I have never lost anyone close to me in this lifetime and for that I am grateful beyond words. Not many people can boast having two sets of grandparents and for the longest time, I was allowed to wear that lucky badge on my sleeve, until I turned twenty two. I was living in Jakarta at the time, working in an internship when I received news of my grandfather’s passing. It wasn’t sudden, in fact, it was a long time coming; nevertheless, it still made my world stop spinning for a little while. During his last hour, I stayed on the phone and attempted to get through to him one last time via phone calls and voice notes, but at that point he was already more than a few steps along into his new journey. He eventually took his final great leap into the world beyond, just as everyone in the room had turned their backs for the briefest moment. My grandfather was never a man of many words and his passing was fitting for the way he had lived his whole life.
Losing someone when you’re away doesn’t lessen the grief in any way nor does it make it any less real.
As for me, a thousand miles away on my own, I took the morning off and spent it in my tiny rented apartment, hugging my knees, my mind whirring as I processed everything. The funny thing is that throughout all the exchanged phone calls, not one person had mentioned or brought up the idea of me coming back home. It was an awkward dilemma that no one had the time, energy or mental capacity to deal with at the time, but the unspoken gist was that there was no longer any reason for me to come all the way home to see my grandfather. It was understood that he would no longer be sitting in front of the television, waiting for me to do my stiff yet affectionate one-sided hug with his shoulder and to kiss his smooth, coffee-coloured cheeks.
See, my family is a practical one who weighs the functionality in everything. However, every person deals with death within the family differently. Another friend who was also studying abroad when his mother had passed away also stayed behind; while another booked the first flight home the moment she got wind of a family member’s passing. Maybe some will say I was selfish and unfeeling not to rush to my grieving family’s side, and to pay my last respects to someone who had been a steady presence throughout my life; others might say I was justified in my decision to stay put and deal with things on my own and in my own way.
You may be physically far away and even though it seems as if your present world is still in-tact, you only need to look slightly underneath the surface to realize that something big has shifted and that a lingering gloom has taken its place. That helpless feeling doesn’t go away either. It doesn’t get any less surreal, not even when you finally get home a few months later and see their favourite sofa, when you smell their favourite shirt, when you see their new headstone. Years on and it still feels like you lost a huge chunk of your life, not unlike amnesia; almost like you’ve gone under, come back up for air and realized that somehow it’s a different year, old Rip Van Winkle style. Losing someone when you’re away doesn’t lessen the grief in any way nor does it make it any less real. The love you had for someone, the memories you shared, and the sadness you feel at their loss is not discounted just because of mere distance.