Re-Reading Harry Potter Helped Me Cope With My Grandma’s Death

Posted by Avani Pandya in Books
June 26, 2017

There is little satisfaction in communicating without speech. Some things just need to be said.

In her last days, my grandmother ceased to speak. She would nod, look around sometimes, pass on a smile too. But not utter a word. I wondered whether she chose not to speak. Whether she was content with just her expressions. Or that she indeed, could not speak. For weeks, I observed her. I did not see her make an effort to articulate or to struggle either. Slowly, unknowingly I presumed that she was devoid of things to say to us. And that was hard to come to terms with. Illness had crept into her body over a long time and it clung on, like a parasitic being, refusing to loosen its grip.

She spent nearly a year in the hospital. While I sat there each day, next to her bed, stressed and weary, my thoughts kept going back to Hogwarts. It surprised me often when I thought of Harry and his quests as doctors and nurses steered in and out of the room. A few weeks later, I started reading the Harry Potter series again, at 25. The books made up a better part of my childhood and had a huge impact on me. Perhaps, I wanted to feel that again — the feeling of going back to a simpler, magical time. Book after book, I read on over months, while in my muggle world, my grandmother’s health deteriorated slowly. The books, I realized later, held me together. They supported me, consoled me, answered my questions, kept me sane. The world lay before me, at the swish of my imaginary wand.

One day, I woke her up, out of a deep sleep. She took a moment to focus and take in her surroundings. Then she looked up at me. It felt like her glare pierced through me, making me feel unreal, non-existent. I wondered if she recognized me. If she knew how much I wanted her to. There was silence. A moment passed where my insides were tight, stricken with grief that filled my heart and lungs. The heaviness in my throat seemed to weigh me down. A streak of anger, mingled with disappointment at my hopefulness, led me to turn around and leave.

And then she smiled. A most glorious smile. It radiated to her eyes. Her deep, thoughtful eyes that lit up like a lamp in a dark alley. My earlier speculations and presumptions seemed almost childish… laughable. She did know who I was. Of course, she did. I was born into her hands. She knew me then and she knew me now. Perhaps more than I knew myself. Her mouth twitched in some movement, and my ears shut out all sound, aching to hear the one that ought to come out of her. I heard a slight murmur through the mouthed words. It was a greeting that she always welcomed me with when we met during the day. There was an endearing look on her face. I stared, not knowing if I should scream of happiness or cry of relief.

With a gulp, I smiled and ended up giving her my usual response to her greeting. She shifted her gaze and fell asleep soon after, reassured that all was well in the world. I always took those words for granted. I had heard them hundreds of times through these years in mundane settings, to a point where they did not hold much meaning in themselves. They were just there, probably to open up more meaningful conversations. But in that moment, those words meant everything to me. I recited them like poetry and let them flow into the river of emotion I did not know I held in me. I was elated beyond measure, running around the house from person to person, unravelling a tale that held at its helm, a two-word greeting.

Little did I know then, that those would be the last words my grandmother would say to me. She left us soon after.

Just like her words, I had taken her presence for granted too. In my childish ignorance, I believed in her invulnerability. In the days that followed, I went back to that face over and over until that look, that smile, those words carved a memory for me to hold on to, for a lifetime. She seemed to read my mind then, and in that moment her words became mine, and mine hers.

I kept reading through days of grief, solitude and insanity. Perhaps, I was not ready for Albus Dumbledore’s death. It came as a huge blow on my face. At 3 am, my grip on the book tightened, my heart pounding hard against my chest. I shook in tears, with one hand clasped on my mouth and the other holding on to the book. It was like losing a father. Dumbledore’s godlike presence was snatched away from me in an instance. I mourned for my grandmother as I read about Dumbledore, Sirius and Moody. Rowling’s words have so much power, they hold a cathartic value to a point of healing. As I continue to read, I hold the books dearly in a corner of my heart forever, in grateful relief, for they mean so much more now than they ever did before. They were there for me.

Today, her smile emerges out of an uncontrollable stream of tears; loving, noble and dignified as ever, and through clenched teeth, I write on, in memoriam.

A version of this article had earlier been published here.
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