My grandmother died last year of complications related to cirrhosis after alcoholism that lasted longer than I can know. She kept her drinking secret from me until my 11th grade year of high school. I was 23 nearing 24 when she died, and I did not know how to handle her addiction. I hadn't believed that she wouldn't have time to go to rehab again and/or be eligible for a transplant. She'd been hospitalized before and recovered--she'd been saved by my mother and by doctors at least half a dozen times. I started reading Jhumpa Lahiri's "Interpreter of Maladies," "The Namesake," and "Unaccustomed Earth as a distraction. At first, I just liked the verisimilitude, particularly the way her short stories felt like snapshots of moments in people's lives. I just thought the books would make the visits easier since my grandmother was non-responsive.
And, each book haunted me in a way, but the last one was the book I finished right before my grandmother died. Its final last story/sentence---that moment of regret for not having some proof of what someone meant to you--was the closest thing to naming how I felt at the end. I still remember scenes from that book at random as if they were my own memories, and I take a strange comfort in that. I read a lot of esoteric literature on gender, race, sexuality, disability, etc., but fiction and poetry remind me of humanity as praxis. I think the specificity of Lahiri's work simultaneously reminded me to care about other people and to give a damn about myself.