By Risha Sinha, Managing Editor
Joy & grief: a reflection on feeling a whole lot and nothing at all.
My great-uncle died 15 minutes ago.
As I write this, I feel pretty indifferent. I don’t feel happy — I’m not a sociopath — but I don’t feel sad: does that make me a monster?
When I found out from a text in a WhatsApp group chat, the preferred form of communication for Desis, all I did was sigh and go wake up my mother to tell her the news.
Well, I didn’t even tell her the news myself. I’m far too emotionally chicken for that. I just told her to check her phone, saw that she understood, turned on my heel and tried to go back to the crossword I was writing. If any of the clues feel particularly macabre, my apologies.
I don’t know how to deal with death, especially the death of a stranger who I am expected to love because of our shared DNA. I don’t know how to love, nor do I know how to grieve (because what is grief if not love ongoing) someone who I am told I’ve met twice, but only remember meeting once.
How do I miss a voice, a face, a personality I do not remember?
I remember my grandmother’s personality, though her face and voice escape me sometimes. Nothing makes me angrier than forgetting a voice I cherished every Sunday morning through the phone. A voice that embodied kindness, empathy and strength.
When she died, I was irate. First with myself, for not spending more time with her, for not relishing every last moment. Then with Gods I don’t believe in, for taking her away from us. The tears I tried so hard to hold back were hot and furious, but they disappeared too quickly.
In the past three years, I have become uncomfortably familiar with grieving relative strangers. First, my grandfather passed, and within the year, my grandmother. A great aunt, an aunt and now, a great uncle.
I don’t think I consciously loved any of them except my grandmother. How could I? I barely knew them.
Of course, I mourned the loss of human life, but maybe it was no different than the death of a favorite actor: the loss of a somewhat familiar, loved face that I ultimately had little personal connection with.
What allows me to live with myself (pun intended?) is the abstract idea of coping mechanisms: the idea that deep down, in my own screwed-up way, I do mourn. The idea that I mourn because blood is indeed thicker than water, and laced in that blood are wisps of the love I am unable to express.
But I do love. I love my mother. I love my father. So when their faces contort with pain and their eyes glaze as death’s invisible hand closes its fist around their hearts, I feel it too. I don’t grieve the loss of a loved one I knew intimately — I grieve my parents’ pain and my inability to relieve them of it.
And now back to our regularly scheduled nonsense:
Cramped in the third row of a minivan, knees crushed against the seat, 15 minutes into a two-hour road trip to go see Trevor Noah live, I felt like someone had infused my water with ecstasy.*
*For legal reasons, I am obligated to note that I have never tried ecstasy.
Two days prior, I was wallowing in misery, waxing poetic about how I felt like a monster. (Welcome to the Roar, where pain becomes print!)
In that car, fighting for airtime and legroom with three of my oldest friends, my heart felt like it had grown three sizes, and my grin stretched so far across my face that I must have seemed like the love-child of the Grinch and the Joker. I was the Grinker. See me in theaters, July 2047.
Joy is like a good pair of socks. Most of the time, you take it for granted. But if something is even slightly amiss, boy, do you know it.
My socks had been wet, but laughing with friends was like going through a dryer cycle: a reset to the warm, fuzzy goodness we all need.
We spent two hours quizzing each other on absurd trivia, gossiping about crushes and thinly veiling dirty jokes for the sake of my friend’s parents. It was so simple. I loved it.
It’s hard to describe how I felt that night. It’s the same way I feel at the end of a rom-com when the hotties you knew were going to get together finally kiss.
It’s how I feel when I make someone I just met laugh. Or when I solve a math problem I’ve been stuck on forever (#nerdalert). Or when editors get their proofs in on time (cough cough).
Joy is mouthing the words to John Mulaney bits. Joy is listening to the old Simon & Garfunkel CD my mom played when taking me to daycare. Joy is, coincidently, my uncle’s name.
My grandmother was joy.
During our weekly phone calls, she would ask endless questions about my life, laughing at my bad jokes.
We were an ocean apart, but I felt so close to her. I missed her call a couple days before she died. I hate myself for that.
If I could go back and pick up that call, I would tell my grandmother how much joy she brought me and every other life she touched.
Today, I asked my parents to buy almond cookies from H-Mart. I had forgotten that these were my grandmother’s favorites, the ones we would bring when visiting her in India. Remembering her through cookies was a beautiful surprise.
It is remarkable how the memory of someone who inadvertently caused so much grief can spark so much joy.