A problem that I only realised recently existed, a problem that I only saw when it was too late, a problem that goes unnoticed by most, is the problem of what growing up does to you. Most of us do not pay much attention to the changes taking place in ourselves as we grow, because growing up is simply a natural process everyone undergoes. In fact, we do not even think about it as the days, months and years pass because of how normal it is, simply the way this world works. I was no different. Growing up never crossed my mind until something happened two months ago that changed my life and made me realise more than I have ever realised about this process.
It happened all of a sudden. My grandma falling sick. One moment, she could still move about like a normal person. The next, she could not even stand up by herself. It was like her bones had suddenly gone soft, leaving her body a bending mess. It was a stroke. She did not wish to go the hospital and be attended to by strangers, and requested that she stay home, be taken care of by family, spend her last days in a familiar place and die somewhere she finds comfort in. She had to be fed and bathed, as her limbs became dysfunctional. The sixteen years old me felt nothing to see grandma ill. Absolutely nothing because, well, it was a fact that all old people would eventually weaken and die. Grandma was just another old person, another human who has reached this stage everyone would eventually reach. It was just a part of life, the part where you get a fatal illness and near death, everyone’s imminent end. Thinking back, I am shocked at how detached and matter-of-fact my attitude was towards grandma’s state.
I was not always so detached from grandma. In fact, she used to be the person I was closest to. She helped take care of me when I was a baby, and cooked lunch for me every single day for three years when I was seven to ten. Being an only child with working parents, grandma was my only constant company then. Whenever I come home from school, she would be standing before the door smiling, keys in hand, waiting to open it for me and welcome me inside. She never forgot to help remove my backpack from my shoulders as I was always too eager to rush to the dining table and tuck into the delicious meal she has prepared. I have always had a rather stubborn personality, so I got into fights with my mother often and she frequently ended up losing her temper and beating me. Grandma always came over, standing between my mum and me and shielding me from my mother’s hits. Sometimes, my mother would get impatient and push grandma roughly out of the way, but she always came back to protect me with her ageing body. I felt safe and was never lonely with grandma around, and I was completely dependent on her because of the warmth, comfort and company she provided me. Because of my dependence on her, she was the most important person in my life then.
I wished it could have stayed that way, but growing up happened. I cannot remember when exactly I started to distance myself from grandma, but I think it was after she got depression that it started. Her thoughts got extreme, and she became overly-emotional and edgy over petty matters, till as if the entire world was against her. Initially, because I was still very attached to her, I told myself that it was my turn to be there for her. I tried comforting her along with my mother, and I cried when she cried, as if I could feel her very pain. But even then, when I was eleven, a part of me had blamed her. Blamed her for succumbing to depression, blamed her for not being strong and winning the fight. Most importantly, I blamed her for taking away the caring and protective grandma I relied so much on, leaving an edgy and emotional mess. I knew it was not her fault, but a part of me blamed her anyway.
Maybe it was because she could no longer be the person I needed that I started to drift away. When I entered my teenage years and the desire to be independent intensified, I was no longer dependent on her. I no longer wanted her company and protection because I wanted to rely on no one but myself. Secondary school began ending late, so she no longer cooks lunch for me. I was too preoccupied with my own matters that the meals I used to love so much did not even cross my mind. Grandma became difficult to talk to as depression toyed with her mind, and I used that as an excuse for interacting with her less. I told myself that since she got upset easily, it was best not to talk to her. I think all along I knew this was just an excuse, to spare myself the trouble, but I never dwelled on it as I was too wrapped up with my own life to think much about a person I no longer depended on.
For three years since I turned thirteen, I barely spoke to grandma. She hardly crossed my mind as she got buried under my increasing priorities and obligations. Growing up does this to you. It makes you self-centred, only thinking about your own life and your own matters to spare much of a thought for people you no longer needed. Of course, I did not realise that then. Like most people, I never thought about the changes that was taking place in me as I grew. I never noticed how growing up was hardening me into this selfish person who could not care less about a person who used to be my entire world simply because she was no longer my entire world. She was no longer important to me and was no longer needed in my life, so I casted her aside without even thinking about it.
Then when I was sixteen, she got the stroke. She weakened to the point where she could not even get out of bed and had to be tended to lying down. For days, she never left the room and so for days, I never saw her. I did not even bother visiting her room as I was used to her not being a part of my life. She remained the last thing on my mind. Then one day, out of pure curiosity when I was passing her room, I decided to enter to see how her situation was. Little did I know that by stepping into that room, my life changed. I walked in, my eyes looking towards the bed. The sight that greeted me froze me to the spot. Grandma had become nothing but a heap of withered, crumpled skin and bones. Her body, now a shrunken, limp husk with stick like limbs and yellowed skin, lay there motionless. The only movement was her face, shaped like a skull with hollow and sunken cheeks, turning around aimlessly, as if she had no control over it, while her mouth, a ghastly purple white, was wide open, making unpleasant noises as she struggled to breathe. Her eyes were the scariest. They were completely empty, like a dead person’s. They were open, but lifeless. She was staring, but not seeing. It was as if her eyes had already died. I was beyond shocked. The last time I saw grandma, she could still move about with mum’s support and she looked normal and alive. But all of a sudden, she transformed into this limp, withered mess incapable of doing anything except lie in bed like a living dead. I never thought someone could change so drastically, so suddenly, from a normal looking person to this helpless crumpled heap. Disbelief and shock overwhelmed me and I could not move. I never thought I would cry for grandma again, but the tears came pouring out of my eyes.
I always believed grandma did not matter to me anymore as she had not been a part of my life for so long. But now, as I stood there staring at what was left of grandma, it was like a knife was twisting in my guts. It felt painful. Painful to see grandma become like this. And this pain flipped a switch in me. The switch of realisation. It happened very suddenly. Realisations, thoughts that have never occurred to me for the past few years, suddenly came hitting me hard like a bullet train. I realised how much I have distanced myself from grandma, how much I have detached myself from this person who used to always be there for me. I realised how wrapped up I had been with my own affairs to notice how old she has become, and I realised how self-centred I had been. It all hit me in that short moment. The past three years came flashing through my mind. I saw how cold and indifferent I was towards her, barely even noticing her presence in the house. I saw how preoccupied I was with my own life, that I hardly spared her a glance. She was there when I needed her, but I turned away when she needed me. I did not even realise that before now, because I have hardly even thought about grandma.
This is the problem with growing up. It makes you selfish, and you are too self-centred to realise it. You want to be independent, and you do not care that you are achieving it at the expense of turning away from people once closest to you. I did not care that grandma was once my protector and rock. I only cared that I wanted to be independent, so I did not want that protection anymore. Since I did not need her anymore, I never thought about her. Looking back, there were moments when I saw her sitting alone on the sofa, a depressed look on her face, an overwhelming loneliness radiating off her, that I wanted to go up to her and rid of that loneliness, like how she rid of mine when I was a kid. However, those were only moments, and I never acted on them, telling myself I would not know what to say. I think the real reason was simply because I did not want to go through that trouble since I needed her no more. All those realisations only came now, when for the first time in so long, I actually looked at grandma with full attention. And it was only now, that regret washed through me. I regretted my behaviour, my indifference. I regretted detaching myself from someone who had been everything I needed. I even regret growing up, hating it for turning me into this selfish and indifferent person who only cared about myself and what I needed, never once pausing to think about people who I used to need but no longer need.
Time does not rewind, and it passes in a blur. Most of the time, we are too busy with our own affairs to really pause and consider our relationships with the people around us. It just does not cross our minds. It is only when we really stop and pay full attention to the people we have put aside that we realise how cold and detached we have become. It is sad to become so distanced from people you were so close to without even realising it. Therefore, the problem I would like to make people aware of is our ignorance towards our tendency to put those we no longer need aside and care only about our own business as we grow up. It is our tendency to distance ourselves from closed ones to fuel our desire to be independent. The lesson I have learnt is to be more aware of our closed ones and treasure their presence. Do not let your own matters get in the way of your relationships and spend more time with them. Selfishness and self-centredness is in our nature, but if we are aware of it, we can change our attitude and behaviour. The problem is because most people do not realise this until it is too late. Now that my grandma has passed away, I realise how much I miss her and how much I regret detaching from her. It is too late for me and my grandma, but it is not too late to start paying more attention to your family.
Jiang Wanyan, 17A11