I watched my grandfather die today. When trying to talk about death there’s always some gap between the thought and the available semantics. Always something that sounds off when niceties are stripped from the bear notion you want to say, as though meaning must be adorned by niceties for it to be understood. It must be embellished with societal euphemisms because it sounds better. Less macabre. More polite. More proper. And therefore more comprehensible. Saying you watched someone die. There’s a hint of twistedness there somewhere. A hint of wrong. Watch. Watch isn’t the right word. Watch is too passive, but in the likes of death maybe to be passive is the only response, the only reaction. Maybe, when one dies, all we can do is to submit. Submit to thought; submit to grief or surprise, even envy, even awe, even apathy. Whatever abstraction our emotions choose to reflect themselves as. Maybe in truth, in literal, unadorned truth all we can do is watch, but being human demands we do something more. Being conscientious demands we act. Being riddled with complexes- we feel obliged to prevent death, stop it in its tracts. An impossibility we, as a race, have been obsessed with.
I or any other man could not save him. Despite staying by his bedside all day when he turned pale ash, a whiten grey because he was too tired, too ill even to go on with his dialysis. Despite staying when everyone else broke down, when everyone else submitted to fear because death is as frightening as it is fascinating. Despite holding his hand in the ambulance because everyone else was too nervous to ride with him. Despite staying when he flat lined for the first time, when he was rendered comatose, when he flat lined for the last. And despite all these acts, all I could do was watch as death kissed his cheek and held his hand. Watch with a bit of fear, a bit of envy and above all, a bit of awe.
I suddenly realized how vainglorious I was. How arrogant I seemed forcing myself to look into the face of death. There’s this part of me that says I didn’t stay out of compassion or kindness or strength. I stayed because I wanted everyone to think I was brave. I stayed because I wanted death to feel that I wasn’t afraid of her- not anymore despite its numerous forms. I was daring death- not to take me but to rear its torturous glance at me just to see if I could take on such a glance, without blinking, without crying, without trepidation. And I did. And in my triumph I never felt guiltier. In my ever constant rivalry with death, I had forgotten the significant presence of life, the life of my grandfather. It’s so easy to lose sight of the humanity of things. It’s so fragile a thought, a concept. It proves how society’s constructs though prevalent, though naturalized, though imposed are not imperturbable. It is in fact flimsy, prone to wither, prone to change, prone to forgetfulness- especially the concept of humanity. Which is so easy to lose.
I also realized how apathetic I was becoming under the mask of my vainglory, under the sneer of my battle cry, the ingenious armor of my own insecurity hiding itself, redressing itself as ready, as brave, as strong. It wasn’t the lack of feeling that amazed me and scared me at the same time but rather my capability to turn it on or off in so quick an instance. And just to note, being able to turn emotions on and off isn’t necessarily the same as being able to control them, not completely. You can never really control wild things, neither could you tame them.
There was an instance, a time when death made its move by toying with its pawn- a life consumed by grief. And at that instance, I thought death will win. Death shall take this round. It didn’t but in such a moment, controlling or taming or denying my penchant was an impossibility. I watched the people around me sob. One in particular, caught my sentiment. She held on to him like a child. Technically she was his child, but under the societal construct of being thirty, helplessness, a childish helplessness wasn’t part of the profile. She wept and she whispered sweet silliness into his ears. Simple things like “why did you give up” “you said we would go home together” “you were so strong then”. But one cliché that took me by surprise, one simple word that almost gave the victory to death came at me like a bullet. “I’m sorry”. And there I saw myself. “I’m sorry’. It resounded like a memory, the echo of a dream from long ago. Sorry for being imperfect, sorry for not being there more, sorry for a lot of things, sorry for not changing enough, for changing too slow, for changing all the wrong things in all the wrong ways. I’m sorry. Death has a way of resurfacing the past and amplifying the future, which predominantly composes the reason as to why we fear death. It makes us realize time. And that with time, we have regrets. Because we never fully realize the time we have under the pressures of the mechanical measurement of time.
Another thing that death amplifies is change. Change in context. Death does not abide by the context of the living, by the context of that which is human. As I watched them resuscitate him, I remember thinking: can’t they clean him first? It was so important to me that he was clean before death takes him, that he feels fresh, that he smells nice. As though it was a prerequisite at his heaven. As though it mattered. As though being clean was a priority when one injection of epinephrine after another was stuck into him, when he was being intubated, when he was in a coma. I wanted to give him that. Thinking it was a small something that had its sweet implications. Gestures that played their part. Maybe we prioritize certain things, certain preposterous things because by reviving these things we’d be able to regain a part of the older him. The him that wasn’t sick or dying. The him that was fine, the him that played along to all these trivialities. The him that subscribed to the doctrines of life and therefore the context of humanity, of society. Or maybe death just confounds thinking making it impossible to do such an act competently.
I remember losing part of my inhibitions, that I give to death completely and perplexedly: its ability to take away my inhibition to hide my affection. I held hands- trembling tear-soaked hands. I held bodies- also trembling and tear-soaked. I found myself reciting novenas with my family because it made them feel better. Because it meant something to them. Because they believed in prayer and I was in no mood to spoil such a belief.
There we were huddled together, hands clasped in what seemed like a picturesque capsule of both hopefulness and melancholia, of grief and desperation, of love and regret, of time and age, of weariness and fear. Consumed by a flat line, a single, dangerous, monotonous sound that seemed to certify the presence or absence of life. Waiting for it, anticipating it- dreading it and hating it. As though a line, a sound could capture one of the greatest abstractions and certify its existence.
Guiltily, I must admit that my fascination won over my fear. It masked it but it did not replace it. Perhaps we all mourn differently. Perhaps there is no standard to mourning, only an expectation emphasized by commonality.
I watched him die today. If I could only hint to a gravitas tone, a melancholic somberness, a silent, placid stillness maybe it can justify the phrasing. Maybe it can justify the expression. Because all I wanted to do tonight was to report an unembellished truth. Because niceties are tiring and honestly, I am exhausted. Because propriety and politeness are not priorities. Because that is the purest truth I can give: I watched him passively, helplessly, silently, obediently today. I watched him die. Maybe death did win this round. This turn. Maybe you can’t really compete with it. There is only to live with it. Only to cope with it. Maybe.