your standing on the list, but no matter my efforts, I’d never succeed in any substantive way that he’d be interested in.  The key being, the list of things to do, was hidden, it was a mystery.

I realise this entry is starting to look like a rant, but really, I loved my grandfather.  He was my grandfather, and often times, quotes are kind of right, you can’t control how you feel about someone sometimes.  And in this instance that is the case, no matter how inconsequential or insignificant my actions seemed to him, I still wanted to find some common ground.  And I’m not faultless, I’m sure there were times I said or did something that offended him, but it happens in all relationships.

Back to the present, as my parents flew down in haste to Florida, I mulled over my decision.  The very next morning, one of my cousins’s called me, after staying at the hospital the previous night all night, to tell me he was looking worse and worse and I should have flown in with my parents.  At this news I was really shocked.  I hadn’t expected his health to deteriorate so quickly.  In the early 1990’s, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, after a life of smoking (let that be a lesson to all you smokers out there – though I know it isn’t), this meant that his doctors should be checking on cancer every time he got a check-up.  Imagine our surprise in May of that year that he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Oesophageal Cancer, there were three stages that went completely unnoticed.  Needless to say, once the diagnosis was made, it became somewhat psychosomatic, and his spirit fell as he was no longer able to eat solid foods and more that I won’t go into.

The last time I saw my grandfather was about three weeks before he died.  I had flown down with both of my cousins from WVa and my sister, and it was the first time we were all together in a few weeks, as my sister got married earlier that month.  We had a great time over the weekend, but didn’t spend a ton of time with my grandfather, as you might expect, he wasn’t well and wasn’t really up to entertaining.  I’d like to think he was glad we were there, but with him you could never tell.

While I realise this entry has rambled a bit, I feel like I need to reflect on his death, and my decisions that led me not to be there when I probably should have been.  I know now, and then, that I couldn’t do anything to change the circumstances, you can’t alter that path, none of us can.  And I realise not all families are functional, most are dysfunctional.  But when the patriarch of the family dies, I feel like it was important for all of us to be present.

I feel disappointed in myself, and in the information I based my decision off of.  I made assumptions about things that I had no business guessing about.  What frustrates me more is I see myself still making these same sorts of decisions even now.  But to place something like that on chance is poorly thought out.  And I look back now and can easily see that the man was on death’s door.  And no matter the circumstances of our relationship, or lack thereof, it was incumbent upon me to make the right decision.

The sense of regret I feel probably won’t ever go away.  In many ways, by his death, my grandfather brought the family closer together.  Unfortunately, as is often the case, I will more likely remember the hurtful things my grandfather said and did over the positive things, but that is human nature.  I want to say I’ve learned from this, but even now I fall back on bad habits.  The point, if there was one, of this entry, was merely to illustrate how assumptions can hurt you.  Though, there was a lot of other filler in there as well. 

1 comment:

  1. Deep.

    I'm glad to finally see it in writing - I was the favorite!