Content Warning: Mention of death and loss of a family member
July 21, 2021, was the only day I ever wore my Nani’s (maternal grandmother’s) saree. After years of putting off the theme, my family finally committed to wearing sarees on Eid Al-Fitr. While one of my cousins bought hers straight from the market, and the other wore her high-school farewell saree, the one I wore was near and dear to my heart. An ancestral piece, it was a silk, black saree with blue and grey rosettes throughout. I adored every second of wearing a piece that had been passed down for generations. As it was my first experience wearing Ammi’s (we call our Nani ‘Ammi’) clothes, I was almost flaunting when I showed her how I styled it. However, it turned out to be the only time I would be able to do so.
One of the most tragic and pivotal events I have ever had to face took place just over a month ago. “Ammi passed away” was the WhatsApp notification that popped up on my mobile screen.
Experiencing the loss of a family member while being away from home was unfamiliar territory. I didn’t know how to approach it. No one prepares you for it, and I don’t think anyone ever can. The most I could do was read it over again and accept the three words shown on the screen, but what was the next step? Do I cry until I feel like I’ll be able to move on? Or do I shut down the idea of mourning the loss? Whatever my choice, it was important to remind myself that I didn’t have to go through it alone. Everyone affected by her death felt a different pain; the only one I can speak for is my own. I felt my grieving was distinct in that we were half a world apart.
I couldn’t escape my endless yearning for a physical goodbye. It was my first waking thoughts that hurt the worst in the weeks immediately after her passing. With time, however, I noticed how remembering certain cherished moments with Ammi became a coping mechanism. One of these memories was of the time I wore her saree. As each day passed, I found it to be of deeper meaning to me. The memory associated with the saree made it an object I would hold onto tightly.
These days, I have the urge to hold the saree as soon as I get back home in the summer. I have the urge to remember its importance in my life and make sure it’s treated with care. I try to imagine how the image of Ammi wearing her saree would seem now. The idea of safekeeping someone else’s belongings will now carry greater responsibility. The saree’s journey is an ongoing one. However, its different chapters will be frozen in time and pictures.
I had to deal with the helplessness of my inability to be with Ammi during the funeral rituals. Dealing with loss required a rare approach this time. I needed to remind myself to not push away the emotions, to take my time. The special memory and honour associated with Ammi’s saree will never fade. Grief is definitely not a smooth journey: It’s a bumpy ride with pit stops of flashbacks and recurring memories. July 21, 2021 is one of my pit stops, and I don’t mind staying here a bit longer.