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poem | Professor Anju Mary Paul
photo | Vice-Rector Eduardo Lage-Otero
He died and I wasn’t there.
Ninety-seven years old. My grandfather.
In his bed, that he bought.
In his house, that he built.
Surrounded by all his children and their children .
He just closed his eyes and slipped away, they tell me.
Those eyes that were half-blind with cataracts
So that he confused his children with their children
And had to be told who he was looking at.
His fingers tracing their cheeks, shoulders, elbows.
Gripping their hands tight to keep them close,
Scared he would lose sight of them forever.
I didn’t see him before he died.
Wasn’t planning on going home for another six months.
To see this man who had outlived a wife and two children
And was supposed to keep on living.
At least six months longer.
To hold his hands, kiss his cheeks, hug him tightly.
And not let go, in case I lost him forever.
I wasn’t there.
Didn’t see it.
So he can’t be dead.
At least, not till six months from now
When I go home and can’t find him.
I wrote this poem several years ago, when my paternal grandfather passed away in India while I was working in Singapore. Every death is different, and the death of a 97-year-old grandfather who had lived a full life is not the same as the death of a 20-something young man in his prime. But grief is grief. I carried my secret sorrow within me for a long time because I didn’t know how to explain the depth of my pain and guilt to my friends and colleagues in Singapore. I was worried they wouldn’t want to listen to me work through my inchoate thoughts. It was only when I started to write, to put into words on the patient page, that I was able to begin healing.
We are very fortunate as a community to have so many people willing to listen during times of grieving. But, if you don’t feel like talking, consider writing down your emotions instead, in prose or poetry. The page is patient. The page never interrupts. The page does not judge.
Anju Mary Paul is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale-NUS College. Before she became an academic, she worked as a journalist and editor in the United States. Before that, she dabbled in poetry and fiction while working as an airline executive. One of her stories was published in 21 under 40: New Stories for a New Generation, an anthology of the best short stories by South Asian women under the age of 40. Her non-fiction work has been published in the Brooklyn Rail, the Austin American-Statesman, Women’s eNews, In the Fray, and the NYU Alumni Magazine.