I feel guilty in grieving the Non-Covid death of my great grandmother


Pallavi Sareen

Being the fourth generation, how can I grieve the loss of my aged kind-hearted Paabi who died a natural death, when people are dying prematurely due to Covid? 87-year-old Vishno Devi, Paabi for all her children and grandchildren had been a child bride. She had her own story of hardships to tell. A story that will now never be told.

Everyone grieves in their own ways, and I have seen too many people die to remain sane without grieving. I have seen and reported the death of healthy individuals due to Covid-19. As a journalist in India, where Covid-Pandemic has led to the death of more than 300 thousand people, when my maternal grandmother turned Covid Positive, I thought it was the end of the world.

My mind was filled with thoughts of the time we spent together. My annual two-month detoxification period where I stayed away from Internet, studies, work, calls, my parents and had only two constants in my life – her and books. She is 65-years-old, with hypertension and diabetes. She couldn’t breathe properly. And I was stuck miles away from her in a lockdown, unable to see her for what appeared to me as one last time. She recovered, by the way.

But her mother, my maternal grandmother whom we all lovingly called “Paabi” didn’t. While my grandmother fought with Covid-19 infection, Paabi was fighting her own battle with age and other ailments. And while my mom, despite the lockdown is at least with my grandmother to support her in this time of grief, I feel like crying but can’t.

Two years ago, when Covid-19 was something no one had heard of, I visited Jib, the hamlet where my great grandmother lived. I reached out to her to hear the story of India’s partition and also to see if she bears any resemblance to the memory, I have of her as a child. She was 13-years-old when India and Pakistan split in two countries. Speaking in her native language, she recollected the British rule, the animosity between communities, the fear while one travelled in a train and the dreadful phrases that were thrown around signifying that bloodshed was inevitable. Seems too crude a conversation to be having with a person you have met after years, but it is the most prominent memory I have now.

87-year-old Vishno Devi sits on a khaat in the Verandah of her home in Village Jib, Udhampur

Even now as I picture her, I see her smile, the gold earrings in her sagging ears, her wrinkled hands with gold bangles that seemed too heavy for someone so fragile. When she sat, I saw myself in her, the way she hunched and kept her hands on her thighs – the tomboyish look I had the pleasure of capturing in my camera. I wanted to show the world that I was like her or she was like me, in our words, minds, nature and personality. Even the way the apples of our cheeks were more prominent when we smiled was something passed on through generations. Wearing our identity on our faces, we sat together in my great grandmother’s home – all in a line – me, my mother, her mother and her mother’s mother.

And then she was no more. Away from home, in a hospital bed with none of us accompanying her. My grandmother, who was left weak by the Covid-infection at least got to see her mother for the last time. My mother, at least got to support her mother in dealing with this loss. And I, cannot even blame the virus for taking away my Paabi. I’m told it is better. At least she died a natural death. But is it better really? I still couldn’t go to the funeral, because of lockdown, fear of Covid and plenty other reasons which would have been there even if she had been Covid positive. For me, the gaping hole her absence leaves would be the same.

But at least she got the chance to live for 87 years, see the faces of her children, grand children and even great grandchildren. Isn’t the loss of a child, a sibling, a parent harder to bear? Is there a threshold of age or any other factor which lessens the blow of loosing someone? My grandmother lost her mother. I thought I would lose my grandmother. My mother lost her grandmother and grappled with fear that she would lose her mother. Covid or Non-Covid, 87-year-old or 65-year-old, a mother is a mother. A loved one’s death deserves to be grieved, and so I shall too, as soon as survivor’s guilt allows me to.


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