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“Your grandfather is in the hospital.” Her mother croaked through the line. She could hear in the voice the anxiety, the tears, and the sharp lines that appeared on the forehead of a distraught, worn face.
That was half a year ago, and after that phone call, her grandfather never left the hospital, not until last Tuesday when an untimely ring woke her up at 4 a.m. from what would’ve been an entirely ordinary morning. He was gone.
The columnist tried her best to fathom the enormity of the situation as she walked from the car to the gathering. I’m supposed to cry. She closed her eyes, but felt no tears crawl up. There was no trace of muddling emotions or that choking feeling that leaves you out of breath. In fact, her heart felt hollow, a void in her chest. Reaching the group of solemn looking relatives, she filed into the church with them. Bible in hand, the preacher began the ritual with a prayer. Outside the weather was acting up. The tapping of the rain on the church’s frame was soothing, a grey music. Listening, she felt a sense of relief. After all these years of suffering from partial paralysis and the agony of feeding and breathing from tubes, her grandfather is in a better place now.
A few rows in front a younger cousin suppressed a yawn and another made faces at his sister. A few kids started scuffling about the benches at the end of the eulogy. When the ceremony ended and the adults began to converge for consolations, they broke out of the suppression of their mother’s arms and began chasing each other in a game of tag at the back of the church. Slightly senile, grandmother stared after them with her usual vapid expression. Finally, the columnist turned to look at her mother, who by now had become a sniffling mess, face of apoplectic red and tears streaming. The handkerchief clutched in those hands was pathetic in attempting to hide such grief.
At the end of the service, the closest family members had the opportunity to see grandfather one last time. I’m just not close enough to him. That’s why I’m not crying. She rationalized while locating other possibly indifferent faces in the crowd. She couldn’t alleviate the guilt clutching her insides. Her mother and aunts approached the casket, their long black gowns in trepid movement. The weeping wept even more, while the stone-faced looked even sterner. The grandmother, with the help of many arms and a walking stick, approached the casket last. Her small, hunched frame began to shiver, and droplets of tears rained down at the sight of her old companion. The hired Vietnamese caretaker, to many people’s surprise, sobbed vehemently by her side.
On the way home from church, the rain grew stronger. The squeaking of the window-wipers accompanied by the sniffing sound from the passenger seat grinded at the columnist’s patience. For the entire last week, her days were divided in between comforting and taking care of her mother and pressing deadlines coupled with a verbally abusive boss. Having the bad habit of working at the last minute, she tended to exhaust herself, binge on comfort food, and procrastinate once again. Her mother was extra baggage, one that had to be handled with extra care. As if I don’t have enough to deal with! At the same time, she was disgusted by such thoughts, by her selfishness and annoyance. What kind of human being wouldn’t cry at her grandfather’s funeral? What kind of human being…
“Y..you know?” Her mother said chokingly.
“What?” The columnist replied with poorly hidden exasperation.
“I keep having his image in my head…you know…after his second stroke.”
Oh not again. Please don’t start weeping again. I’m tired…I don’t have anything left to say…
“I keep asking myself why I didn’t hug him then!”
Pain suddenly shot up into the daughter’s heart.
“He was in such great pain, yet I never…I couldn’t do anything about it…I didn’t even give him a hug! I guess I was hiding. Hiding from what was before my eyes. Not one hug. And now…I can no longer touch him. I will never see him again!” At this point her mother choked and began to sob.
“I’m sorry. I told myself to stop doing this in front of you…” She turned around and found her daughter clenching the steering wheel, jaw clenched but not holding back the tears that flowed down. Because in that moment, for a second, her daughter thought she glimpsed into a mirror.