Art by Nadine Badran
No matter how many classic movies I watch in a weekend, reality finds a way of catching up with me; an email reminding me of an appointment, a deadline that approaches without warning, or a sudden phone call that informs me that my grandfather has passed away. That’s the unfortunate thing about reality – rarely is music played to foreshadow tragedy.
It’s another sleepless night that I’m left without a grand epiphany, without a concrete finale, and without last words to live by. I can’t fast forward through the grief, anxiety, or the intense need to bury my sorrow under lavish covers in the middle of the afternoon. I have to live out each numbing chapter, suffocated by polystyrene ceilings, soft harmonies, and pungent flowers while pale relatives smile weakly in my direction.
The spirit of my grandfather does not live in this poorly constructed space. I don’t see his smile folded into the bouquets of carnations. I don’t hear his laugh through speeches of shepherds and the romanticized journey of life. I don’t feel his warmth in a drafty reception hall overcrowded with egg salad sandwiches and small talk.
My motivation is lost in cemetery plots; the imminence of death cuts into my throat and steals my ability to breathe. A late night rendezvous with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly cannot help me escape the sharp pain soaking into my veins as I finally realize, this is real. This is what happens after the credits roll. I will never see my grandfather again.
Struggling to put the world on pause, I find solace in old photographs capturing memories of the old me. The girl who blindly assumed we’d all live forever; a kid who was ignorant to the reality that not everybody was fortunate enough to have a childhood like I did. Indulged in selfishness, I couldn’t see that my own grandfather experienced neglect as a child. Yet despite this horrible reality, he made his escape and fell into a supportive family who offered opportunities his own never did.
I’m told grief is an ongoing process, that a day will not go by where I won’t think about him. Though I can’t jump a time gap to see how I will make it through this – such overwhelming thoughts are best drowned in whiskey – but the numbness of my body mixes with the numbness of my mind, and I’m back to the beginning. Back to staying awake until four in the morning and sleeping until noon, watching three movies a day and neglecting deadlines that haunt me no matter how deeply I try to subside into non-existence.
As I lay wrapped in soft blankets knit by my grandmother and breathe in the comforts of home, I consider the experience of my first, real funeral. I don’t remember feeling suffocated by people that are merely trying to find their own way through grief. Mostly, I remember the spirit and strength of my family. With all its secrets, scandals, and broken pieces, we remain connected through the presence of my grandfather. We may cry and softly scream into our exhausted minds, but we can still laugh, we can still smile, and more than ever, we can love each other.
I was right to observe the spirit of my grandfather not existing in flowers, finger food or tackily decorated funeral homes. He isn’t there anymore than I am. His passion exists in a much needed hug between two cousins, or a retelling of his favourite story; his spirit exists in mine.
I shift from my cozy nest, and put something with Humphrey Bogart on my screen. Observing the growing stack of untouched school books eroding my room, I quietly sigh as I acknowledge where my present priorities lay. I can’t always predict what reality has in store for me or my family, nor navigate its haunting terrain, but I can trust that somehow we’ll find a happy ending.