My grandmother died. Probably not the best, or most subtle way to start a blog post, but I think I just needed to write it down, and then read it out loud, over and over. Maybe that way I’ll start to believe it, because it still doesn’t feel real.
I haven’t spent much time talking about my grandparents in my writing. Out of four possible relationships, only one during my childhood was meaningful; my maternal grandmother. So, I would like to talk about her now.
As I said, my maternal grandmother was the only grandparent who cared for/about me. My paternal grandparents cut all ties with me at the age of 11 or 12, over some petty reason, as fractured families are want to do, and my maternal grandfather…well, we’ll touch on him a bit later here.
In many ways my grandmother was more of a mother to me growing up than my mom was. Because my mom was a single parent, working long hours for many years, my grandmother became my default caretaker. I spent most days before and after school with her, as well as my entire days during the summer. Over the years our bond grew stronger and stronger, and since I was the only grandchild for 10 years, there wasn’t much competition for her love and attention.
She was born around 1933 in the middle of America; Iowa to be exact. She grew up on a farm, with a rather large family; 7 or 8 siblings if I’m not mistaken. Pretty much the typical middle-America situation during the early part of the 20th century. As most women were almost expected not to, my grandmother never finished schooling past the 6th grade, but she was easily one of the smartest people I ever knew. She had a passion for geography that could not be quenched, most likely born from her never-accomplished desire to see the world.
She married young to my grandfather, who like many young men during that time, joined the Navy. This meant they moved around a lot; each new assignment requiring an uprooting. My grandmother had 4 children; my mother being the oldest. My mother and her siblings were all 4 years apart, with the running joke being that that’s how you could tell when my grandfather can home from being deployed.
My grandmother’s marriage was not a pleasant one. Like many people from that time, marriage wasn’t about being happy or in love with your partner; people married for stability, kids, whatever, and just didn’t get divorced; again, it was just what was expected.
My grandmother was always the peace-maker; the glue that held the family together, no matter how fractured we always were, no matter how much chaos was caused by my grandfather’s drinking/attitude, she handled it…that is until it became too much.
A person can only shoulder so much. And while my grandmother always seemed to be able to handle my grandfather’s antics, no one saw the shit-storm of anger and hate that was my mother, brewing on the horizon. I mean, we all should have; my mother and grandfather are identical to the core.
Unfortunately, the relationship between myself and my grandmother began to erode during my late 20’s. Not because of anything either one of us did, but more because of something we didn’t do. We didn’t fight for our relationship. As my mother grew more and more controlling, manipulative, and angry, and my grandmother just began to give up. She was tired; tired of trying to keep it together, and tired of fighting.
The lost relationship with my grandmother is the only thing I regret from my decision to pull away from my mother. To be fair, it’s as much my grandmother’s fault as it is mine that we lost each other. But who knows, maybe she thought about calling me when my mother wasn’t around (which is never, as she is smothering). Maybe she thought, “I should check with others and see if they have heard from Mike. See how he’s doing. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Then, as life does, tomorrow turns into next week, and next week turns into next year; before you know it, it’s been a decade of silence, and you’re not sure how you got to this point anymore.
Before I left CA in 2008, my grandmother and I were able to see each other one last time. She told me she was more sad I was moving away than any other thing that happened in her life. She said she always saw me as her 5th kid, and it felt like just another kid was being pushed away by my mother. I encouraged her to stand up for herself and tell my mother to leave, but that obviously never happened.
I finally received the phone call I have thought about for many years. My aunt, whom I still have a close relationship with, called to tell me my grandmother didn’t have much time left. Of course the news hit me hard. No matter how much you prepare for this, you’re never truly ready. The weight of finality is a beast.
She urged me to speak with my grandmother, even if was just to hear each others voices one last time, and while it was incredibly difficult, we did. The conversation was of course awkward and a bit force, but after almost a decade of silence I had expected as much. The conversation was brief at best, as my grandmother was in the hospital and uses an air tank to breath properly.
No apologies were exchanged, which is probably for the best; however, we both expressed how much we missed each other. And I could hear her get a bit choked up when she asked about Ferris (her only great-grandchild) who she has never met, and even more when I mentioned we had another on the way.
While saddened, I was semi at peace with knowing my grandmother was going to pass because we were able to talk one last time. I was even more saddened when I was informed by my aunt that my grandmother’s wishes are to have no funeral, no ceremony, and in my grandmother’s words, “Wants to be cremated and then forgotten.”
This could not be how the story ends. Our story. A few weeks later I once again received a call from my aunt; this time it was THE call. It could be any moment now. Every feeling in my body, my brain, told me to just accept the situation, accept the almost 10 years of lost bond, and move on, but my heart and my soul had other ideas.
Go to her. See her one last time. Don’t accept this ending, make your own.
The Wife echoed the same sentiment when I spoke to her about it. And even though this meant our lives and schedules would be completely uprooted, not to mention spending a small fortune on what would amount to a 2 day trip across country, my said said, Go to her. See her one last time. Don’t accept this ending, make your own.
I’m happy to say I made it in time to see her one last time.
Our last moment together was far too brief, as last moments with any loved one are. But as I held her hand, telling her all about Ferris, and our little girl on the way, it felt as time had stopped.
Grandma, I regret the time we lost. But, even more, I regret that you feel like you should be forgotten…but I also understand why you felt that way. I’ve recently learned, from my Wife, that sometimes you need to meet people where they are, especially in the times when you don’t agree with how they feel. You deserve better than being forgotten. I will instead carry the memories we shared together for the rest of my life. This is where I leave you, gone, but never forgotten.
I love you