My grandmother just died.
I am sitting here, typing, because death brings emotions we are supposed to process to express. So I’m checking, looking into finding words to say what I feel right now.
Grandmommie and I had little to no relationship. For years I wished it were different. The problem was Grandmommie loved me but she didn’t like me. You can love someone deeply but not like them. I realized that a thousand times in little moments but couldn’t put it into words in my own mind until I was in my early 20’s. I chased after her wanting her to approve of me, to find something she could like… but it always came back to the words she said and the disapproval. It hurt then. It hurt a lot. Especially in contrast with her words that were kind and approving for others. Those words, however much I craved them, were not for me. I learned to accept it. As I got older, in learning to like me I had to remove her voice from my head.
When I was a newlywed she and my Grandfather would be traveling just 35 miles north of my home on a cross-country trip to go see my sister. This was great, they would be so close to me they could come see my life, see my cute little home and see me…really see me. Like a dream scene, I saw it clicking in their eyes that I wasn’t a loser. My husband wasn’t crazy for marrying me. They had asked him at our wedding why would he marry me? He was so impressive and I was so unaccomplished. It was the one smear on a perfect day.
BUT if they came to my house they would really see me, raw, and of course they would like me. They would be proud…when I made the invitation explaining it would be a small detour and I would make them a meal, I wanted them to see my home…the reply, “it’s not worth it, you understand Leta.”
And I did. I understood.
They didn’t say it in a mean tone. The facts were simply that detouring from the goal, the pre-plan wasn’t worth it—for me. I just wasn’t a priority. I got it. I hung up that phone and for the first time at 24 years old I forgave them for not liking me. I forgave them for not caring and promised myself to not expect it from them. That the hurt I felt wasn’t their fault it was mine for wanting something that couldn’t be given. They had been consistent in their approach to me—it was I who kept hoping for something different. I was causing me this pain.
I didn’t cry. It was what it was.
They are good people; they are loving and solicitous to many in the family. Just not to me, and that day I got it, I understood and I let be what was.
Going forward my responsibility was, as the Bible says, to “Honor thy father and thy mother.” I did that. I honored them with living a good life.
At times our paths would touch and I noticed I could let the disapproval slide. It was just their perception. They didn’t see me, the real me. And that was—well, I don’t say this in a tone; I say this matter-of-factly, with no bitterness—their loss. I didn’t have to make it my loss. I moved on.
One day 17 years after the day I let be what was.
I got a call in November 2012 and I was 39 years old—it was Grandmommie. She started by telling me about her mother, her voice was tenderly emotional. I had never heard this side of her. I didn’t know how to respond. I listened as she shared feelings with me. Then she said it, words that I’d never heard her say, “I am sorry.” She apologized for how she had treated me saying she “had wronged me”—we had a moment. A moment that I never anticipated having until at the feet of Christ. I felt it, she meant her words—the most amazing part was I felt forgiveness, the realization that I had forgiven her long before. I wanted to make this easy for her. I said, “thank you, this means a lot.” She told me she respected me, how I had dealt with the death of my daughter, she respected my connection with God.
Then it was over.
I would call on special days; we would talk for a moment. She would ask me about my parents, especially about my mom, her daughter. They talked often with her and she would want to know from me how Mom was really; my mother has health issues, skipping along the surface, never deeper. My mother told me that is all she needed to feel close. I don’t know really how to have a surface relationship, and I am not capable of duplicity, but I could have these brief conversations with Grandmommie. I could give her that.
I had received more from her than I ever thought I would in this life. I didn’t give into the hope that there would be more tender conversations, there weren’t. I helped buy her an iPad. She was grateful. That was the closest we ever came in the last 3 years.
Now. Right now. I know my grandmother and I are closer than we have ever been.
She isn’t truly gone, she is with my daughter, and she is in a good place where all the cloudiness of earthly perception will melt away. It’s more likely now than it ever was that she might stop by and see my life, see my house, see what I have created and say the words, feel the words I only heard once. She will be proud of me. She will even like me. She will get me. My exuberant personality that always bothered her as so inappropriate and unlady-like—I think she will find herself able to laugh with me now.
I am funny. I am really likeable.
Grandmommie helped me see that, because her perception made me really look at my own self-perception. She taught me that I can’t see myself through other’s eyes and I cannot expect or need from others what they cannot give.
So here I sit a couple of hours after her death thankful she was my grandmother. Because she taught me to forgive, to love others for who they are and to let be what is.
Will be seeing you around.