Dealing with death and dysfunction

My maternal grandmother passed away last week.  No condolences are necessary as I didn't know her.  I wanted to know her.  I tried to know her, but she wasn't at all interested in knowing me.

I sit here, dumbfounded.  I want to share, because I need to get rid of the buried emotions that have resurfaced since I learned of her passing,  but I don't know how to share what's on my heart.  If my family were "normal" the death of my grandmother would be heartbreaking.  Yet, I sit here, feeling the familiar pit of emptiness I have grown to feel each time I would think of her.  No tears to shed.  No funeral to jet off to.  No feelings of loss.  Just a lot of disappointment.

My story is peppered throughout this blog, and there is more to come.  I can only blog when my heart calls me to, so there really is no order to my posts.  So, I will lay out a quick summary of the women in my direct maternal family.

My mother abandoned me at a young age.  She had me when she was 20 years old and was more into her drugs and her man than she was into me.  She was not emotionally ready to be a mother and she made a (wise) choice and left me in the parking lot of a receiving home at the age of 3.

I was placed in foster care, then briefly adopted, only to be given back to the system again.  I spent my childhood bouncing from home to home until I wrote a letter to a lady who reunified people and she located my mother for me.  Thankfully, my mother agreed to allow me back into her life.  After some calls and correspondence, I learned that she was still with the same boyfriend she was with when she left me.  (This is a situation for an entirely different post)  Eventually, we planned a reunion in Las Vegas since most of my family lived there.

At the age of 17, I hopped alone on a plane to meet these people who I had never met but who were my family.  I knew my mother, my grandparents, my great grandmother, my aunt and my cousins would be there waiting for me.  It was all surreal, something to be shared in a dedicated post.  I want you to understand that I didn't know anyone in my family until this very moment.

I have always been so very thankful that my mother allowed this moment to happen for me.  She could have easily snubbed me.  She could have shut that door and kept it shut, but for whatever reason, when the phone rang on that day at that very moment, she was receptive to allowing me into her life.  I couldn't imagine what my life would be like, had she said no.  My feelings about her now are not pleasant, but I will always be grateful to her for giving me a chance to get to know my roots and through this reunion I was able to be a daughter, a niece, a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter and a cousin.  I never knew the type of love and belonging before I became each of these things.

My reunion with my Great Grandma, and Grandmother were nice.  They hugged me and said how often they thought of me through the years.  They told me I was beautiful and looked like my mother.  We all went out to eat and tried to get acquainted.  The experience itself was quite overwhelming.  It was remarkable to me, as I looked around the table.  My aunt and mother both shared my facial features.  We had the same eyes, same cheek bones, same bump on our nose they referred to as a "jewish nose." My great-grandma was jewish and I had a lot to learn about my heritage.  My aunt resembled me a bit more than my mother.  I could see a hint of each of us in the face of my grandmother and her mother.  My great grandmother was stunning for a lady of her age. She was lively and funny.  I really adored her from the start.  I never knew there were these people out there who looked like me, who belonged to me.   Family was finally something tangible.

After our get together, most of the family went to their homes and it was just my aunt, my mother, my cousins and me.  I recall during the drive home bits of conversation between my mother and aunt.  I learned that my reunion had brought my grandmother back into the lives of my mother and aunt.  They were estranged for whatever reason.  There was a lot of bad blood, but I didn't dare ask.  I was just a starry eyed teen, experiencing something wonderful, and all I could say was what a blessing it was that we were all finally together.

I also learned that my aunt had not seen my mother in several years as well.  It seemed as though there were many broken connections in that side of my family.  Instinctively, my guard was wanting to shoot up, but I kept it down.   Surely, this reunion would change everything and they would all learn from my experience, that having family was a gift not to be taken for granted.

My visit with my family was a gift I had long dreamed of unwrapping.  I cherished every moment with my little cousins.  My mother was there only for a few days and had to go home because her boyfriend would not allow her to stay longer.  I have always relied on my instincts and when she left, I feigned sleep, because I was terrified to say goodbye to her.  The moment I heard the car pull out of the driveway, I shot up from the couch and ran to my aunt.  Waves of emotion hurled out of me as I sobbed on her shoulder.  She held me and tried to comfort me.  All I could say was "I'll never see her again!"  She thought I was just scared.  I knew better.  I just knew.

I spent two weeks in Las Vegas getting to know the rest of my family.  My grandfather...he was the sweetest most loving, genuine soul.  I had never seen a man cry before I met him.  I loved him instantly, though it took a long time for me to tell him so.  My Aunt.  I looked at her in awe.  I felt a connection with her,  more so than with my mother.  She was such a great mom to her children.  I soaked in all those moments together as a family.  Tuck in time, when she sang to her kids and they chatted about the day.  Dinner time around the table, eating an amazing home cooked meal and appreciating every bite as we shared smiles and stories.   Oh how I long for those moments now.

When I returned to my foster home, I felt so empty.  I felt lost.  Now that I knew what it was like to belong somewhere, I didn't want to be there anymore.  My dear grandfather offered to take custody of me, and made a room in his tiny 2 bedroom trailer home for me.  He was so thoughtful.  He knew my favorite color was green, and he painted my room a pretty light green, and bought me a black futon and a wardrobe chest.  My grandfather never bought anything on credit, and only used what he had.  He lived within his means, and earned a decent living as a bartender.  I didn't know it at the time, but allowing me into his life was a big deal.  Caring for a 17 year old was a huge commitment, both emotionally and financially.  I wish I could go back with the knowledge I have now, and tell him how much I appreciate him.  At the time I almost felt like I deserved all he did and didn't consider that he could have not taken me in.

I'm getting off track here.  I need to focus on the women.  My Great-Grandma. My Grandmother.  My Aunt.  My Mother.

My Great-Grandma was a remarkable woman.  I speak of her from my perspective.  From what I know, she had her flaws, especially as a parent.  There were times she struggled to support her 5 children.  There were times she made poor choices as a parent.  There was a lot of turmoil, but I am not sure of the circumstances.  I never pressed for the details because I only knew her as I saw her and what I saw was a loving, witty, beautiful woman.  She didn't put up with any crap either.  She told it like it was and didn't pause for the sake of what was appropriate.  I loved her for that.  She was humbled by my reunion.  She did have regrets as to how things turned out with her children, with me.  She did claim some responsibility for how her daughter parented her girls.  Though I never felt that she was to blame.  I never was looking for people to blame.  I was fortunate to have been in foster care.  I never put the great in great grandma because she simply was my grandmother.  I loved her wholly for who she was and what she taught me.  

My relationship with my grandmother pretty much fizzled out soon after the reunion.  I would see her off and on for a dinner here or a lunch there.  She never liked coming to the kids birthday parties and really kept herself removed from everyone, unless a free meal was involved.  I'm sorry to say it like that, but I am only speaking the truth as I know it.

My Aunt and I were close from the beginning.  I adored her.  I loved being in her home.  I thought she was beautiful and loving, and an amazing mother.  I knew she drank more than she should and I knew she had some deep rooted issues with her mother but I could never get her to really open up to me.  We would talk and sometime at night, when she was feeling numb enough, she would speak of her pain until her words slurred and my uncle had to carry her off to bed.  Nobody is perfect, I told myself.  I accepted her as she was because she wasn't changing and I loved her, flaws and all.  My heart ached for her sadness, and I wanted to fix it, but any time my cousins or I tried to talk to her about her drinking things would get ugly, so we lived with it.

My Mother.  My instincts were right on.  I didn't see her again.  We maintained a relationship via phone, but when she tried to invite me to her home, and I told her I wasn't comfortable around her boyfriend, she lost it and told me I was never to speak to her again.   It hurt.  Words cannot describe the pain of being rejected by the woman who brought you into this world, not once, but twice.  It killed what little self esteem that I had.  I felt if I wasn't worthy of love from my own mother, then I wasn't worthy of much.  The hurt eventually got replaced with anger, because it is much easier to be angry than to feel pain.  The story doesn't end there.  But for now we will leave it at that.

I lived with my Grandpa for 3 years.  I worked a lot and tried to keep a clear head on my shoulders.  I didn't drink or do drugs.  I wasn't very active with the boys.  I had crushes and there was a guy I really liked at my work, who liked me, but eventually he really hurt me.  I followed my instincts and never was intimate with him, but when he started dating a girl I worked with, I lost it and had a few weeks of acting like a broken hearted, reckless fool.  I made poor choices and a few weeks later, my life was changed in an instant by two little pink lines.

I was going to be a mother.  A single mother.  I was the exact same age my mother was when she got pregnant with me.  In fact, the father of my son was the exact same age my father was when my mother was pregnant.   On April fools day, I rang my Aunt to tell her the news.  I was terrified.  She pretty much scolded me and asked what I was going to do about it.  I told her I was going to keep my baby.  She wasn't pleased with me and pretty much told me I was a bad example to her kids and she didn't want them seeing me pregnant like this.  It was shameful.    My grandfather was disappointed, and scared.  I knew he was concerned about the financial burdens, but he offered to let me keep staying with him and we could make room for the baby.  I knew I couldn't allow him to worry.  When he told my mother the news, she said "I wish her luck." and that was that.   My father, who I had also reunited with, offered to move me back to San Diego and live with him.

I moved from my family when I was 5 months pregnant and went to stay with my Dad.  It hurt a lot but it was a blessing too because it gave me a chance to get to know him.

After I had my son, I brought him to Vegas to meet my family.  I recall my Great-Grandma, Grandmother, Great-Aunts, and my 2nd cousin were driving down to see my son.  I was staying with my Aunt.  They all walked in and sat with me, taking turns holding me 2 week old son.  He was my Great-Grandma's first great-great grandchild.  He was my grandmother's first great-grandson.  Most everyone cooed over him and admired him.  My grandmother was reserved and cold.  There was an air of stiffness around the room.  Something was off.

Later, I learned that on the drive to visit us, my grandmother pretty much said that I was going to be a failure as a parent and that history would repeat itself.  I had no business having this baby.  My great grandmother and great aunt and her daughter told her otherwise, but my grandmother was set in her ideas that I would be just as poor of a mother as her daughter was.  What wasn't mentioned was that my grandmother was an awful mother so perhaps she was partially responsible for this chain of dysfunction...

 I never had to keep my distance from my grandmother, as she did this well enough on her own.  Once in a while she would surprise me.  I recall her sending $100.00 as a baby gift for Austin.  I was stunned and called to thank her.  She was kind.  This happened BEFORE the car ride to visit my son.   It is all so strange.  She never called me.  She never wrote.  When my mother would come to town they all would get together but never try to contact me.  I felt so left out and confused as to what I did to make them feel this way about me.  It was deeply painful.  I turned to writing each time my heart would be full with the burden this pain weighed on me.  It seemed to help ease the pain a bit.  To work through it by putting pen to paper.  It cleansed me and helped me enough to go on instead of allowing it to consume me.

A few more years went by.  My Grandmother was celebrating her 90th birthday.  My son, now 6 years old, and I traveled to Las Vegas.  I knew my biological mother would be there.   The experience was dreadful, with my grandmother and mother checking place settings to ensure they were far away from the likes of me.  I felt like an outcast and didn't understand why.  Here I was, with a beautiful son, their grandson, and they were too self absorbed with their differences to set them aside and treasure this occasion with the matriarch of our family.

The next morning, my grandmother showed up to a brunch thrown by my cousins and because my mother was not by her side, she acknowledged me and said hello to my son.  We all sat at the table and I was pleased she sat next to Austin.  He was talking to her and I was touched by the moment because regardless of how I may have felt, I knew it was important for my son to know his great grandmother.  I met her eyes and smiled.  She glanced at him and back at me.  "You know, he has a lisp, don't you?  You should correct that." she said coldly.  Then she got up, walked to each person in the room and said goodbye to everyone except my son and I.  Then she left.  Once again, I burst into tears not understanding what on earth was so bad about me that she could treat me, and now my innocent son this way.  It just sucked.

"She's cold."  "Don't let her get to you."  "That is just how she is."  "She's a shell of a person."

Regardless, it hurt a lot.  More rejection.  I couldn't take any more.

I worked with myself internally.  It's their problem, not mine.  I am a good person.  My son has all the love he needs from me, and doesn't need his grandparents.  I built walls, but they were flimsy.  Every time I heard my mother's name or my grandmother's name, it hurt.  It hurt when I knew they were near me and together, yet I couldn't be part of their day.  It hurt to watch my son grow up and not only miss out on a relationship with his father, but also his great grandmother and grandmother.

Here I sit, nearly a decade after that last incident, and I admit I still harbor some anger.  It stems from frustration.  Frustration that these two women have victimized me over and over again.  Frustration that I allowed them to hurt me over and over again.  Frustrated because I cannot understand why they are so cold and prefer to be alone than have family around them.  I can't wrap my head around it.  

You see, in the past 8 years I have experienced too much loss.  I lost my maternal grandfather in a tragic house fire. My great grandma passed when she was 94.  My dad passed suddenly the following year.  My aunt passed from her alcoholism this past March.  Now, my grandmother passed last week.

Before my grandpa passed away, my mother's long term boyfriend died of a drug overdose in their kitchen.  In just a handful of months she lost her life partner and her dad.  I was so worried about her and had my dad call her to tell her I was here if she needed me.  She did call me and we did reunify again via phone.  Needless to say, she pushed me away because she just didn't want to be a parent or a grandmother.  Rejected again.  I wish I could get used to that feeling, but it hurt like a gaping wound each time a little worse than before.  Like ripping the stitches out of a wound not quite healed.

When my dad passed away, I emailed her to let her know.  I had hoped for something.  Maybe she would see how precious life is, and not to take her daughter or grandchildren for granted.  All I got was an email saying "I'm sorry to hear that, Tammy."

I realize how foolish I am for wishing my mother or her mother would eventually come around.  I want so desperately to be accepted by them.  It is completely unrealistic but I simply don't understand why.  I know that it's not me, it's them...I mean that is what everyone says, but when is it them against me, it is hard not to take it personal.

I knew my grandmother was in poor health.  She has been for years.  I wondered how she lasted this long.  Her death was zero surprise to me, but it has left me once again feeling uncomfortable and unsettled.  A reminder of how screwed up parts of my family are for reasons unbeknownst to me.  I will never know the truth as to why my grandmother was so cold or why my aunt drank herself to death or why my mother can't care for anyone including herself.

My grandmother died alone.  No family by her side.  There is no service planned to honor her life.  She simply existed, then didn't.  She does have family who cared for her.  Surprisingly, my mother and her maintained a close relationship after the reunion with me.  Prior to that, they didn't speak for nearly 15 years.  I am glad they had each other, because without each other they would have had no one. 

There is a part of me I hate to face right now, but I have to face it and get it off my chest so I can move on.  That childish part of me, the starry eyed dreamer and believer in sappy movies with happy endings.  I can never seem to purge that part of me when it comes to my mother.  That innocent, hopeful, foolish part, that knew the day would come where my mother would have literally no one left in this world but me.  I always felt that would be the day she would finally turn to me and accept me indefinitely.

It's unrealistic, and even if that day were to come, the truth is I would not be emotionally ready to consider allowing her into my life or the lives of my children.  Still, I need to be significant to my mother.  That feeling will never go away no matter how many times I push it deep down, things will happen to cause it to resurface.

The death of my grandmother is depressing to me.  Simply because she lived and she died but she never lived.  In her obituary, her grandchildren were not named as survivors, but her dog and one best friend were.  She had 3 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.  Had she lived until next year, she would have had 5 great grandchildren.  None of us knew much of her.  All of us were hurt by her.  Her great grandchildren will never know her and we have nothing to offer them in the way of who she was.  She will forever be a blank name with no stories behind it.  There is no legacy to be picked up and carried on through the next generation.

Perhaps I think too much, but it is just a sad situation.  I am sad over what could have been but never was.  I'm disappointed in her.  I'm frustrated because I will never know my grandmother and I fear that history will repeat itself when it is my mother's time to leave this earth.  I'll be left sitting here wondering what the hell happened just like I am right now.

When it comes to my life, history absolutely has not and will not repeat itself, it just simply can not.

I pray that my grandmother's soul is at peace.  She died the way she lived.  She wanted to be alone, as she pushed everyone close to her away so perhaps she was happy in the end, for she didn't know life any other way.   

Most of all, I pray with all my might that I will not die alone.  That I will love all of my family with all of me and they will feel every ounce of that love until I take my last breath.  I pray that they will deem my life worthy of a celebration and have stories to share that bring warmth to their hearts and smiles to their lips.  I hope that those stories surpass into the next generation and the next carried by love and laughter and fondness for the person I was.

I know what it is like to have no one.  Now that I know what it is like to be a part of a family and have a family of my own, I pray that I will never be alone again.


Anonymous said...

Such a tragedy that hearts can be that cold. I don't get it. I never will. You have broken the cycle of cold hearts. That's what your purpose in thisvworld is among others. Be proud.

Stephanie said...

Every child wants to be adored by their Mamma, no matter what. That is just human nature. As awful as things were and even with the hurtful things she repeatedly did, a child ALWAYS wants their mother's love. It is a testament to your resiliency and strength that you were able to break this cycle of coldness and running away, with warmth and presence to your kids as the loving mother you are. That is amazing. Stay strong. You are so worthy of the relentless and unconditional love of your mother and I am so sorry she let you down time and time again.

Stephanie said...

I've been reading since you told us about your blog the last time, and I'm drawn to your story. So many of the feelings, even though the situation was different, are the same. As Stephanie said above, we crave that love and adoration from our mother. Without it, there are so many issues to be dealt with. I applaud you for putting all this here, for writing about your journey. You mentioned in another entry, I believe, that you hope to help other kids who went through similiar situations. That's wonderful!! Kids truly listen to someone who's been in their shoes, and who cares. So glad to have met you!!

shannon said...

Reading your words has given me pause for thought. I would like to thank you for taking the time to write your words in a way that add beauty to a horrible situation. Your words have a way of allowing you to come out shining because my girl, you are such a treasure!

I read a hidden nuance within your words and it's one that I could relate to. I remember saying to myself one day " I am not responsible for my parent's mistakes." When I finally realized that, I could let go and let myself live in freedom. I no longer sought the love of my loveless family. My mom made the decision to give me up, but I didn't have to live with the decision she made for the rest of my life. I had to let myself off the hook and quit allowing myself to take the ownership and responsibility of guilt that she should have felt. When I let go, I finally felt free and accepted that I am me defined as a woman of valor without the family backing regardless of the name on my birth certificate.

I could respond in pages... and I really truly want to encourage you, that you are not defined by bloodline. You are you, speacial remarkable, loveable and your life is now governed by your choice. Now you have the power to say what you want, and no one can take that from you! HUGS!

Kelly said...

While my situation is not the same as yours, I too come from dysfunction. It is definitely mind boggling. You are doing the right thing by loving on your kids and breaking the cycle. I try hard to understand why people are the way they are, but its an enigma. Just have to move forward. Good on you for writing it out. (((Hugs)))