Made by Srinithi Raj using Canva
With a single shriek on a Sunday morning, my day collapsed from my greatest worry being about what flavor of tea I’d drink for breakfast to confronting a reality I never thought I would face: my grandmother passed away over April break due to COVID-19. The pandemic has put so much into perspective, and I am grateful for the experiences of self-discovery that I have had over this past year, but among those discoveries has come harsh realizations about missing out on so many familial relationships.
As I tried to navigate myself over the pandemic and try to stay as positive as possible, the other, more serious side of the pandemic has still felt like a bubble I acknowledged and experienced every day yet did not truly understand. As an Indian-American hearing about India’s current COVID crisis, I have always tried my best to give whatever I can to help alleviate the stress that a virus has put on so many humans, yet I never considered that I may need to be on the receiving end some day. Finally, the nebulous reality of a pandemic became my hard truth: I too, experienced the death of a family member and needed help.
But, not only did her passing hit me with a reality I could never fathom, I was overwhelmed with another unexpected emotion: the all-consuming guilt that I didn’t have the chance to become close with a family member who meant so much to my parents.
Growing up as an only child away from most of my extended family in India, even though I inherently love and care about extended family, I have always found it difficult to forge deep bonds with the family I seldom get a chance to see due to the physical distance between us.
Most of the information I know about my relatives has come from stories my parents tell me about all of their childhood antics, and it feels like I know a very one sided image of those individuals rather than their true personalities, even though I want to know more. I often ask myself why I can’t do more with or know more about my extended family and it often boils down to distance, a factor which I cannot control, yet I still always had so much guilt about it.
Even when I would get a chance to spend time with my cousins, aunts, and uncles abroad, I can only identify many of my extended family members as “one of my mom’s cousins she likes” or “someone from my dad’s side my parents used to play with” and likewise I’m usually identified as just “the relative from America,” and this reciprocated lack of knowledge of our personalities would often inhibit our ability to understand one another in the limited time we usually have together. Not only have I been unable to learn more about my relatives, but this lack of a true understanding of one another has also negatively reinforced awkward confrontations between me and my extended family, which just creates a self perpetuating cycle.
However, despite these inherent limitations to communicating with one another, I have come to realize that another important aspect that perpetuates itself in these cycles of long distance family trying to communicate with each other is the love for each other, too. After a week of trying to understand my grief, I see that simply by trying to make these efforts to reach out to family abroad, I truly love my extended family and nothing can change that.
Even though I feel guilty sometimes that I may not be doing enough to reach out to my relatives, I wish I didn’t stress my younger self out trying to prove my appreciation for my family.
Whenever I get phone calls from family members and the first thing I hear is along the lines of “you never call, so did you forget about us and not love us?”, I wish I stood up for myself more and told them how much I actually do care about them. Even though many of these feelings can go unmaterialized due to the distance between us, and activities such as writing letters to one another and sharing memories with my cousins have helped us become closer and closer by taking baby steps, I wish I was kinder to myself and kept telling myself more often that there is no need for the guilt of not doing enough.
Today, I am very happy to live the life I do, I am proud of the person I have become in America, and I am grateful for the experiences that have made me who I am today.
Familial love is a complicated thing, but you don’t have to be like two peas in a pod with all your relatives in order to feel a basic love for them. Sometimes, it isn’t possible to get to know family one on one because of circumstances. However, know that your inherent emotional bond as family members will always connect you.