Journal #3: Mortality

A little over two years ago, my grandfather died due to complications from dementia. That was the first family funeral I ever attended as an adult, and it was the first time I had to carry a casket. While the rest of my family was mourning, I remembered thinking to myself that his casket would be the first of many more I'd eventually have to carry in my adult life. I didn't shed a single tear, nor did I express any outward manifestation of grief during the whole service. That whole experience remains surreal because though he was my last surviving grandparent, I remember feeling indifferent throughout such a solemn occasion. Everyone reacts to grief differently, but I thought that I'd be more torn up at the death of my last surviving grandparent.

Then again, my grandfather and I weren't necessarily close when he was alive. He was absent for most of my childhood, and by the time he did become a consistent presence in my life, I was starting to enter the throes of adolescence. Most of my memories of the man were neither pleasant nor unpleasant; we both mostly kept to ourselves and seldom interfered with one another's business. He always wished my family and I well, but that was the extent to which we'd generally interact with one another. When he got diagnosed with dementia back in 2014, my parents, aunts, and uncles all unanimously decided to put him in a nursing home. I did occasionally visit him with my father, but otherwise? We seldom visited him until his condition gradually worsened due to his ailing mind.

From a logical perspective, it makes sense that I wouldn't be so torn up during my grandfather's funeral. However, there was always this underlying twinge of guilt that existed underneath my indifference. I felt guilt for a multitude of reasons: guilt over not attempting to bond with him more when he was still alive, guilt over being so indifferent to the death of a man who meant a great deal to my entire family, guilt over not noticing the telltale signs of dementia while he was still living with us, etc. I know that my guilt can't change anything, but that still doesn't stop the nagging feeling that his life would've been marginally better if I did something different.

My grandfather's death also signalled to me some grave implications for how I might be treated if I ever end up like him. Would my children leave me to rot in a nursing home? Would my grandchildren feel indifference toward my death? I used to pride myself in having a photographic memory but is it ultimately meaningless to take pride in such details if I'm genetically predisposed to dementia? These were all thoughts that kept me up at night, with no easy way to express them. At the time that my grandfather died, I started working retail full-time. I was given a couple of weeks off due to bereavement, but that time was spent organising and preparing the funeral, cremation, and wake.

My closest friends readily expressed their desire to talk to me about what I was going through, and I did take them up on their offers. However, I never talked about those exact thoughts I was having. Instead, the conversations were focused more on being jovial in the face of such a tragedy. We shared memes, talked about upcoming plans, met up at odd hours of the night to eat junk food and bullshit around, that kind of thing. I greatly appreciate my closest friends for bringing me comfort in an otherwise tense situation, but looking back, I can't help but feel like that time could've been spent talking about the root of what kept me up at night.

Ultimately, while I can't say that I felt sorrow when he died or during his funeral, I can say that I feel sorrow over what could've been. I'll never know what my maternal family name is. I'll never know what my grandfather went through to come to the USA all those decades ago. I'll never know why he had such an odd fixation on maths, nor would I ever know why he was such a religious man. To this day, no one in my family knows what his favourite foods were, what type of music he liked listening to, or even what his life was like before he met my grandmother. I'll never know how my grandparents fell in love, nor would I ever know what he felt when my grandmother died all those years ago.

There are bits and pieces of a fractured past that were archived, like photos of him cradling my sister and I when we were born, him and my grandmother crying tears of joy during my parents' wedding, and scattered family videos where he was dancing around and having a good time decades before my sister, my cousins, and I were ever born. However, that's the extent to which our insight on his past goes. Everything else, for all intents and purposes, remains a mystery that will never be solved. That, more than anything else, is the most tragic part of this entire story.

To paraphrase one of my all-time favourite YouTube content creators, life is a thing that happens to us all. From the day that it begins to the day that it ends, it encompasses an entire spectrum of experiences unique to every person. When I'm as old as my grandfather was before he died, I can only hope that I left a positive mark on everyone that I remain in close contact with and that someway, somehow, that I'd be remembered fondly. Whether or not I'll rot in a pile of my own filth in a nursing home while suffering from the late stages of dementia is to be determined. At the bare minimum, I can definitely say that I feel much better getting these thoughts that have been haunting me for the last couple of years out on paper.