Christie Sugiaman

My grandma flew regularly to Indonesia to visit and care for her mother, my beautiful and strong great-grandmother, Atai. Though Athai was ninety-six years old and raised six children as a single mother, she’d never experienced something quite like the Coronavirus pandemic.

My mother and grandma were planning her once-every-couple-years trip to Indonesia. We couldn’t all go, of course. Money was scarce, and my sister and I had only met Athai once, back in 2015. Even then, her health had been declining. News of Athailanding in the hospital had become so regular I’d began thinking nothing of it. I always figured she’d fight and come back to us, as she always did. Grandma was ready to fly home to Indonesia right away; but flight restrictions made that impossible. We were left with feelings of hopelessness and despair. Athai was dying, and none of us were with her.

My mother hoped some of our relatives would stay by Atai’s bedside and keep her company. It proved a challenge to find even one person willing to risk their safety to make the trip to Athai’s near-empty flat. My grandma would give anything to be with her mother in her last moments, yet nobody was willing to wipe a dampened towel across Athai’s cheek, hold her thin hand, or repay her for all the years of her dedication put into her children.

I chose to bury myself in online classes where I stayed silent and unresponsive. I didn’t speak a word until six in the evening. I ignored my aunts and sister who worked alongside me at their own tables. We shared a room, some of us shared a bed. I loathed that situation. I trudged along the sidewalk in the hot outdoors suffocating under my mask, footsteps loud in the quiet street. I walked fast and hard, longing to be seen or heard.  Everyone is for themselves, and I absolutely hate it. It is a cycle I repeat for months.

My grandma is on the phone, alongside my mother and aunts. I hear grandma say hello. Her quiet, calm, soothing voice comforts her mother. She tells Athaiif God is calling her to come home, then she should, and that they will see each other again someday. Mother later tells me the phone call was encouraged by the pastor who came to see Atai. He’d asked grandma to give Athaia call and comfort her so that she might rest. This works, because grandma tells me Athai has died the next morning.

It saddens me to know grandma had to say goodbye to her mother over the phone, and even more so when I realized she had to encourage Athai to rest.

I am proud when grandma speaks fondly of when she can go home to Indonesia and visit her mother’s grave, forced to give a bad goodbye in the belief that there will yet be one more hello.