I remember this moment like it was yesterday. The sun was high upon us, shimmering with every cloud that filtered past. Salty, fresh wind blowing in from the Adriatic was hitting me from the left. There weren’t too many people around as the last cruise ship for the day had just departed. Morgan and I were walking back from the end of the dock we called the The Tip. The Tip was a place we fell in love with the moment we entered the ancient city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The dock was an impressive body of beams that anchored hundreds of boats. The walls of the ancient city extend forward as they encompass the very edge of the cliff on which the city rests. A tiny ledge hugging the wall leads you to an opening— A bigger ledge made of limestone extending into the cold sea water. The ledge is big enough to hold a significant number of people and sturdy enough that natural forces don’t move it. This ledge is what Morgan and I fell in love with. No buildings cut the wind. Unhindered, the gale was forceful yet peaceful. It was loud enough to be considered white noise but not loud enough that you couldn’t hear the person next to you.
We used to start and end our day on The Tip. Neither one of really had a reason to sit there but we just did. The ocean hitting the rocks beneath us, the wind, and the endless horizon in front of us kept us enamored. The surrounding were cleansing in a way. The ebb and flow of the tide washed away our stress. The stress of just finishing junior year of college, moving on to senior year, or just realizing that there really is no way to freeze time and just suspend ourselves in this moment. As we were enjoying the blue waters, I get a phone call. It was my father. I looked at the caller ID and saw the clock on the top. A quick mental math, and I realized that this was not good news. It was four o’clock in the morning in India which meant that he was calling to give me bad news that he knew I should know. I pick up the phone to a very quiet and somber voice very much unlike the voice I am used to hear from my father. I greeted him in a normal way— as though I was expecting his phone call. He however was not that normal. He responded not by a “hi” or a “hello” but with,“your grandfather has passed away.” He said it in Hindi, where it sounds a lot more heartfelt than it does translated into english. This wasn’t a shocking news to me. He had been sick for a while. Two months prior to his death, he fell and broke his hip and had to undergo surgery. At the age of 84, any surgery is tricky, but a hip replacement has a host of complications. Sadly, one of the complications played out for him.
There was pain in my father’s voice. I could feel how difficult it was for him to say those words. I could hear the slurs in his speech and the awkward pauses he took to hold back emotions. Our conversation was short. I asked how my grandmother and mum were doing. I told him that I was sorry for his loss and then we hung up. He responded to my questions and comments but I really don’t think he was listening to me which I to me felt accurate given the situation. This was the first time someone so close to me had died and emotionally I wasn’t having the reactions that are usually triggered when a member of your family passes away. I could see children around me laughing, enjoying the sea water spraying on them as waves crashed onto the ledge and my best friend sitting next to me who realized what the phone call was regarding but still looked quite ambivalent to the incident. I could see these elements around me and all I wanted to do was to cut the phone and jump into laughter and ambivalence with them. I didn’t want the death to penetrate by epidermis.
Morgan invited me to do just that. We talked about the death for a couple of minutes and then moved on to looking at the fisherman sitting with his golden retriever at the corner of the ledge. As she continued to talk about random things, there were a million things that were blowing up in the back of my mind. It started with wondering how my dad was doing and how I could have talked to him better. Then I thought about my grandfather. I remembered that it had been a year since I had last seen him and that I wont ever see him again. This resulted in me thinking about his life and legacy— how little I knew about him and how he was such an integral part of my college process. The theme of my main essay that went to every college I applied to was about my love of National Geographic magazines that he had instilled in me by donating over 30 years worth of magazines. All of this was running in my conscience but I still felt “fine.” I wasn’t crying or feeling sad. I wasn’t having the stereotypical tragic response to a death. This bothered me as it questioned my difficulty with opening up to emotions. I was scared that I was succumbing to the stereotypical characteristics of a man by being unemotional. It also annoyed me that my best friend was so overtly negligent of the news. Emotions started to bubble up which were more of anger and annoyance than of sadness. I became more quiet which Morgan picked up on. She realized that I was processing something and decided to just sit next to me and look at the sea.
Her presence was as calming as the sea. As much as I hate to say this but she knows me very well. I don’t like to project my feelings in words but to internalize them and say something later and that was exactly what she allowed me to do. As I was thinking about all of this I remembered something my research advisor and mentor once told me. She said that there is no one response to death. Everybody processes it in a different way and no way is the right way. As long as the process helps you move forward you should not judge yourself or others. I found this powerful. Mainly because someone I trust believed in my process of thinking and affirmed that nobody really is wrong. Thinking about that made me question myself less. I let some of my questions go with the tide. And with every flow I also sent some wishes and hope for people back home.