Grandmothers. They are wonderful. Gifts. And we never forget them.
Why the grandmother schicht today? I’m not sure. My grandmothers are never far off from my thoughts, always there in the background. Maybe it’s Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday. Or maybe it’s just long held-in reflection of the mushy variety that finally bubbled over. But whatever it is, for the past few weeks, grandmothers, both of mine, and my husband’s, have been on my mind more than usual.
We both have one grandmother who is still alive and one who has passed away. I won’t speak for Roy (my husband) but I wouldn’t say I had a favorite grandmother – I love them both equally I’m sure, but there was still one that I was closer to. My dad’s mom, Mary/Grandma W, was someone who left such a mark on me. She is also my grandmother who passed away.
Growing up, I saw both of my grandmothers regularly and both were local, but I just remember Grandma W there through all the big and small stuff, much more than my mother’s mom, Grandma B. I was the first/oldest grandchild on that side, and maybe it was all in my head but I always felt Grandma W and I had something special. Every holiday (Christmas and Thanksgiving) I would be in her kitchen helping her prepare the big dinner she was having that night. (We’re a big Irish family so I do mean BIG dinner.) I was always in charge of the green bean casserole from age eight, well into my teens. I often would stay over at her house since my own house was such a hostile and unstable place to be. She tried to teach me how to knit and crochet (sadly I suck at both) as she was a master and department stores would order sweaters and such from her every year. Her designs were popular and she was so talented. She also shared my love of reading and I loved to go to her house to see what new books and stories she might have.
She’s the one who introduced me to Harry Potter and when she was in hospice I gave her my copy of the fourth Harry Potter novel. She used the paper flap cover as a bookmark. She was 37 pages away from the end, and I have not touched that book since. It’s one of my most prized possessions.
Her death hitting me hard was an understatement. I was the only grandchild who kept vigil at her bedside for so many weeks, even though it was my last semester of college. When it was time to say goodbye, just her and me, right before she entered hospice, I told her everything I needed to. That I loved her. That anything I learned of family, I learned from her. I told her we’d take care of grandpa; that we wanted her to stay with us because we loved her, but I understood, and we would be fine without her. We would band together. She could let go if she needed to. It was the only lie I ever told her. I knew the family would fracture and it did. I knew my grandfather would be inconsolable. But everyone was begging her to hold on and she was in so much pain, it hurt my heart knowing we were being selfish. I needed her to know… the next day she entered hospice and died few weeks later.
Cancer is a merciless bitch.
But losing her, made me that much more aware of how I needed to be present and not take my other grandmother for granted. After that I started taking care of Grandma B. Sometimes I would stay with her to help her out. Grandma W was healthy, active and the cancer was not only a shock, but the only thing it did kindly was that it was quick. Less than three months from diagnosis to death. A woman who was traveling internationally and keeping up with dozens of young grandchildren was bedridden in a matter of days. Grandma B on the other hand was older and had aged harder thanks to dozens of mini-strokes and other health problems.
I went to graduate school in California but the summer before I left (a few months after Grandma W died) I was there. And after I moved back home I stayed there a few months too. Helping with groceries, getting around, her dog and also on “junkie duty” as I called it, keeping her only son who was a violent addict from harming her or stealing from her. He would take advantage and it would make me so angry; I’ve always been a very protective person. Hurt me and I learn and go my own way, hurt someone I love and in a flash I’ve already gone for the jugular and you’re done (metaphorically speaking, obviously).
As the years have gone by it has become more difficult than ever to be there for her. I live out of state and can’t talk to her on the phone (I’m deaf, and she slurs due to all those strokes) and she isn’t exactly one to go online – she doesn’t even own a computer. It’s further complicated by the fact that my mother is not in my life. She was abusive, violent and is still unstable – it’s for the best and I don’t doubt that, but it obviously makes things more difficult when it comes to trying to see my grandmother.
But I make it work and I’m always mailing her cards or little things to let her know I’m thinking of her.
Then there’s Roy who also is very close with both of his grandmothers. There is Marly who is just – wow. She’s 98 and still active and alert – it’s amazing. I love seeing her whenever we visit her in Florida. We’re in Florida now, visiting for Mother’s Day. We’re going to take her out for a special dinner at “her club” and put together a special photo album (I sent one to my Grandma B was well) for Mother’s Day.
Marly is hilarious and while she reminds me a proper Southern lady she has always been nothing but welcoming to me, which is kind of impressive. I mean I don’t know many 98-year-old Southern ladies, but I imagine when their oldest grandchild (Roy is also the oldest grandchild for her – wow, just realized that) is gay and getting married to another guy, you would think there would be some kind of learning curve. But not with Marly. She didn’t even blink. I remember right after we got engaged and Roy went to pick something up in the store, it was just Marly and me in the car. She wanted to know all about our plans to have kids! Which was awesome haha, and even though we weren’t married yet, family planning had already come up several times because we both want kids (though we disagree on how many, somewhere between three and ten – hey remember I’m Irish) so I felt more prepared than perhaps the average just-got-engaged gay person, though it did throw me and thinking back on it, I find it hysterical. But that’s my point, Marly just accepted us and welcomed me with open arms.
Sometimes I feel a little out of place as she is very “well-to-do” and proper and I spent my teen years homeless and putting myself through high school because I came from a violent and unstable home. I’m kind of street-worldly and I’m very direct. I’m very “This is me, take it or leave it.” I don’t share these feelings with her because they are mine, not something she is causing, but I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m surprised at how “at ease” I feel around her because of my awareness of this. But I do. She’s just Marly, and I love her.
I never got to meet Roy’s other grandmother, Rachel – his mother’s mother, who passed away before we met, but I hear stories about her all of the time. Roy has never told me that he was closer to Rachel than Marly (again, sure the love is equal, just like with me and my grandmothers) but he has a lot of stories about just him and Rachel. Sometimes they would go on these road trips. These might be some of his favorite memories (I am saying this as an observer, the way his eyes smile when he recounts these adventures is very telling).
Roy is always telling me, “I wish you had met Rachel, she would have loved you.” Apparently we are a lot alike. We’re both opinionated and speak our minds. Direct talk with a sometimes questionable filter. She loved literature and was actually an English Professor; I love lit and I’m a writer. While Rachel wasn’t a writer, she was an artist. She painted and we have a few of her paintings hanging in our home. She also always wanted to be a redhead, and I am a redhead – haha.
Roy is much more about “destiny” and believes in “meant to be” and all of that. Me… not so much. But Roy often says, “Rachel brought us together.”
I mean he actually really believes this and it’s such a sweet thought, so you know I often have to ruin it by cracking a joke, usually along the lines of, “You really think so? You must be pretty angry then or asking yourself, what did you do to deserve this.” Or you know, “Why does she hate you” or “Are you shaking a fist at her, yet?” You know something like that.
Like me, Roy understands and values the time he has with Marly, as well as Rachel’s memory. We both decided to make our grandmothers who are still here more of a priority. Money is tight, but we’re going to try to see each of them twice this year instead of once. I also thought of writing them regular letters. Since they live far away and don’t have internet/email access and phone is difficult for all parties, I thought this would be a nice way to keep in touch. I’m including pictures with each letter too.
I thought of doing this at the beginning of the year, but just got so behind with so many things it fell to the wayside. But not anymore. The whole point of the letters was making our grandmothers more of a priority, meaning there is no excuse for them to fall by the wayside. I mailed a letter to Grandma B two weeks ago. Roy told me not to send one to Marly since we were going to see her, but next month she’ll get one too. I figure the letters will just be a nice way to let our grandmothers know what’s new with us and we’ll include a few pictures of us and the animals for them to have.