(Please forgive the emotional brain-dump that is about to happen. I don’t want or expect your sympathy, and I would have written this anyway to get it sorted in my brain, so if you feel uncomfortable reading the gory personal stuff, I will fully understand and think no less of you if you look away now and give this post a miss 🙂 If you do read, please excuse the fragmentary and contradictory splurge that this post resembles. I write to try and get things to make sense. I never pretended to have succeed in my missions.)
Never underestimate the power of your family to screw you over so completely you resemble a pretzel, twisted to hell and back. And not the good kind of pretzel, all yoghurt covered and yummy. The bad kind of pretzel, all salty and doughy and icky from that street vendor with suspect personal hygiene.
I think every family is the same. We present a facade of normalcy and ‘happy families’ to the outside world, but get on the inside and you see it is all a sham. I’m not saying I had a bad childhood – I didn’t, I had a great childhood. I was loved, I was happy, and I wouldn’t change any of it. Nor am I saying I am special in that my family is so completely screwed up. I expect every family is just as screwed as we are, if not more so. Family dynamics are, let’s face it, incomprehensible to those on the outside. Why doesn’t Aunty Jane speak to Cousin Bob? Why shouldn’t you mention Essex to Grandpa Jim? Why are one branch of the family considered black sheep whilst another branch, seemingly identical, is treated like royalty?
In my family, it’s mainly my mothers side that causes the most fun and frolics, which isn’t to say Dad’s side is any saner, they just work through things differently. Today, all that history has come round to bite me and mine in the ass.
I came out of the cinema to find I had a couple of answer phone messages from my father, telling me to ring him because something was wrong with Diana. Now Diana is my mother’s mother, my maternal grandmother if you will, though she is not the woman I grew up calling “Gran”. It’s a long story involving divorce, step-families, and alcoholism that, quite frankly, I don’t think is exactly suited to this kind of forum. When I rang Dad back, it was to discover that Diana is, in fact, seriously ill in hospital and not expected to live much longer.
As I said, I never knew Diana as my ‘Gran’. That post was filled by another woman who, though now gone very much to the dark side, I used to love totally and unconditionally. There was also a dear, dear friend of the family who we called “Nobby” who was like a second Gran to me. I only remember meeting Diana twice, the last time in the aftermath of my aunt’s funeral when I was 12, an event at which she was barely aware it was her youngest daughter we were burying. As a child you just can’t grow attached to a person who 1) you never see and 2) doesn’t recognize you the few times when you do. So when Dad told me, the cold hard sensible part of my brain kicked into action first. I wanted the details of the situation, the plan of action, what was going to happen next… My emotions were only touched in so much as thinking how it must be affecting my Mum.
I don’t feel loss in the way I felt loss when Granddad died. I don’t feel sad, or that the world is less of a place without her in it. I feel anger. Anger at this woman I don’t know, angry that she still has the power to hurt us all so completely. Anger that, as my grandmother, it is expected that she has our love even though any sane person would agree she had forfeited the rights to that love a long time ago. To us has fallen the burden of caring for her. She doesn’t recognize any of us, yet still we visit her. Things will be easier with her gone, but I can’t wish her gone because she is still my grandmother. She is Blood. She is my mother’s mother and, in that, responsible for my very existence and worthy of my respect if not my love.
This week was a good week. I got a job interview for the dream job. I officially passed my course and am now an MSc. I’ve had a great time at work. It’s selfish, I know, but all I can think now is how this woman who I don’t know, can still hold my emotions hostage and make me feel anger, pain, frustration, and, yes, loss. How can you miss someone you’ve never met? It shouldn’t be possible, but it is.
It might be because it reminds me of all the other loses. My aunt, Mop, and Granddad. Nobby and Aunt Nance. Lily. The people who were my real grandparents. My step-gran. She’s not dead, but I mourn for the person she was before my grandfather died. Diana has always been there in my life as this hole where a grandparent should be. I was 10 or 12 before I knew that hole existed, but as soon as I became aware of it, I knew it had always been there. With the death of my grandfather, it was like I lost a whole branch of my family. Suddenly my cousins, aunts, and uncles who I’d grown up thinking were blood relations stopped communicating. We weren’t blood, so we didn’t matter. My Gran drifted away. She has real grandchildren to worry about.
My fathers side of the family is huge, rambling, close, and supportive. My mothers side was always smaller and now… It’s like it just doesn’t exist.
Diana has to all intents and purposes been dead for many a year, but now she really is dying it is like one more door is closing.
I don’t know what my mother will do. She doesn’t talk about her feelings much (some things actually do run in families). But I can imagine what she is thinking, feeling, and it has got to be ten hundred times worse that what I am thinking and feeling.
I’ve been pretending for a long while that I don’t hate this woman for what she did to my family, all those years ago. In truth, I most often don’t think of her at all. But now? When I’m forced to face up to it? I can’t say I hate her, because I don’t know her, and how can you hate what you don’t know? I hate what she did, I hate her actions, at the same time I won’t say she deserves what happened to her. No one deserves that. It would be nice to think it is a kind of poetic justice, that she probably doesn’t know what’s happening to her, but that makes me feel even worse. She must be so scared, surrounded by people she doesn’t recognize or remember, as she dies. That is a fate I would, could, wish on no one.
She had love in her life, she was happy, yet she caused so much pain, and she has no quality of life now. So why does it make me cry when I find out she is dying? Why do I want her to keep living?
Anyway, that’s my brain-dump over with. Normal service will resume shortly after I’ve got some sleep and assembled the Sunday Roast for you. 🙂
(And if you’re curious, the title of this post is taken straight from Philip Larkin).