I don’t really understand life or the decline of it. It seems like such a sad and painful fate to watch our friends and partners die—to be left alone in all our memories. I think of my grandmother in her little living room. Sitting in that red leather recliner watching Dancing with the Stars. She mostly seems content and she’s cheery when we speak through the phone. But she recently sent a card that made me cry. She included a picture of my mom wearing scrubs, holding 7-yr old me on her hip. My grandmother used to keep me after school on the days my mom worked; this would have been one of those days. The caption reads, “A reminder of happy days.” I don’t think she meant to negate the happiness of present time. But I can’t help thinking how the picture was before my grandparent’s separation. It was before she lived alone, before the other grand-kids came along and she didn’t get to see them enough, before I left for college. Our family was more unified then.
I just wonder if she’s lonely. She’s always been a particular woman, sufferings from perfectionism to a debilitating degree. I’ve wept over the way her children sometimes treat her. But it isn’t as if I don’t understand. She doesn’t make life easy—and I can’t conceive of the mother she might have been. A generation removed, my vantage point somehow beams right through those rigid layers.
I can relate to her peculiarity and believe that empathy has brought me far. Though I understand her as a topic of complaint, sometimes I supernaturally feel her whole hard life upon me. She was a nurse and a housewife, a mother of three. But that isn’t what I think of. I think of her at 6, crying in her pillow over the drunken threats of a father, yelling about his intentions to leave. I think about the pressure she’s always felt to be beautiful. I think about her husband lying in other beds. I think about her hearing loss; all the years she’s forced apologies and fought to be included. I think about her fragile body, that collapsing spine with all its cranky episodes.
She’s often accused of being critical. But for every ounce of criticism felt by another, she’s heaped 500 more on herself. A heavy load to tote. A lifetime of self-loathing and a lot of circumstances to make her think it’s true.
Yes! She is egocentric, particular, critical, controlling and a terminal perfectionist. But you know what that crying six year old may have wondered? “What is so wrong with me, that I can’t make daddy stay?”
Habits are formed all kinds of ways. Though perfectionists may peeve others with their demands, the true source is always one’s self. She’s 75 years old with severe scoliosis and you can eat syrup off her floors. She dresses like a cover of Coldwater Creek and reapplies lipstick with uncanny accuracy.
She is still so beautiful.
I grieve the way she’s misunderstood. I grieve the harsh words and aggravated eye-rolls that trail her. I grieve the missed opportunity of those that can’t embrace her.
I am guilty too. But greater than my transgression is my love. A profound love rocks me way down in the cavern of my soul, big and aching for her.
Since I can remember she would hug me and say, “I’m giving you vibes.” Sometimes she forms it as a question, “Can you feel the vibes?,” holding her warm cheek next to mine and leaving a lipstick stain.
I really can feel them, I’ve always felt them, radiating right through the skin and bone and plasma. Direct from the sweetest spot in her.
Do you have a grandparent that has meant a lot to you? Or a family member that isn’t treated quite right? How has this person impacted you, what have they taught you? How do you let them know they’re loved?