When I was one week old my mother left my father, though that is not what I want to talk about. The details of that are ugly and only of note because that is how the story begins.
I was one week old and my mother had me and my 18 month old brother to care for as she fled an abusive relationship. She did the only thing she could; she went home.
For me growing up family meant Mom and my brother, and then Grammy and Daddy (which is what I called my grandfather since that is what mom called him). Moving in with my mothers parents was not a temporary solution to the problem of where to go after the divorce; it was home.
When I was 6 my grandfather was killed in a car wreck. Our family shrank at that point but seemed to me to grow stronger. I still had mom and gram and my brother. We were close and we were happy.
When I was 12 my mom met my step father, the man who is now and will always be my dad as far as I am concerned. They met and were married in under a year. I had never seen my mom quite that happy. I also had never seen my grandmother quite that sad. The day we moved out of the house she left before we began to pack and went to my aunts house where she proceeded to drink an entire bottle of 20 year old scotch on her own.
Things after that were a little tense between my mom and my grandmother, but for me the only thing that had changed was distance. My grandmother was still one of the most important people to me, and I was still her favorite. I don't say that in exaggeration either.We used to joke that my grandmother loved me so much that if I were to kill someone in cold blood she would defend me insisting that the person had surely deserved it. I want to say that was a joke, but for some reason I think that it was more than a little true.
She doted on me when I lived with her, and she doted on me more when I moved away. She lavished me with gifts and clothing, she bought me a car on my 16th birthday, and again when I was in college. She paid for my senior theater trip to New York and even paid for my best friend to go with me. She also paid for my college tuition and my housing. In short she gave me everything I could have ever wanted financially.
Sadly as I grew older I learned that these gifts were not without a price. I do not doubt that my grandmother was motivated by love. I have no doubt in my mind that she loved me more than just about anything. I think honestly I might have been the last thing she really did love.
My grandmother used her money as a form of power over all of us though, and the tighter she tried to hold on, the more it seemed to push us all away. It is hard to be controlled, it is not what anyone wants. Despite knowing she loved me I couldn't let her control me. None of us could.
It drove us away.
There was no way we could ever pay her back for what she had done. Not just monetarily, but all around. How do you repay someone for teaching you how to make the perfect chicken fried steak? How do you repay someone for teaching you the perfect way to make a chocolate chip cookie? How do you repay someone for a childhood full of happy memories? How do you repay someone for loving you?
Still my grandmother turned cold and mean. No matter how much I loved her, and no matter how much I owed her, she turned into someone I didn't know. I long ago accepted that my grandmother was gone. She let the anger and bitterness in the world harden and change her. I didn't want her to hurt me; I didn't want to remember that when I thought of her.
My visits to my grandmother grew fewer and fewer over the years. I couldn't stand to see her and listen to her say hurtful things to me. She didn't even come to my wedding because she so violently disapproved of who I was and who I was marrying. It was almost a betrayal I couldn't stand.
I still loved her though. I could never not love her. I know that she still loved me. I still know that she was fiercely proud of me.
In the last few years she has been getting worse and worse. Her health has been deteriorating both physically and mentally. She was senile and the doctors thought she might have Alzheimers. She started making up memories and forgetting things.
I was encouraged only by the husbeast to go see her. My mother knew better than to ask that of me or my brother. She didn't want us to see that anymore than she wanted to.
Last week gram fell and broke her hip. She had already been in a nursing facility for a few months after a bad incident before Christmas, and things were not good. Mom called and asked if she could fly me down on Saturday to say goodbye. I said yes for my mother. As far as I was concerned I said goodbye to my grandmother a long time ago.
Mom said today was a bad day for her. She was talking complete nonsense all day long. She said it was the strangest things you had ever heard coming out of her mouth. At one point they were talking about her German potato salad recipe, and my dad said she made it better than even his grandmother had, and then my mom said I made it pretty good and that gram had taught me well. For a moment my grandmother seemed clear and said proudly that she had taught me well. She said she taught me everything I knew, except how to visit her. After that she began babbling about being in Dorito commercials.
She passed away just before midnight. My mom had gone home and had promised to come back and kiss her in the morning. They revived her three times before my mom made it to the hospital. She and my aunt were there at the end.
I might have accepted my grandmother was gone a long time ago, but I didn't get to say goodbye.