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What do we lose when someone dies?

November 29, 2011

My grandfather died this month. All my stories about Sri-Lanka are really about him. He filled in all the spaces in my life when I was a baby. Whenever my parents allowed them, he and my grandmother would take me off into their world, to be fed sweetmeats unsuitable for a toddler, allowed to crawl on the floor and study the ants, and to be enveloped in a world of belonging and contentment.

After I moved to Britain with my parents, I missed him desperately. We lived in Colchester, in a neat white house with summer fields and bake sales but I craved the spiced up heat and soup-like afternoons of Sri-Lanka. I pined so much that my parents relented to let me go back. They only ever planned to stay in Britain to get some medical training and sit some exams, then wanted to move back themselves. They thought there was no harm in letting me go back early. I remember flying across the airport arrivals lounge to throw myself at him.This was the very definition of happiness, to sit between him and my grandmother, feeling utterly loved.

I left them, and Sri-Lanka, two years later because I had to. I missed my parents, but I was coping. But I couldn’t really cope with the outbreak of the war. My family had options. I clambered on helicopters and airplanes to fly away from the menace and the violence. I chose exile, peace and relative prosperity. I left behind that utter contentment of belonging. And now my very, very beloved grandfather has gone, I fear I’ve lost the prospect of that contentment forever.

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