Sunday, June 04, 2006

I am nearly out of grandparents

1. My classmate's baby did not survive.

2. My 92-year-old grandmother, whom I as a child adored beyond words, will probably not make it through the night.

The years have mitigated my adoration. Oh, the stories that abound about her manipulative nature, her narcissism, even her cruelty toward the people she was supposed to love. Her expectations that unfathomably rude behaviour was, from her, completely acceptable, because she was a Lovely Lady, wasn't she?

Neither my mother nor her sister knows where the will is. Word came out recently that one does exist, and that it disinherits all five of us grandchildren by name. Why is it, then, that she asked one of these grandchildren (the only male) to hold her medical power of attorney? To prompt one last pointless, malignant rift in the family? To show one last time that dammit, she still has control?

I have so many fond memories of being a small child and visiting my grandmother's house. My mother's doll Gary still rests in his pram in the basement, exactly where I'd leave him 30 years ago. I remember how special I felt when I was in that house, how loved I was, how much I enjoyed the little rituals -- the big red chair coming upstairs so that I could be tall enough at the dinner table, the old bellows organ in her living room moaning below the pumping of my feet as I picked out a melody on the keyboard, the giant music box in the room where I'd sleep being cranked into life so that it could play its big steel discs of old, old songs.

The visits became infrequent after we moved east, two thousand miles away, when I was four. My parents tell me I lamented moving so far away because it meant that I couldn't live in the house next door to Mimi and take care of her when she got old. For years the letters and presents came, and Mimi's telephone number and the melody it made when I called it are still burned into my brain.

It wasn't until years later that I understood why we'd moved.

The tales of the machinations, the snubs, the cutting remarks, the moments of high and manufactured drama: these aren't really mine to tell, as she was only ever sweet and gentle to me. But the effects of her carefully concealed, vicious nature poisoned my upbringing something fierce. My grandmother, Iago.

Next weekend is my fifteen-year university reunion. I've registered and paid, and we cashed in a pile of frequent flier miles in order to go. I was already girding for an emotionally draining experience -- being back in the area where I went to university always makes me sob unpredictably and uncontrollably, for reasons I don't yet completely understand -- but I need to go. I need to see the campus that I still dream about, I need to see my dear friend AM (she is a couple of weeks more pregnant than I am, and she did so much to help me get through my time there), and I need to show the place to my baby, even if my baby is still in utero.

I am terribly conflicted, though, about not going to Mimi's funeral. The major reason I'd want to go is to support my mother, who was and is so damaged by her own mother. But I know that the politicking (now there's a charitable word) among the extended family is going to be nearly unbearable. The financial reasons not to go are not inconsiderable, either. Everyone I've talked to tells me to skip the funeral, go to Reunion, and get my mother up here in a month or two, when the initial shock has worn off and the real, far more solitary mourning has begun.

But the little, innocent, loving four-year-old Emily would never understand in a million years.

I don't know what to do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

It sounds to me like you're in fact doing the right thing -- hard as it would be to explain to your younger self.

When we're children, if we're at all happy and if the people raising us are at all sane, we get to experience love as something infinite and unconditional. That's as it should be. Children need that. And to some extent, any living human being has a core in their psyches that never stops needing that.

When we're adults, we find ourselves having to somehow express that love under conditions that are highly finite and at times terribly conditional. There's a lot of reasons for that, which come down to human beings being fallible and limited. People go wrong, morally or emotionally. Or they make costly errors. Or they just hit the wall of their abilities, not least among them their mortality. That hurts terribly. Being a good adult means coping with that robustly, without losing that inner ability to give and receive unconditional love somehow regardless.

For what my opinion's worth, it sounds to me like you're doing the right thing. I hope you don't go on feeling bad about this. You really are being the adult now that your elders couldn't be when you were a child, and that's how it should be and has to be.

Hugs from here.