The warmth of elders is an unparalleled bond. Imagine love spanning the gap between generations, of how its power can hold the whole family together. I was Amma’s first grandchild, and she was my last remaining grandparent. Since she passed away on Friday, I have been trying to grasp and hold on to her love as it fades from my life. Loss, sorrow and regrets take hold as I think of her.
My other grandparents passed on when I was still a toddler. Amma’s charismatic charm and love filled the gaps for anything that was ever missing. She was always there for me. ALWAYS. She flew halfway across the world to meet me before I was born, and embraced me as my grandmother. She was there for my brother. And my sister. For all of us, as we came.
We bonded much in the days before my sister was born. And those are my clearest, most vivid early memories together. I was five years old, in that apartment in New York. I used to sleep beside her when my mother was expecting my sister. I was afraid of the darkness, and I spoke to her as I lay in bed. In that snowy winter, she made me feel warm and comforted. She left the kitchen light on for me. I told her about the strange, ghostly noises from the kitchen. She told me that it could be a mouse, but nothing more. In that semi-darkness, she told me to not be afraid, and taught me how to pray. To say Thank You for everything I had, and to ask Him for a little baby sister. She was my safe haven. And when my sister was born, she showed me how to hold her. How to take care of her.
As I grew older in Karachi, Amma’s home was a regular refuge. Amma’s home is where all the warmest memories of my life took place. Amma’s room was where life took color. Her eyes lit up every time we entered, and she hugged and embraced us. Warmth and love. Home. My uncles and aunts used to be there. All of us, laughing, sharing stories, eating food. Years on, as the family grew with my uncles and aunts getting married, my younger cousins came waddling and crawling into the picture. Life used to be brightest in her room, and she used to be at the center of it, sitting by her bedside. Always. Weekend nights of a Karachi summer where the whole family was gathered – on her bed, on chairs and sofas in her room, often just sitting on the carpet. The AC was on, keeping the heat outside, and there would be ice cream. If I had to think of a memory to create a patronus charm, it would be the sum of all my days and evenings spent in her room. Love strong enough to take out all the dementors in Azkaban.
As I was leaving Pakistan two years ago, she held me close. I remember spending time with her on the evening before my flight. I sat next to her, in the living room for a change. The newest part of our family, my three-week-old cousin, was in my arms. Eldest and youngest grandchild with their grandmother, and I was going away forever. How did I never take a photo of us then? Regrets. It was all the love that you can’t leave behind. When it was time for me to leave, she hugged me tighter than she had in years. She did not want to let go. I promised her that I would come back. I promised to have her over when life was settled, and I meant it. I could feel her tears coming as I walked away. It was the last time I saw her, and I wish I hadn’t let go.
Her funeral is about to take place in Pakistan, and I lie awake here in bed. A part of me feels homeless without her and I can’t go back. There is a vacuum which makes you wonder, did I love her back enough? For love is indeed all that you leave behind. In these dark stretches of the night, all I can do is say another prayer. To try and not be afraid, to be thankful for all that I still have. Like Amma taught me once.