When a friend loses someone I often say that I hope the memories that they shared with their loved one will be a source of comfort, but it can be more complicated than that. My grandma passed away last night. She was a tough woman. She rescued squirrels when they were hurt and nursed them to health, but also hit my father when he was a kid and once remarked to me that I looked fat. This was after I had spent years struggling with bulimia and was trying to get healthy.
She was never very warm. She seemed to be able to show affection to animals, but not the people around her. I remember she thought discipline meant telling us she had a bear in her basement and that if we were not good, then we would have to go to the basement. But she also took us to the State Fair each year. We would ride all day and eat cotton candy and she would let us pick out a prize. For the longest time, I still had these fantastic, tacky dolphin earrings from a trip to the Fair in junior high.
She came to every grandparent day at school and was at the concerts and graduations when I was a kid and yet I can’t pretend that her being gone will impact my life that much. Her views made it tough to have much of a relationship as an adult. When I came out to her she responded with Bible verses and the hope that I would change. I did not invite her to our wedding and as the years went by I saw her less and less. We sent pictures, but did not get together often. She only met my kids a couple of times.
She was not there for me later in life and if I am honest, I was not there for her. I made a choice to disengage from someone who was largely a toxic person to be around. I did not want their great-grandmother be the one that exposed my kids to the racism they will encounter in life as biracial women. I did not make room for someone who could only begrudgingly accept me and my family. I never really said “goodbye” and I am not sure how to feel about that now that she is dead.
She was a hard person, but she raised a kind and loving man. Every night when I was growing up and to this day when we visit, my father finds each of us, hugs us and tells us he loves us before he goes to bed. He always done that. He will still put his arm around me on the couch as we watch a movie or let me rest my head on his shoulder. It is as if he is working extra hard to show us the kindness and affection that he never received as a child.
The fact is that so much of who my dad has become is in spite of his upbringing and yet I know that this loss hurts him. He mourns and he grieves, so for him I will look past her indiscretions. For him I will forgive and I will be there to say goodbye to a woman who struggled to find or bring happiness in life. I will hope she finds peace in whatever afterlife exists.
I won’t shave off her rough edges as some form of revisionist history where everyone who is gone is suddenly a saint, but I can embrace that there were good times and that perhaps she did the best she could. I will be thankful for the person she raised who has given so much to my life and my family. And I will say goodbye without regret that for my health I needed to keep her at a distance. I guess we both just did the best that we could.