When I returned to Montreal from my brief birthday visit to Ottawa, it was for a very short time. On the 9th, literally moments after posting my last couple entries on this blog, I received a phone call. My grandmother, Raj Ahluwalia, or as I call her, Dadima, had had a stroke. I left for Ottawa the next day. Surprising everyone, myself included, she endured the first few days, then weeks, and had even started showing signs of recovery. But then, on the 21st, her heart failed and she was gone.
Admittedly, it wasn't much of a surprise. Her health (most specifically, her blood pressure, water retention, and a serious persistent back pain) had been steadily worsening in the last year, and that seemed to be escalating rapidly. In the time between my leaving for Montreal on August 7th and returning for my birthday on September 1st, her condition had become so bad that she was barely able to function without supervision 24/7. Upon seeing her, I hadn't expected her to make it to the end of the year. But even I was surprised at how sudden this was.
Before I get into my more personal writings on the topic, here is the eulogy I gave:
"I wasn't planning to speak today, not because I didn't want to. Rather, I couldn't find the words to do this marvelous woman justice. But, I think I did finally find the word: mother. Raj Ahluwalia, my Dadima, above all else, was a mother.
But not in such a limited way many might take the word. To her, everyone was her children. She loved indiscriminately, even sometimes to her detriment, and the warmth and generosity she showed everyone she met was unparalleled. She treated everyone she met as one of her own children, be it distant relatives or even complete strangers, and I think that was clear to anyone that met her.
I remember a story from when she was a teacher at Andrew Fleck. My aunt came to pick her up at the end of the day, and the children asked who she was. She was of course Raj's daughter. The children responded "but she's out nanima". And she was. Her shrewdness, her will, her playfulness, and most importantly, her love... These were gifts she shared with everyone.
It's true that I lost my grandmother, and that she was one of the dearest people to me, but that seemed inadequate. The truth is, the world lost a mother. But she does live on, through the love she gave to all of us, all of her children."
I had a very hard time writing that. As I mention in the text, I originally had said I wouldn't speak, mostly because I couldn't think of what I could say. But the word mother stuck with me, and made it clear.
I do a decent amount of roleplaying, and in that sphere I often play mother figures. I even like to consider that I make a pretty good fatherly figure, despite my age. Emotionally though, I've always had a hard time. It doesn't come to me all that naturally to express warmth. In most situations, I emulate it as best I can. But a lot of what I mimic, the attitudes, the feelings, the warmth... Most of that comes from her. My grandmother is quite possibly the most motherly figure I have ever known.
Her behaviour bordered on stereotypical in that regard. Any time someone visited, she insisted that they be fed and cared for. She'd accept people with open arms no matter who they were (in fact, in the last months she showed great kindness to a woman who turned out to be a blatant thief and liar; I don't usually hold grudges, but I will never forgive that woman for taking advantage of Dadima the way she did). I had never seen her raise her voice or act aggressively, but she could bring an authoritative tone and once that came, people responded.
She wasn't a fool either. She was superstitious, very particular, and sometimes overly protective of others certainly (I would often debate with her about simple things like picking up a bag she thought was too heavy, taking the bus at night, or taking out the trash without putting on my shoes), but she knew how to deal with people. Truth be told the only reason the thieving woman got the better of the family was that Dadima was too frail to keep an eye on her herself (I was in Montreal and my aunt worked while this woman kept the house). Dadima would rarely be bested in a game of wits or will, and almost always got her way. She was also a fantastic mediator. When my father died and there was a vicious split between my father's side of the family and my mother, it was my grandmother that ultimately made the move to resolve things. She's the only member of the trio of my father's parents and sister that my mother still held significant affection for (that's perhaps a story for another time).
One other thing about her that was remarkable was her spirit. Dadima was someone who didn't give up, and brimmed with a liveliness rarely seen in people. She loved to dance, and it was pretty much impossible to find her wearing anything that could ever be described as "dull". She had for a long time said she would dance at my graduation, and despite her condition making it hard for her to stand for very long, sure enough when the time came dance she did. Another thing that stuck with my aunt when we were in the hospital is that at one point early on when all seemed lost, she gripped her hand and said "I'm an Ahluwalia. We're fighters." And sure enough she ended up lasting much longer than anyone expected. Long enough that she was able to speak to the many people that called and visited. To be perfectly honest, I was doubtful that my next day bus ride would get me back in time to see her, but I was able to stay by her side and speak to her for twelve days. Given what everyone was saying, that alone was extraordinary. But then again, Dadima was the kind of person who would do the opposite of what you demanded of her just on principle.
Anyway, I know at this point my ramblings are getting convoluted and anecdotal (if they were ever coherent in the first place). Primarily this was just a cathartic release of thoughts for myself anyway. But I think I'll wrap it up now.
Dadima was among the only people I've ever felt a strong emotional bond with, and now that's gone. I still have doubts, because she had made it very clear she rather would have wanted that I stay near her, and with myself and my mom pretty much abandoning Ottawa she lost a sizeable portion of her remaining local connections (even if I was just a two hour ride away). It marked an end of an era, and I'll forever suspect that in that sense, I contributed to her death. I can't say that I regret the act of moving itself, but that guilt over what it did to her in that final time will be something I'll have to live with. On the other hand, I'm glad that after all the pain she was suffering, she is finally at peace. Additionally, I am glad in a way that it happened while I was still not employed, so that I could return to see and be with her for the time she had left.
Rest well, Dadima. I will always love you. -Your Sunshine