“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” ~Dalai Lama
Two weeks ago I got a phone call from my mom, my Grandfather had passed away. This morning I got a phone call from my mom, Grammy passed away a couple hours ago. Before you get any warm fuzzy feelings about the timing, they’d been divorced for some 35 years because she cheated on him. When he remarried soon afterwards and managed to be happy, that was like an ice pick in her gut that never went away. She made some half-hearted attempts at dating after the divorce but as far as I know nothing serious ever happened and she spent most of the next 35 years alone.
My family isn’t what you’d call tight knit. My parents grew up in the North East with big, extended families. Just before I was born they moved thousands of miles away.
I didn’t really know my grandfather, I met him once or twice. He seemed like a nice enough guy, easy going, and probably had some stories to tell. I know he served in the Navy during WWII, it would have been really neat to have gotten to know him better, but with family so spread out it just didn’t happen.
Grammy was a little bit different. Out of all her kids, she was closest to my mom despite the physical distance involved. After the divorce she turned into a petty, vindictive woman that was no fun to be around. Most of her kids didn’t want to spend much time with her. From my perspective, I’m pretty sure that she had an undiagnosed hormonal problem, the only explanation I see for how bad it got over the years. The divorce was just the beginning of a very long downward spiral. My mom, maybe because of the distance, was better able to manage her distaste for what her mom turned into. She even said this morning that she had done her grieving for her lost mother a long time ago. Because my mom tried to maintain the relationship Grammy came to visit a handful of times and there were lots of calls on birthdays, things like that.
At best, I found her cold, distant and kind of sad. At worst, she was vindictive, petty, and bitter. None of us kids were particularly excited about spending time with the old woman. Once, I was scolded by her after I did my chores because the lines imprinted on the carpet from the vacuum weren’t straight.
She came to stay with us for a week one winter. It just happened to overlap with one of the worst storms in the history of the state. The ice was so bad that it took down power lines all over the city, the roads were impassable, so my whole family and her were stuck in the house together with no power for over a week. That was interesting.
Because of her behavior, Grammy was a very lonely woman. Even the people that tried to help her she inevitably pushed away. Again, I’m just about certain she had medical/mental problems but she refused to see anyone. She was actually kicked out of nursing homes because she was so bitter towards the staff and other residents.
The last couple years, hearing about Grammy’s solitude through my mom, I started emailing her every once and a while. She was almost illiterate when it came to computers, but one of her sons showed her how to use basic email. It was very difficult to have conversations with her, her responses were short, she complained a lot about doctors, how her kids didn’t come by often enough, money problems, etc. But I tried.
Apparently in the last few weeks it was like a switch flipped in her head. The aunt she was staying with thought she might have had a stroke. If that was the case, it swung her from the negative side of the bipolar spectrum to the positive side and that’s where she stayed until this morning. It’s also possible, in my opinion, that simply outliving the man that had the gall to divorce her and be happy afterwards might have played a part. Or maybe she had some life changing revelation after her ex-husband’s death, I’d like to think that’s what happened but we’ll never know now.
It hadn’t really clicked until the conversation this morning that death has been a theme for the past few months. Stephanie’s dad died three months ago, it’s been an ongoing drama ever since. Then both my grandparents. I hadn’t really thought about death specifically, because I hadn’t been that close with any of them. But this post was supposed to be about death and impermanence, not Grammy, and that’s not the way it worked out. So maybe there are some things I’m still processing.
I wrote her one last email this morning, saying goodbye since I can’t be there in person. I got choked up and cried for a while. I truly hope she can find the peace in death that she couldn’t seem to find in life.