On Thanksgiving, my grandma died. I didn’t know about it when it happened; in fact, I didn’t know until the Monday following her death (when I read the horribly written, largely not factual, and damn near laughable obituary) that she had actually died on Thursday and not Friday. I went back into the calendar on my phone to update the day and wondered what the hell kind of world we live in: my grandma is dead and I’m making a note in the calendar app on my freakin’ iPhone. Did people used to write the day on an actual calendar or did they just remember from one year to the next on what day each of their loved ones had died? Maybe they wrote it down in the family bible. In any case, making a note of it seemed like the only thing left to do and I did it. I don’t know if I’ll remember the date or not, but for sure I’ll think of her every year on her birthday and I’ll try like hell to remember the relationship we had when I was young. Maybe one of these years, it’ll hit me harder than it has this year, but most likely not. I think she’s felt gone for a long time now, probably because she hasn’t made any effort to contact me for the last couple of decades, and at some point I stopped caring about contacting her.
I will probably always love my grandma for who [I thought] she once was to me, but we hadn’t spoken in quite a while when she died, maybe more than a year. The last time we talked, I spent more than ten minutes trying to explain to her who I was. I thought I had it done, and then she lost the thread of the conversation and I had to start all over again. My life was going well at the time and I had a lot of exciting stuff to share with her, but instead I ended up hearing about cousins I haven’t seen since they were little and haven’t ever–not even once–had a phone conversation with. For this lack of contact, I blame my aunt, who is apparently still devastated by a conversation she had with 12-year-old me many, many moons ago…a conversation in which I made clear that my loyalties would always lie with my mom, and no amount of Christmas and birthday present briberies would ever change that. Although I saw my aunt a few times after that heated and long-ago discussion, things were never again the same between us.
Strangely, I have never once been sad about the state of that relationship. I felt like I didn’t lose much, and in the last ten or fifteen years, I’ve started to feel the same about my relationship with my grandma, who–it occurred to me–had never demonstrated much of a willingness to listen to me, not even when I was a kid. I began to wonder if she knew anything at all about me or if it was only I who knew her. Though I couldn’t give an exact time frame, I can almost guarantee that was the point at which I started spacing out my phone calls and emotionally distancing myself. Instead of dealing with her and insisting that I be allowed to contribute to the conversation, I made a playlist of all the songs that accompanied my childhood sitting in her kitchen and I listened to it whenever I felt at all nostalgic. To this day, it makes me feel warm, fuzzy and happy, and I get that feeling entirely regardless of her. I think this is a good thing, especially considering the fact that historically, my grandmother has been (was) entirely unwilling to make any changes to herself or her general demeanor, even if doing so might have helped those in her immediate family.
Honestly, I think she had a helluva life, but I don’t think she was a very nice person. She was only a parent to one of her two children, and this was true to such an extent that my mother nearly physically starved to death as a toddler and was love and attention starved for the duration of their 67 year relationship. My grandmother patently refused to help (with either money or time) when such help could have made a lasting difference in all of our lives and would have cost her next to nothing. At times, she was downright hateful to my entire immediate family, except me. As a child, of course, this state of affairs didn’t rankle; as an adult, I was–and continue to be–appalled.
I really do not understand.
My grandmother was 96 years old when she died, and it’s apparent that she never even tried to learn the lesson that I continuously struggle with: above all else, be kind. She never tried to do the next right thing, and in fact seemed to revel in doing whatever horrific thing she had to in order to make herself either the ultimate victim or the dramatic hero. My family had to stop attending my childhood church because of the rumors that circulated there; all of them were started or perpetuated by my grandmother (and eventually my aunt) and none of them were true. She was horrible, and most likely she spent her life pointing the finger at others to keep the focus from herself. I wish it hadn’t worked, but I think it mostly did: there are way too many people in my hometown who think they know a lot more about us than they really do. We tried to stay alive and we did the best we could with what we had to work with. She tried to do as little as possible while simultaneously attempting to look like she was doing (and suffering) everything.
Nevertheless, in the past few days, I keep cycling back and forth between what I know as an adult and what I grew up believing. Once, I thought the two of us were two peas in a pod, that no grandmother and granddaughter had ever had a bond like we did, that we would have been pals even if we hadn’t been related. I feel betrayed by those feelings, now–like I was sold something beautiful in the store that turned out to be awful and ugly (and utterly non-refundable) when I got it home. It’s only fleetingly in the past several days that I’ve flashed on her and my relationship and felt love for her or sorrow for the fact that we’ll never see one another again. And yet, when I do think of her with that charitable softness, it only makes me mad. The truth is that we all spent a lot of years enduring what she did because she was related to us and we just had to love her even if she didn’t deserve it. We all kept giving her chances and coming back for more because there was blood between us, and because the bible says you give the person who wrongs you all the chances in the world to eventually stop wronging you (paraphrase, obviously).
She’s dead now, and she never stopped. Worse, I don’t think it ever occurred to her that she was wronging any of us in the first place.
Yesterday, I guess, was the funeral. It was held out of state, near where my grandmother has lived this last decade of her life. Obviously, none of us went. We knew it would be a show put on by my aunt, and we had no desire to partake or to be forced into swallowing the same lies that we’ve spent our lives until now trying to deal with without either becoming physically ill or collapsing into a pool of laughter at the feet of whatever innocent bystander was passing them along. I’m glad I don’t know what was said in her honor; the obituary was purple prose-y enough.
The truth is, my grandmother was not loving or kind or charitable or even honest, but she was once movie star beautiful, and she carried herself regally and dressed nicely her entire life. As far as I’m concerned, the best thing she did was purely accidental: by her very inattention, she gave me my mom. For the moment, that’s enough to make me glad that she lived.