October 20, 2019.
“Setting up the tree now”.
I took my phone off the charger, and replied my cousin to say we’ll be there in the next fifteen minutes. It’s mid-October, and a week from Deepavali — but the Christmas tree is going up at the Abraham’s.
The house is a flurry of activity — the tree being taken out of storage by my cousin brothers, Christmas decorations strewn across the hall (some still in plastic bags), my sister-in-law and sister busy fussing over my baby niece Maya, feeding her some lunch, my aunt doing something in the kitchen . . . and my Prem Periappa (Tamil term for elder uncle), napping on his special armchair. His cheek seems more swollen than yesterday, and he looks more tired than before. His body is slowly breaking down, and energy is seeping away each day.
My aunt occasionally glances at him from the kitchen, as do we. He is both asleep and awake at the same time. At one point he opens his eyes, and my aunt points to the now almost ready tree — “see Prem, it’s up”. To which he responds with a grunt and a nod of his head, before dozing off again.
Bala calls for me from Periappa’s room. He’s fixing the blinds that have come off, when Periappa fell while trying to get himself to the bathroom. I try to help, but it looks like we’ll need stronger super glue to get these to stay up.
The intercom rings — visitors are arriving. “ The shit show of visitors are starting again,” my cousin Arivind says while stringing the lights on the tree. He laughs.
“Don’t say that la, Anne( the Tamil colloquial term for big brother, pronounced An-Neh),” my sister Ashwini responds loudly with a frown, and a smile almost immediately after, as she turns to Maya with another spoonful of what seems to look like minced carrots and soft rice.
“Ya, don’t say things like that,” my aunt scolds.
My other cousin Rohan simply shrugs and shakes his head.
Grief, it’s something we will never understand how to manage or express. Each of us embraces it in our own way. Some without much to say, and others perhaps too much as they bravely bare their soul; their deepest, innermost thoughts and feelings without a filter.
We try the best we can to hold each other, with and without words.
Hardly a week ago, my aunt informed the family that Periappa doesn’t have much time left. After a few days in the hospital, it was time to face the inevitable and prepare for the eventuality we had all already known was around the corner.
The day after Periappa came home, Bala followed Rohan to pick up the oxygen tank for Periappa. A few days later, Arivind flew in from Los Angeles. The wheelchair, commode and other necessities were sent soon after in succession.
Yesterday, Ashwini flew home.
I don’t want to say that he’s losing his fight against cancer, because he isn’t. He will always be a fighter. Watching life slip away slowly is an experience that will take a long time to express in all its honesty, bare nakedness and truth. But what I can express, is the Love I see and feel all around him. It’s messy, loud, fiercely supportive and ever present — in true Appuduray fashion.
And I suppose this is why I know, that family is the only thing that will always matter in this world.
Arivind picks Maya up and lifts her above his shoulders as Rohan helps with placing the last ornament on the tree; the North Star.
Periappa watches intently for a few minutes, from the comfort of his armchair. He doesn’t speak much now, but tries whenever possible.
Christmas came early this year.