It wasn’t sudden. We knew it was coming. I’d even prepared myself. I’d hardened my heart, convinced myself I didn’t care. I’d taken all of her flaws and built a shell around myself, reminding myself of all the hurt she’d caused me.
And there was a lot of hurt.
I was convinced at a young age that something was wrong with me, because Mamaw didn’t seem to love me as much as she loved my other cousins. I thought something was wrong with me because I didn’t fit into her ideal of what a girl was supposed to like. She’d buy me gifts I didn’t like (dolls, pink clothes, etc) while supplying the boys with ample toys they loved. While they ran around the house shooting each other with Nerf guns, I stood to the side with a baby doll wondering…what did I do wrong?
I felt like I was under constant scrutiny, and was constantly being compared. “Oh you like to sing? Your cousin does it better.” “You want to play piano? Both of your cousins already play instruments, and they do it so well.” “How are you ever going to get a husband if you don’t learn how to cook?”
There would be family get togethers that she “forgot” to invite me. Home videos featured my cousins, but not me. What did I do wrong?
At the age of thirteen I tried to kill myself. She responded by sending a preacher to talk to me.
At fifteen, I gave up trying to impress her. I concluded that no matter what I tried to do, I would never be good enough in her eyes. I stopped caring, I stopped trying, I stopped wondering. There were no more summer stays at Mamaw’s house, and our contact became limited to three times a year. Birthday phone call, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
I stopped trying to tell her what I wanted for Christmas, because she acted like she had no interest in finding out who I was as a person. She was so wrapped up in who she wanted me to be, it didn’t matter who I actually was. Birthday visits or calls were awkward as she would say “happy birthday” and spend the remainder of our phone call discussing how successful or happy my cousins were.
I was constantly reminded of my failures.
Or all the times she came to town to visit my cousins, or her great grandchildren, only to not tell us she was near.
When it came closer to her death, these were the pains I wrapped around myself. These were the wounds I hardened. She didn’t care about me. Why should I give her even an ounce of my sympathy? I resolved that my job would be to be the strong one. It would be my job to hold everyone’s hand and keep everyone’s collective shit together since I had nothing to offer the situation.
And yet… I was still shocked when I received the call that she had gone. And yet… I was still sad.
This made me angry. No. She hurt me so much while she was alive, she doesn’t get to hurt me with her death. I fought hard, tightened my shields around me tighter than before. I had a job to do and it didn’t involve my sadness.
The time came for the funeral where we were regaled with all the good she’d done for the church she attended. There weren’t stories involving her family. I got to hear all about how she helped kids, how good she was to people in her church. I got mad again.
But as the people were paraded past her body…. And all their eyes shimmered with tears… I saw other memories.
Like when it was just the two of us, and she taught me how to enjoy a huge bowl of sherbet in front of the television. She loved ice cream. We’d get bowls and spoons, and watch television together. But it had to be just between us because the others weren’t allowed to eat in front of the television.
Or the huge pool in front of her house where we’d all spend hours swimming. And we’d laugh and play until we were so cold we were shivering.
She taught me that a world existed beyond my backyard, and there was always an opportunity to see or learn new things.
She taught me how not to travel. Like loading four kids into an Econo van and giving them all McFlurries before driving to Texas.
She taught me physics. Like how fast someone can whip an Econo van onto the side of the road, rip the side door open, and snatch the spoons we used to eat the McFlurries away after we all learned that the spoons whistle.
She taught me the importance of being aware of my surroundings, and why it’s important to always have a good sense of direction. Like when she said the phrase “That guy looks like he knows where he’s going, let’s follow him.”
My grandmother taught me to not take myself so seriously and be able to laugh at myself. Like when she accused my cousin of putting fingerprints all over the coffee table….And said cousin was born with no hands…..
My grandmother taught me why knowing your audience is a good idea when it comes to buying presents. “You think I need God and I stink, Mamaw?!” -Nick
“Everyone got a television. Except me. You know what I got? A jacket. Everyone else can watch tv, you know what I can do? Zip, zip.” -Christy
A well timed joke or a funny one liner makes all the difference in a conversation. She also taught me that facial expressions can speak volumes…Like when her lips would thin out to the point of disappearing when she got mad or uncomfortable.
And as I stood to go passed her one last time, I remembered all of the Christmas parties we had. All the jokes we’d all share. The noise of everyone talking and laughing….It was so quiet in the funeral home.
One cousin was great at music. Another was great at sports. The one thing she ever told me made her proud of me was my ability to write…
That was all me. All mine. I wish she’d told me more often that she was proud of me. Finding out after her death that she held on to one of my poems was not how I wanted to find out she was proud.
A chapter closed. Words that needed to be said between us would never get the chance to be spoken. No more calls, no more Christmas’ as a family. No chance to say sorry from either of our ends, no chance to tell each other that we were proud of one either. And I am proud of her. She fought cancer hard, and then finally decided she could fight no longer.
So the last lessons my grandmother taught me…. Don’t take my daughter for granted, and don’t just assume she knows I’m proud of her. Tell her always, remind her always, that she is loved.
And the power of saying I’m sorry.
I won’t claim we were close. I won’t claim to have peace, or closure. But my words, my writing, are what made her proud. In her memory I write this. I hope wherever she is, she knows what I’ve written, and she knows the truth.
I love you, Mamaw. And I’m sorry. I’m proud of you, and I am so very sad that you are no longer here. I am glad you aren’t in pain now. I hope you’ve found peace.