I hurriedly ran down the stairs and poured myself a cup of coffee: I was already late to class. I rushed to the door past Daddaba (my Grandfather), who had an affinity for singing along to random Bollywood karaoke videos on Youtube in the early morning. As he attempted a high note, I chuckled lightly and ran out the door.
Little did I know, that would be the last time I would clearly hear his booming laughter or his singing. A few days later, I was visiting a friend when I received a text from my mother: Daddaba was scheduled to undergo a minor surgery today, and something has gone wrong. He was in the ICU and had fallen unconscious. I rushed to the hospital, confused and afraid.
At the hospital, I learned the doctor had accidentally forgotten to remove the bubbles in the dye they used in Daddaba’s surgery, causing him to go under respiratory arrest. As a result, he had fallen unconscious for around two weeks and had a tube lodged in his throat. Weeks later, this tube would go on to damage his throat and his booming voice would be reduced to a low whisper.
The day after Dada was admitted to the hospital, I felt helpless. None of my parents had the emotional capacity or time to explain to me what was happening to him, and our loud, playful and joyous home suddenly became the last place I wanted to be. I was afraid of going home, and I was even more afraid of going to the hospital. I felt like I had to get away and distract myself with friends and school, so I convinced myself I was studying and sat in the library for hours with my head on the table.
That’s why when the invitation for a party come one day, I didn’t want to turn it down. It sucks to admit, I promise it does, but sometimes we do things we aren’t proud of. For me, this was one of those times. At the party, I felt extremely out of place and paranoid. I was so mad at myself: I should have been spending time with my family but instead, I was being selfish and trying to distract myself. When I was at the party, my mom called. She was disappointed and hurt that I didn’t show up to the hospital all day. I think it really was that point in time when I realized how selfish I was being.
When I got home, I looked for Pappa to apologize for my terrible behavior. After a short search, I found him in the family room with the lights off with tears all over his face. When he saw me, he smiled. That’s when my stomach dropped. I was horrified at myself. I spent the rest of the night in my grandmother’s lap, listening to her stories and occasionally wiping the tears on her cheeks.“I have always prayed,” she said. “that I go before him.” I didn’t know what to say, so I just squeezed her hand. She squeezed it back. This was a time for us to get closer, and I had been pushing everyone away.
The next day after class, my sister and I went straight to the hospital to meet the rest of my family. Believe me when I say that everyone ought to spend a day observing the hospital at least once in their lifetime. You will find both grief and joy, and almost always where you least expect it. Or sometimes you will find people who find joy through their grief, and that will warm your heart.
The following week was a blur of crying, hugs, hospital visitors, and a whole lot of praying. The hospital became kind of a second home for us. We were all there for as long as possible, often eating there, meeting there, and sometimes, just simply sitting and waiting for something to happen.
I thought my Grandpa was going to die. And it was so confusing and hurt way more than I expected. However, I wasn’t the only one having trouble dealing with the situation. One day my brother and I were driving back from the hospital and I just started crying. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “You weren’t even close to him.” And then I got mad and at yelled at him, but deep down in my heart, I knew it was true. I was a terrible grandkid. And I was so sorry for it. Another time, I reprimanded my sister because I thought that she “didn't seem upset enough.” In hindsight, this experience taught me something very valuable: everyone grieves differently. Some cry, and some bottle up their emotions, and no one way means more than the mother.
Because there can only be three people in the hospital room at a time, our family and friends developed a rotating system to ensure that someone was with my grandpa at all times. But most of the time, it was my Dad who sat at my grandpa’s bedside, simply talking to him. At this point, it was crucial for us to get him to move and respond to us. All day, my parents tried calling his name, requesting commands such as “move your leg,” and putting the rest of our family from Pakistan on the speakerphone to encourage him. He blinked once, and we were all ecstatic. I spent a lot of time that day astonished: two days ago he was walking, blinking, and talking, and nobody said a thing and today it was enough for us that he blinked once in a day.
It was painful to see Daddaba in a coma, especially because he was widely known for his strength and willpower among friends and family; seeing him incapable of movement was heartbreaking. At 74 he would leave home on his own and go on walks, go swimming, make his own meals, once took me to a horror house, and still had a bullet in his ankle from a time he was shot at over 40 years ago. My grandpa isn’t perfect, but he is always trying. The older I get, the more I respect it.
As tough a journey that this was, it made us all so much stronger. It made me appreciate every single person and moment in my life, and it allowed me to ponder on the things and people that actually matter to me. Sometimes you really do have to learn the hard way.
Dada is better now. I try to visit him in the senior home often. When I visit, the nurses boast about much he likes to exercise and spends extra time in speech therapy, testament to his determination to get better. Slowly but surely, he is healing: he can chew on his own, he can walk again, read again, and most importantly, he can sing again.
By the grace and willpower of God and God only, Dadabba is so close to the finish line and ready to come home. Whenever I visit him, he is optimistic and charismatic about the future. As odd as it sounds, we had our first hour and a half long conversation on my last visit this past Sunday.
It is truly fascinating to me how the storm is always what allows us to be appreciate of clearer skies.