His ‘kain pelikat’ was soaked with my tears as I clung to his knees and wept. The hour had passed with me sharing with him all my woes. I told him about the silliest, insignificant word someone had called me that felt unjust. I talked about the people I love with all of my heart, yet couldn’t connect with. I cried for all that I yearn for, all just within my grasp but which were denied. I expressed my fear at the unknown, donning the mask of an examiner, eyes never leaving, ready to pounce at every mistake.
As I finally threw out all coherency and lost all sense of language but for the sobs that burst out of my chest, he placed his hand on my shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze.
“Don’t worry, you’ll find your cat again. She isn’t lost.”
And in spite of all of my anguish and anxiety, I laughed. I looked up and saw him smiling at me, pleased to see that he made me feel better.
He was my grandfather. A nonagenarian who didn’t remember that he had ever married or had children, most of the time. A man who woke up at a different time period each day, with a slightly different view on life. A man who would delightfully share with you tales of his youth, which he remembered in great detail, if you ask the right questions. A man who would listen to you empathically whenever you have a weight you need to lift off your chest; and even though he didn’t always understand all that you shared, he would try to cheer you up and give you words of advice and encouragement.
For a few years, my father had encouraged me to write about my experience caring for my grandfather, in hopes that it would help others who also have someone dear to care for. He wanted me to share how I felt and the struggles I had to face so others won’t feel like they were alone in this. And no matter how much I tried to convince him that this wasn’t a chore for me, he would insist on thanking me for my ‘sacrifice’.
I initially didn’t want to write about this, which is why it has taken me years to finally put this together. The days I spent with my grandfather and what I shared with him was something very close and personal to me, something I feel irrationally possessive about.
Because it had never been a sacrifice — it was one of the most fulfilling years of the latter half of my life. I felt loved, cherished and richer than I had been for so many years.
I cannot honestly say that every day was a walk in the park. There were days when he insisted that he wasn’t hungry and I had to wreck my brain in trying to find something which would coax his appetite. There were nights when I found him with the wardrobe door wide opened and all of his clothes piled high on his bed. He was fit for his age but he had accidents — he once fell asleep while having tea and fell to the floor — so I always had to keep a sharp eye. We even had days when he woke up and was only able to converse in Arabic (which my very rusty elementary Arabic couldn’t keep up with) and another in German. And I remember a day when he insisted that he had to leave the house because he needed to see a friend even though it was past midnight.
But at the same time, I enjoyed whipping up crazy ideas to make his food appealing to his eye. I was entertained when he suddenly went to my brother late at night and spent an hour teaching him the correct way to march. When we left the house, I liked to show him odd and fascinating things I could see that others may find silly. I shared the funny videos I found on the internet that I thought he would enjoy and we watched them together. I even spoke Trengganuspeak with him, something that I had been too anxious to try out with anyone else.
But the thing I never told my father was that, beyond all that, my grandfather was the one person I could share all of what I hid from the rest of the world without the fear of disappointment or prejudice. He was my source of comfort when the nights felt so dark and cold. He was my confidant and my friend; never expecting more of me than what I feel I could shoulder and always offering me his strength when I feel too tired to stand. Caring for someone like him had given me such a sense of purpose, acceptance, appreciation and validation that I hadn’t found elsewhere.
At no time had the days I spent with him felt like a sacrifice more than it was a gift.
I don’t know who I was to him, he only referred to me as ‘ganda-ganda kita’ (one of us), but to me, he had a life worthy to be painted in a series of books. He was a man who had walked on the Earth before me and tried his hands at something grand and amazing and was somewhat disappointed with the response he received. He was someone who had so much love in him that it had broke him several times over. He was one of the people I had to thank for the life I have and for being the person that I am.
He was the one person I spilled all of my heart to ever since my brother was old enough to understand the weight of the words I say. He was my sanctuary from scrutinising eyes and the solace that soothes my turbulence. He was the best of my friends and he was my dear, old grandfather.