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.


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