A World Away From Her

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Kanwal Javaid, 18
New Youth Connections, New York

Leaving my grandmother in Pakistan was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Just before I moved to the United States 2½ years ago, she started to get really sick. She’d had diabetes for 25 years and had never needed insulin for it. Now it was suddenly out of control.

She began to complain about headaches and tiredness. As long as I could remember, I’d never heard my grandmother complain about anything. She was the kind of person who would say, “Thank God,” even if it was 100 degrees outside.

When my mother, siblings and I left for New York, my grandmother cried a lot as we said goodbye, but she pretended to be feeling fine. I knew she wasn’t. I felt awful for leaving her when she was so sick, after she’d taken care of me my whole life. I loved her company, because she was a jolly person and had a lot of experiences to share. She’d tell me stories about the difficulties she’d faced in her life so that I could learn from them.

It was my job to clean the kitchen every night before going to sleep. I would always make excuses to avoid it. One night I told my grandmother, “I’m so tired, and it’s hot in the kitchen. I’m going to sleep.”

“You know, I got married before my 18th birthday,” my grandmother began. “I was skinnier and shorter than you are. When I first moved in with my in-laws, I was the first person in their family from the outside. At first, my mother-in-law made me cook for all of her family – more than 20 people. On my wedding day, a hot day in July, I had to cook for all of them, plus the guests.”

I was shocked. My grandmother was one of the most successful women in our family, with a big house and financially established kids. But on the day she got married, she had to cook a meal for 30 people.

“Plus,” she continued, “we didn’t have stoves and gas at that time, so your grandfather brought me a pile of wood to burn and cook the food on.” She looked at me with concern and asked, “What would you do if you had to face this situation?”

I simply answered, “Oh, hell no! I would never do that.”

She smiled and gave me the best lesson of my life. “Always be thankful to God for what he blessed you with. Not everybody has it. So do not complain about anything.”

I knew she was telling me to stay in the hot kitchen and be thankful for food, shelter and family. I always remembered that story.

We were practically inseparable, and I couldn’t imagine being apart from her. But in 2005, my dad told us we were moving to the United States in a few months.

One day in September, a year after I moved here, I realized it had been a long time since I’d called my grandmother. My aunt picked up. “Thank God you called!” she screamed. “Mom is missing you so much and she wanted to hear your voice.” She handed the phone to my grandmother.

I asked my grandmother how she was doing and she said she was OK. Then suddenly she said, “I miss you.”

Those three words made me jump out of my seat. She had a strange tone in her voice that made me wonder if she was all right. It felt like that wasn’t the only thing she wanted to tell me, like she had more to say but didn’t say it.

“I will sponsor you soon and you will be right here next to me,” I joked.

But the answer she gave me was weird. She said, “I don’t have much time left, my kid.”

It was Dec. 19 when my uncle called our house at 4 a.m. My mom picked up the phone, and after listening to what my uncle said, she threw it away from her and started crying. I ran to the TV lounge and asked her what had happened.

“My mom died!” she sobbed.

I was in shock. I picked up the phone to talk to the person at the other end, but there was nobody there. I started to cry so hard that I couldn’t talk. I felt guilty for not being with her in her last minutes and not talking to her that much during her last months. I wished I could tell her that it wasn’t because I was ignoring her, but because I knew I would start crying the second I heard her voice.

Now, more than a year after my grandmother died, nothing can keep me away from thoughts of her. She taught me to be grateful for what you have and to take care of people and give them priority over yourself. She showed me all this by example; it’s what she did her whole life. I will always remember when she was sick and tried not to let us feel her pain because she didn’t want to worry us.

Part of me wishes she had told me what she was holding back, because maybe it would have forced me to make things right by calling her more often. But other times, I think there probably was nothing that she was holding back from me and that she really was happy that I was in the United States and doing great at school, like she always said she was.

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I still feel guilty for everything. And I can’t stop missing her.

© Youth Communication/New York Center. http://www.youthcomm.org.