Monthly Archives: July 2009

My Grandmother is Dying. Maybe

My Grandma Selma has a brain tumor. She had it operated on once but they couldn’t get it all.  Now the tumor is paralyzing her on one side.  She can’t make full sentences easily, so mostly she responds with “yes” or “no.”

But I wouldn’t know because we don’t talk and we probably won’t before she dies.

I know this sounds interminably sad but it isn’t. I am telling you the end of this story (possibly) but I have lived the whole thing. I am not angry at my grandmother for cutting off communication, at least not now. At first I was really mad because I thought it meant something about my child and her family experience.

But my dad’s family has never been our family. I have fought this for years. I wanted it to be different. I wanted to have a relationship with them and say, “I triumphed over the past!” For a while, I did.  But even if I can let go of the past – or get beyond it since I wasn’t involved in the family fighting directly – that doesn’t mean that others can. My dad’s sister just couldn’t stop putting her feelings about my dad onto his kids and that caused tension. Eventually, it killed my relationship with my grandmother.

My grandmother has this philosophy that people who do well need to be cut down and people who don’t do well need a LOT of building up. And excuses about why they fail.  In this scenario: Dad has done well for himself, his sisters have not.  My grandmother, then, brags and brags about how hard her daughters work and how wonderful her other great grandchildren are while I am sitting there with one of her great grandchildren (on the did well side). After years of this strange philosophy, I got tired of it. Visiting her was only for her, and even then I wasn’t sure why I was going. If she thought her other great grandkids were better than mine, why was I there?

So I stopped visiting. I felt badly but my dad was okay with it. He understood that my grandmother wasn’t the loving kind and had heard her go on and on about his sister’s family while she never even asked about his. He got it.

Then, during a visit to me and my brother in California, my dad came to his mother’s to pick her up and bring her by to see 4 of his grandchildren. Grandma Selma answered the door and promptly told my dad that she never wanted to see nor speak to his children (that would be me, my brother and my sister) again because they never came to visit her. But she would talk to him; that was okay.  My dad replied, “Well, mother, that is your choice. But I came to town to see my grandchildren and that is where I am going right now.  I will see you another time.”  She was pretty floored, apparently.

This is why I love my dad – he stuck up for us.  It wasn’t my grandmother’s idea, I know. It was my aunt’s, who holds a grudge with my dad. And perhaps the tumor makes Selma unstable so she was easily swayed. But honestly, Grandma Selma only has two modes: communicating and cutting off communication.

Like I said: I was mad at first because I thought she was taking something away from my daughter. But Selma was never interested in her so we are really breaking even. My kid doesn’t know that this woman exists. I feel badly for my dad, who only wanted his mother to say, “You are a great son, a wonderful husband, and the best father.” Because he is all of those things. And I feel badly for my grandmother who can’t be the Matriarch she thinks she deserves to be.

Oh. And why is she “maybe” dying? Well, she is definitely in a bad place.  It all depends on when she decides to stop eating and let herself die. My aunts are, of course, heartbroken. My dad is more open about it (she’s 95 years old) but he doesn’t live with her and doesn’t have to watch her die. It is a sad situation all around.

I think about writing her a letter but my motivation isn’t clear. It wouldn’t be a nasty one because I’m not mad.  What would it say? “Hi, Grandma. Too bad you missed my kid’s life. And now you are dying. It is really a shame.”  Besides, I have no guarantee that my aunt would give it to her. Likely she’d throw it out unopened.

The word “grandmother” has an aura around it, an assumption of unconditional love and unrelenting generosity. But that is a myth. Grandmothers are people with personalities. Once we realize that, then we can stop blaming them for not living up to the myth. Grandma Selma has the right to be whatever kind of grandmother she wants to be, or at least the kind she is capable of.

I wish her peace during this time and trust that she will be surrounded by those who love her and have cared for her.

Silliness Personified

Like Craig Ferguson, love They Might Be Giants.

This is My Michael Jackson Post

That's me in my MJ-like leather jacket.

That's me in my MJ-like leather jacket.

My mind can’t help but be full of Michael Jackson. His death is everywhere I hang out – mostly the internet. I’ve been reading other people’s comments on Twitter – the good, the bad and the tasteless.  And I have formed a few of my own opinions about the whole ordeal.

First: I am not mourning Michael Jackson’s death.  I was surprised by it, certainly. I feel sad for his family. But I am not emotionally effected by his passing.

Second: I am not mourning the death of Michael Jackson’s music.  His music rode the waves of fame and martyrdom over the years.  How else can his high record sales numbers be explained?  His “hit” songs were not that great, and today, pop hits are made by The Suits anyway. Doesn’t mean the songs are any good.  Jackson’s best musical years were way behind him and they were way behind me, too.

Third: Michael Jackson’s contributions to black history were hidden because of Jackson himself. Hearing that he broke down racial barriers was a surprise to me and I don’t think it is because I am unaware of recent historical African American breakthroughs. I imagine that the press touted Jackson’s contribution to breaking down racial barriers through the years, but over time talk about his important moments was overshadowed by his strange activity.

Fame’s everlasting question “But what have you done lately?” gets answered one way or another.  A smart celebrity (ie: Angelina Jolie) learns that question quickly and manages the answer. Jackson wasn’t one of those celebrities. Or perhaps he wanted it both ways – he wanted to do whatever he wanted, act however he wanted but with total forgiveness by his fans and the press.  The more his sanity was questioned, the more he blasted against the reality of fame. Meanwhile, he allowed the media and the general public to answer the question, “What have you done lately?” with the term “Wacko-Jacko.”

Fourth: I feel sad for his kids and I believe that they think he was the best dad. But he wasn’t a great father because he didn’t take care of himself.  His death was clearly due to self-induced starvation coupled with high levels of prescription medication. His death wasn’t an accident, like falling off a ladder. He didn’t have his kids in mind with these choices and I find that inexcusible. He is not martyr.

Fifth: I have respect for Jackson the Artist but none for Jackson the Person. I am good with those two worlds being separate. I will never know an famous Artist as a Person. Normally, I have respect for one while knowing the other is out of my orbit. Sometimes, I have respect for both because the Person becomes known through philanthropic activity, for example. With all I learned about Jackson the Person (multiple plastic surgeries, whitening his skin, multiple and brief marriages, close relationships with young boys, owning a pet chimp, wearing masks in public, hanging his baby over a balcony, and the list goes on) the less I respected him.

I believe he had a difficult life. His father seems to be a real ass. Being a child star is difficult – adults putting all of their dreams into him, not knowing who was telling the truth, world adulation with no one else who can relate (no wonder his best friend was Diana Ross) – and I don’t blame him for that difficulty. But as an adult, he knew what a normal reaction to all the stress was and what was absurd. Outside of the box is one thing – outside of reality is another.

Ultimately, I believe (and mind you I am not a professional, um, anything) that Michael Jackson didn’t know who he was. He was lost – all that talent but not able to connect at a human level with anyone because he couldn’t connect with himself. That is why I think he had these “close” relationships with boys (I use quotes because how emotionally close could he be with an 8 year old? And I am not accusing him of being a pedophile since he was acquitted of the charges). He was trying to get to know himself as a child  since that part of his life disappeared with his rising fame. And if he could know himself as a child, maybe he would know himself as a man.  That never came to pass, and now he is dead.

After saying all this, I could say that I’m ready to move on.

Only, I moved on from Michael Jackson a long time ago.