(Warning to family if they are reading this: This post is about Athamma and Jon, so you may want to skip this one)
Sleep, for me, used to be easy. There was no tossing and turning. By 9.30pm, I was ready for bed. And even if I didn't fall asleep immediately, I'd just act out some scenario in my head (usually related to a story I'm working on. Nothing of the sexual fantasy kind. I promise), and before I can even work out most of the details, I'd be asleep.
Now I stay up till late, waiting to feel really sleepy so that I don't need to be alone with my thoughts anymore. I used to treasure that silence. That peace. I used to look forward to it. It helped me work on my stories and even poems. I'd piece together scenes and come up with stories I wanted to write someday. I thought of characters. I put together words and hoped I remembered them the next day.
These minutes of peace and quiet also allowed me to think about life. The people I love. The things I'd done. Just everyday, ordinary things. But it helped me wake up the next day having 'thought things through'.
Now, all I can think about are the bad things. The sad things. And so I opt to watch shitty TV shows (Comedy Central, get your act together) until I can't keep my eyes open anymore. Then I go to bed, knowing I'll feel terrible the next day because I'm used to getting a lot of sleep.
Continuing on this really interesting discussion on sleep, I've always looked at sleep as an 'all at once' kind of thing. Once minute I'll be acting out the argument between character A and character B, and the next I'll be asleep- or rather, I'll suddenly wake up and realize that I'd fallen asleep.
And this is how I thought death was too. One minute you are going about your life, and the next you are dead. I believed this even though people kept telling me how 'lucky' my grandmother was to have died without 'suffering' or having to spend days and days in some hospital bed.
And I knew what they meant. She woke me up at 11.40 complaining about feeling sick. I woke up my mother. Called my uncle. An ambulance was called. Within the hour, they carried her out of the house. Within the hour, my mother, uncle and brother came back from the hospital bearing bad news. Wait, did I say bad news? I meant, terrible, godawful, I-never-want-to-hear-such-news-again news.
But she seemed to have died all at once. Relatives, friends, people didn't believe she was gone so suddenly. She was 'perfectly alright' the day before. How could this happen?
Let's go back to the topic of sleep, now shall we? As much as it feels that way, I don't think we fall asleep all at once. Sleep is gradual, I think. I could be terribly wrong. I most probably am. But those hypnic jerks. Suddenly waking up. Feeling like you are floating. The slight confusion. That's all part of falling asleep, right? So you aren't awake one minute, asleep the next. There is this whole part in between where you fall asleep, but we never really remember that.
Death is like that, I now realize. It seems like something I should have realized a long ago. General knowledge, isn't it? Unless the death is caused by an accident, it's never sudden or unexpected. There's always this time in between being of good health and death that we so easily ignore.
When someone commits suicide, we wonder how their loved ones missed all the signs. I've seen posts about how Linkin Park's last album, One More Light, almost warned us that Chester wasn't okay. The last interview he gave was basically the biggest sign ever. How could we have missed it all? Why didn't anyone help him?
Well, it's easier to notice those signs and warnings after the person dies. It's then that you realize that death isn't a sudden occurrence. The universe sends us little warnings but we choose to ignore them.
With my grandmother, we are all thankful that she didn't 'suffer' or have tests done on her or take lots of pills. She hated all of that. She was so scared of doctors. Until her very last day, she never controlled her diet. She ate all the sweets she wanted. There used to always be chocolate in the house because she just couldn't resist it.
Until that very last day, she seemed to be in good health. Or so we like to believe.
But what about the fact that she felt weak and faint when walking? What about the fact that she didn't have as much energy as before? What about everything she hid from us? What about everything else we never noticed?
How did we not see how sick she was? How did we not see what was coming?
Fast-forward to last month.
Johnny Meowing Wickrama Adittiya is someone who filled my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If, somehow, you missed all those posts, he was the cat who decided a few years ago to adopt us. After Athamma's death in 2015 and my working-from-home status since September 2016, I got very attached to Jon.
If you know me, you'll know that I'm terrified of animals. I once nearly peed myself because there was a cat sitting in front of the bathroom door and I couldn't get to it. And I never liked animals either. I wasn't an animal person. Then this cat, who Amma claims has lived in various houses in the neighborhood, thought of entering our lives.
He wasn't just another cat. Oh man, he wasn't.
You see, I have an aversion to affection. I can't be loving or affectionate with people. Ask my mother. But with Jon, all that changed. Here was someone I could love with all my heart and be loved back. I started my day with Jon's meows and a little kiss on my hand or foot. If I was relaxing on a sofa, he'd jump on and find room to nap. He would sleep on my bed, wait for me outside closed doors and remind me that it's okay to love someone with all your heart.
A friend once told me that she has never seen me so attached to anyone. And I hadn't. I usually keep most things personal away from Facebook. With Jon, I just couldn't. He was my everything.
And then, last month, he fell sick. And we were given bad news. Not terrible, godawful, I-never-want-to-hear-such-news-again news. That would take three more weeks.
Jon's kidneys were causing him a lot of trouble. And he wasn't as young a cat as I liked to believe. He needed his kidneys flushed every single day. He was weak. He didn't eat. For four days Best Care visited us and treated him. From then on, we took him to the vet every evening.
He went missing one evening, and I was so heartbroken, a dentist thought my toothache was that bad. But no, it was Jon. He came back later, having gone gallivanting. He started eating more. He was back to meowing in the morning. He gave his little 'good morning' kisses.
Two weeks ago, things took a turn for the worse. He stopped eating. He could barely walk. We admitted him to a hospital, so he'd get better care. A day later, I got the terrible, godawful, I-never-want-to-hear-such-news-again news.
“I have some bad news,” the doctor said. “We tried our best,” he said. But all I could think of was, “my baby is gone.” And he was. Just like that.
Last night, my mother and I were going through all the pictures we have of him. And there are a lot. And he was so chubby in them. In those last few weeks, he was much thinner. In fact, a friend told me too, that he looked thinner. But I didn't think much of it. Jon had always had his moods.
While I console myself by saying that we did our best and that there was nothing else we could do, we should have known. I was with him all day. How could I have not known?
But anyway, it was his death that made me realize that how I thought of death was so wrong. Death, as sudden as it seems, isn't always so sudden. There are always signs. Always warnings. It's just that they turn into signs and warnings only when it's too late.
And it's difficult to not blame yourself. With Athamma, we were with her whenever we could. She lived with us. I slept in the same room as her. We spent so much time together. What were we not seeing? How did we miss all those signs?
But here's the thing.
I've spent the last two years, somewhat avoiding the truth that she's gone. I avoided it by focusing on Jon. Now that Jon too, is gone, I can't avoid this godawful truth anymore. I love very few people. And two of them, I've already lost. This leaves me with very few I want in my life. Immediate family. Friend who has always been with me. Few friends from work. And that's it. For now, there's no one else I love or want in my life and it terrifies me.
But there's something my cousin told me a few days ago. And at first I refused to accept it. But maybe it's time to look at the good things, instead of the bad. Sure, my life has been in crumbles since Athamma passed away. But this isn't what she left for me.
She left with me amazing memories. She taught me so much in life. She helped me be who I am. She showed me how unconditional love can be. And I don't want to remember her with all the pain and loneliness her death left me with.
Today is her birthday. She's not here to celebrate it. If she was here, we'd wait until evening to surprise her with a cake. We'd sing 'Happy Birthday' and she'd blow out the candles. She'll feed a piece to her two children, one in-law, her six grandchildren. She'll laugh and smile and be happy. We all will be. And that's what I want to remember.
It's hard. But it's necessary, maybe. Athamma deserves so much more than tears and pain and loneliness. She deserves to be remembered by all the good times we had together. And we had a lot of those.
As for Jon, I miss him everyday too. I miss how he'd nuzzle against me. How soft his fur felt. How he'd come looking for me inside the house.
And life feels so empty without them. Without Athamma. But even if we can never move on from the people we love, life goes on. It must. And we must let it drag us along even if we don't want to.