I called my grandmother Mercy at the start of Holy Week. Her cheerful greeting was music to my ears; it had been too long since I’d heard her sound like her usual self. Her back pain had reduced and she’d been walking more frequently, she said. However, the hope that bloomed in me at her upbeat news was crushed by her following words. From the way she asked after my parents and sister Sonetta, I quickly inferred that she believed Sonet and I were still living at home in Mumbai.
Chills ran down my spine through the subsequent conversation, as I realised she had forgotten the past decade. She thought I was teasing when I said Sonet now lived in America and I, in Australia. I broke the news of my marriage, my children as gently as I could. She was hurt and utterly bewildered. Why didn’t you tell me, she asked. When I said she had attended my wedding, visited my house, had later met my daughter, she became terrified – as to why she couldn’t remember.
Even as I tried to soothe her, my mind was racing with ways to jog her memory. I told her it was probably the heavy medication affecting her memory. That she’d recall everything as she got better. I gave her my husband’s name and asked if she recognised it, without specifying who he was. His name rang a bell but she couldn’t say how she knew it. Then I said that this was my husband, and asked if she’d like to speak with him.
During the time she and my husband spoke, she started to recollect a few things. I put the speaker on and my daughter joined the conversation, with my son babbling in between. Hearing the kids cheered her up and seemed to help.
When I took the phone from them, she asked if I spoke often with my parents and Sonet. Of course I did, I assured her. That is how families should be, she said, before breaking down into bitter tears over how Daughter 2 hasn’t called her up in months. Daughter 2 used to call her regularly last year. However, beginning Christmas Day 2016, prior to Mercy’s last hospitalisation, there were some incidents that triggered Daughter 2’s famously volatile temper.
Mercy had told her not to waste money on sending expensive groceries she had no use for, a remark which greatly offended Daughter 2’s pride. Then Daughter 2 offered to contribute towards the pay rise Mercy’s housekeeper was asking for, which greatly offended Son 2’s pride, leading to a heated argument between them. To both, their respective pride ranks above their old mother’s wellbeing.
I believe the last time Daughter 2 spoke with Mercy, she went on an enraged rant where, among other things, she made a death threat against my mother. While no one in my family took Daughter 2 seriously, this level of feuding among her children was heartbreaking for Mercy. My mother and I both wrote to Daughter 2, telling her to come after us directly instead of battering this weak, old lady. I further told her to only call up Mercy when she felt capable of conversing respectfully. Sadly, that day has not yet arrived.
We have just finished another Lent and Easter. The whole purpose of the Lenten season is for us Christians to curtail some of our daily busyness to introspect. To devote more time learning God’s word than we normally do. And in the light of this learning, to revaluate our lives’ direction: are we walking God’s path, or our own? To realign ourselves, where we have strayed. To seek forgiveness, so that when Easter dawns, we can emerge with renewed faith to live as He instructs.
Though many in my family are fastidious about external shows of faith – fasting and church-going – yet another holy season has passed by without moving them internally. Old grudges, jealousies, unhealthy rivalries and wounded pride are still more important than God’s word to forgive and foster peace.
Meanwhile, an old lady lies pining for the love and affection that can only come from family. As I’ve noted before, it doesn’t matter how loving my family are, we cannot make up what should rightfully come from her other children and grandchildren. The undeniable lack of that love is eroding her body, mind and spirit.
Every phone call I’ve made since has unfolded similarly. I’m no psychologist, but this fading memory seems born out of self-preservation. When she has visitors, she perks up and seems sharper. But for the most part, she is languishing in loneliness, with recent memories too painful to bear. Can any doctor or medicine cure that?