The aroma of sandesh and chai filled the living room as I entered our apartment in Calcutta, India, on a scorching summer day after a day of traveling. I was exhausted, physically, and emotionally. And my only thought was, “where is my grandmother?”
After battling Parkinson’s disease for twenty-two years, my grandma, Lily Gooptu, fell and fractured her hip; and a spiral of events took place this summer that led to her leaving this world last month.
But my relationship with her is still innocuously alive.
She comes alive in my dreams often and it brings me abundant joy. The type of joy you feel when you flip a page on a children’s book; a page full of color, comfort and happy endings.
One of my recent dreams was centered in a living room that was full of white couches, pink porcelain tea sets, flowers, and people were gathered around to talk about my grandmother, all in the while she was occupying a seat on the couch herself. Her eyes were fixated on me and she was smiling beautifully at me the whole time, her blue-ish green eyes shining like the glistening ocean under the midday sun.
In another dream, I ran to her and hugged her tightly. I apologized to her for something, and asked if she was upset with me; and she kissed my forehead and said “No shona (endearing term), how can I ever possibly be upset with you?”
Growing up between India, an expatriate community in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, allowed me to learn how love transcends cultures, languages, and rituals.
This is why I stayed with my grandmother until the moment she was cremated, despite it being a traumatic process filled with rituals I did not often understand. All I knew was that I wanted to honor the unconditional love we shared.
As we dispersed her ashes in the Ganges River, none of my concerns about death rituals in Hinduism mattered. I remember feeling at peace and deeply connected to her.
And the connection I feel with her presents itself in indefinite ways.
Looking at her photos from her theater days in Calcutta sparks an innocent desire to be a part of a play someday, and when I remember her stories of her time abroad in Europe, I too, want to travel to Switzerland, her favorite country, and relive the happiness she described.
We shared a love of perfumes, dogs, chocolates, eating take-out food with good company, the color purple, and talking in British accents.
Her caregivers told me I resemble my grandmother through my mannerisms and traits, and I am warmed to know I continue her legacy through my idiosyncrasies.
Never will I forget the smell of her flowery perfume, the jubilant smile she had on her face when her loved ones were in her company, the taste of her delicious pulao, and most importantly, her courage to not allow her disability to define her.
When I get sad, I recall how she would call my name across the apartment during my visits and signal with her hands to come to her room, accompanied with a beautiful smile, and restless legs that were secretly saying I wish I walk over to you. This memory will always light my way through life’s trenches.
Recently, I have found myself looking for the color purple when I go shopping and scanning for porcelain tea seats.
And I go to bed each night praying that I dream of her.
Although death hallmarks the end of one’s life, it also herald’s the beginning of a new chapter, one that writes itself through dreams, memories, and traits we pick up along the way. These are all precious emblems that death can never rob us of.