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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Reflections on love and loss across continents

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Photo courtesy of Eva Eapen.

I’ve always thought the greatest moments in life exist in the mundane. There’s so much love in the little things. When I think about my favorite memories, I find myself engulfed in the smell of strong filter coffee shared with my parents while an old romantic comedy plays in the background.

These weren’t days I planned to be special, but there they are — indelibly etched in the corridors of my memory.

It’s hard for me to reconcile my reverence for ordinary moments with the fact that so many people I love live across the world. I was 10 years old when I moved from Bangalore, India, to Cary, North Carolina. Young, but old enough to remember.

Those moments — the ones we unearth with the people we love on the most random of days — couldn’t happen an ocean away from my family. I know my experience isn’t particularly unique on a campus like UNC’s. So many of our families immigrated to the United States before we were born, or we are immigrants ourselves.

For many, our relationships with our extended families are defined by bi-monthly FaceTimes and annual trips to the motherland. Deep-seated familial love exists despite the physical barriers between us, but these impediments shape our experience of loss and of grief.

Soon after my family moved to the U.S., my grandfather died. I felt this loss profoundly. I wondered if it was actually worth it — the pursuit of the American dream — if it meant not being able to hold your loved one’s hand in their final moments.

A few weeks ago, my mother called and told me my great-grandmother died. I saw her briefly in the summer of 2023, and she was mostly incoherent, but my main memories of her are from before my moving to the United States. I have no memories to speak of in between, given that I spent the vast majority of that time in the United States. When I saw her last July, I remember feeling sorrow — for the time I missed out on with her. Still, the years we spent apart made holding her hand on that day even more special.

Lately, I can’t help but think about my loved ones’ mundane moments, especially the ones I am absent for.

I write this column from a coffee shop in Chapel Hill, while they are thousands of miles away pursuing careers, raising families and making new memories. Perhaps this loss is simply part of the price we pay to forge a future in this country. I’m paying it, but I’m also grateful for the opportunities that living in the U.S. affords me, for the versions of myself I’ve cultivated over the past eight years and for the people I have the privilege of loving here.

As I walk through campus, I try to be conscious of this trade-off. I remind myself to make the most of my life here, because it is precious and because it did not come for free.

Make no mistake, physical distance and time cannot erase love. Affection can transcend distance, time and even physical health. Many of us will spend the majority of our lives far from our relatives. We honor that sacrifice by forging our own paths in this country, never forgetting from where we came.

@eva_eapen

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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