An essay on personal loss and bereavement
As a year has come to a close and we begin our journey around the sun anew, this is a personal, reflective post, written to serve as catharsis during a moment of grief and loss, as well as to record some memories.
It was an unremarkable, reasonably bright Friday morning in October when my flight touched down at the Dulles International Airport, and after passing through Immigration, I drove my car, which was patiently waiting for me in the airport parking for 10 days, back straight to my workplace in Baltimore, my laboratory — for it was a work-day. My mind, however, was still reeling from an experience a couple of days prior, a moment that I found weird, surreal and greatly disconcerting.
I had traveled to Kolkata, my city in India, for a short visit to see my ailing grandmother. Although I don’t know if her condition was ever officially diagnosed — more on that later — she appeared to have been exhibiting all the classical signs of Alzheimer’s, with sharp decline in short-term memory and cognitive functions, rage attacks and mood swings, as well as paranoid delusions, among other symptoms. She was rapidly forgetting familiar people, including my mother who was one of her regular caregivers, and she had forgotten the face of my wife — who discovered that unfortunate fact during a visit just before mine. She was also suffering from various physical ailments, which were getting difficult to treat, because her hip and lower body pain had rendered her nearly immobile, making it nigh-impossible to have her driven to a clinic or hospital at any distance.
Despite being a metropolitan megacity with nearly 5 million inhabitants, Kolkata, strangely, has negligible options for the care and support of geriatric patients, especially those with complicated conditions like Alzheimer’s. My grandmother stayed at home with my aunt (the widow of my mother’s late next sibling) and her son (my cousin) as the immediate caregivers, and my mom visited daily, her own health permitting, to help with the care needs. My visit coincided with the time of the Durga Puja, one of the greatest religio-cultural festivals of our people, Bengalis and Bangladeshis, which unfortunately meant that doctors, nurses and other external caregivers my mom and aunt usually relied on were often out of…