I grew up in a household not practising empathy or compassion. For many years I did not know how to react when people told me someone died, when they were going through unfortunate events, or when they were in pain and needed a shoulder to cry on.
I briefly recall the day my grandmother died. I was ten, it was one or two weeks before Christmas. My mother came in the room where I slept that night, her bedroom, pulled the curtains and announced: Your grandma passed. My first reaction was to go bold and careless about it. My gesture – folding my arms under my head and taking a sort of relaxed breath – I find now from the same array of gestures you do when your body doesn’t know how to react to extreme shock. For example when you burst into laughter when you heard someone’s parent or friend died.
But later that day I saw my grandma on her bed. Small, detached from all worldly things, consumed by her disease and so, so fragile. Her hands were cold. I locked myself in my parents’ bedroom and cried. I cried for such a long time that finally my aunt came in and hugged me.