Ishaan was curled up on granny’s lap, munching on a bowl of cereal, his favourite one – the one shaped like moon and stars.
For the umpteenth time, he asks her, ‘Where is Sonia didi?’
Granny tears up and gives him the same answer, yet again –‘ Sonia has gone to heaven, beta. She won’t be coming back.’
‘But why didn’t she take me along? Doesn’t she like me anymore?’
Granny sighed and stroked the boy’s hair. She concluded that telling a 5 year old that the person he loved the most had abandoned him to go off to a ‘better place’ wasn’t really the right way to explain the death of a sibling.
‘Is it because I scribbled all over her homework?’ His saucer-like , brown eyes brimmed over with guilt.
Granny’s heart melted. ‘No, Ishaan. Your Sonia didi was sick, very sick. Doctor uncle couldn’t make her better. And when people get seriously ill, they die. And when they die, they go up to heaven and be with God.’
‘Oh.’ Ishaan looked unconvinced. ’I want to go too. Can you take me, granny? ’
Granny was at a loss of words. For a minute she wondered if she was doing the right thing by discussing the concept of death and loss with a 5 year old. Coming to terms with her own grief was devastating enough; on top of that, dealing with her grandson’s innocent questions was a bit too overwhelming, even for someone like her – with so much of life experience. Children can easily sense if their loved ones are upset or sad, even if they are unable to express it. It is a fact that even infants can sense when people around them are upset. All children are perceptive that way. Mourning for someone you deeply care about is a natural process. Granny felt that it was wrong to completely exclude the boy in mourning for his sister. Yes, he was too young to handle pain in the way grown ups do or to express his feelings coherently, but it was important that he be taught about loving and losing, as it was an inevitable part of life. Was she burdening her grandson by unloading a part of her sadness on him? Maybe. She didn’t know for sure. But how else would he realise that even sadness was a part of life? How would he learn compassion? How would he learn to cope up with grief in a positive way and come out unscarred? How long could his family protect him by filtering out all that could make him sad? It neither was healthy nor practical.
‘Can I have some more cereal?’ he interrupted her train of thoughts.
With his bowl refilled, Ishaan resumed his line of questioning –‘So she won’t come for my birthday party next month?’
Granny shook her head. Ishaan looked crestfallen.
‘Can I go up there and see her if I have a really, really tall ladder? ’ He looks hopeful.
It was heartbreaking to let him down. ‘No Ishaan.. No ladder is that tall.’
‘But I want to see her.’ He was on the verge of tears.
‘You still can. Wait a minute.’
Armed with a pile of photo albums, a couple of Sonia’s favourite books and a few of her toys , granny let Ishaan cuddle up to her and together they re-lived the brief life of the little girl who was deeply loved and sorely missed. She let their tears fall freely as she fondly told and retold anecdotes that brought out memories of happier times. It was painful and calming, all at once.
‘I miss didi.’ He mumbled, as sleep tugged his eyelids shut.
The next morning granny found him bustling with excitement, a pile of stuff in his hands and a smile playing on his cherubic face.
‘Granny , come here, I want to show you something!’
He led her to the table. On it was his empty cereal carton.
‘See, this is a very ‘special’ box. I am going to put into it things that remind me of Sonia didi , so whenever I miss her, I can just open this box and play with it!’ his face was aglow.
In to the box went a host of things – a pink ribbon, a raggedy doll, a handmade card, a few feathers, a piece of satin from Sonia’s birthday dress, sparkly stickers, hairclips and a pretty bow.
Granny teared up and stood by proudly, watching her ‘little’ grandson filling up his box of memories, chatting non-stop and remembering all the beautiful details of his life together with his big sister – bike riding, playing hide and seek, eating ice-creams and being naughty together. That was how he would remember her forever , enshrined in those unsullied, near-perfect, loving nuggets of memories.
She applauded herself on doing the right thing by being honest with the boy. She had managed to help him deal with his loss in a healthy way. After all, to be able to love, you also need to be able to mourn, right?