Yesterday my grandmother died. I got the news this morning by email from my uncle. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my grandmother because my family didn’t tell me that she was near death and they haven’t informed me where or when the funeral services are. And I’m too shellshocked and grief stricken right now to find out. The one thing I can say is that my tears of rage are greatly diminished by a relentless sobbing that flows with the rhythm of the rain now pattering against my window. There is a fierce peace to these stronger tears, which mourn not only the majestic woman who my grandmother was and who I now celebrate and who I have also memorialized as the character Virignia Gaskell in my audio drama, but for the beauty of the human spirit. Despite coming from monstrous and unloving stock, my grandmother gave me the hope and the guidance I needed to live my life in defiance of meanness, especially in the last four years. She gave generously on all fronts. She checked in on people. She quietly helped others, whether they were people close to her or total strangers. And because of that, people remembered her. She believed in people and possibility. And despite all the hell I have been through, I still do too. I cannot seem to sour on life or the marvelous world around me. And I will always be grateful beyond words to my grandmother for imbuing me with this resilience.
I wish I could say that I was tough. But I’m not. Right now is a very raw place to be, especially when I consider my grandmother’s openness against the vile way the rest of my family left me for dead. My grandmother was the only member of my family who loved me for my totality when everybody else viewed me as evil and irredeemable. My grandmother saw benevolent qualities in me that I was too afraid to acknowledge until only recently. She taught me how to be kind and positive to others. She also taught me to be responsible. I am pretty sure that my ridiculous work ethic comes from her. I do know that my sense of the absurd springs in part from her.
I remember one time in my youth in which I didn’t have enough money to go to school. Despite being inexplicably pegged as a very smart and talented person, my education options were limited because I grew up poor and starved: a fragile kid coping with the residue of accrued abuse and trying to do the best he could. But I still went to school and I made up for any deficiencies by reading every book I could get my hands on and throwing myself into everything with all the natural exuberance I had. That scrappy and casual ability to roll with the punches despite all odds came from my grandmother. She did, after all, make her wedding dress from a parachute during the Depression. She was determined to celebrate life even when there weren’t a lot of options.
My grandmother was always baffled by the ways in which my mother neglected me and she said that I could borrow money from her. And I did, paying back the small sum each month. And when I did this regularly after about nine months, my grandmother said to me, “You don’t have to pay the rest back. I wanted you to learn something.” And I did.
People who come to know me understand that I am one of the most loyal advocates you can have. And this was because I learned from my grandmother that it was vital to be giving and not expect anything in return, even when there’s nobody in your life to give anything to you. Because of my grandmother, I do a secret good deed every day. Because of my grandmother, I have learned to love and take care of myself. Because of my grandmother, I give to others, often more than I have, when I have nothing. My grandmother would take the time to listen to everyone and she would always reframe every serious problem in a way in which it was never all that big of a deal. Had I not had my grandmother, and now I don’t have her and that not having her seems unfathomable but it is now regrettably and painfully true, I would never have landed back on my feet with a sanguine faith after a sustained period of homelessness and a series of baleful setbacks that I would never wish on anyone. My grandmother, in her own inimitable way, showed me that there was a benign way to not give a fuck and to devote yourself to living.
My grandmother always saw the good in people, even when they had severely wronged her. And she was always good for a devilish and very funny quip, which she would often mutter in a sneaky stage whisper in the kitchen, often with a glass of wine. When I lived in San Francisco, she would ask if I wanted to come up to her home in Marin County to celebrate the holidays. She was the only family member who seemed to understand that love didn’t involve a ledger, but amounted to being there for others and letting life work its strange magic.
This is the most staggering loss I’ve ever experienced. God, it hurts. My grandmother was really the only family I had. But I’m going to be kind and brave and I think that, in remembering my grandmother, I’m going to have to be more true to myself, true to the promising young man that my grandmother always saw. The rest of my family has wished me dead, but I am here, a feeling and caring and flawed and open and honest and quietly kind person who is quite happily alive, and I am now very much on my own. While my abusive and vituperative family would undoubtedly relish seeing their untrue and cartoonish vision of me confirmed, reveling in gossip and backtallk rather than listening and being present for other people and knowing that nearly every putative sully can be forgiven with enough time, I’m not going to give them that pleasure. Because that is not the way you live and love in this often hard world. And that was not the way of my grandmother.
In her own way, I think my grandmother was trying to tell me that I was her and that she was me. There was a great love and a beauty in that. There was also a great ease in the way my grandmother managed it. And I’ve been crying all morning thinking about it. And if I am her, if my heart is even one half as mighty as hers was, if that’s what she was trying to get me to see all these years, then maybe there’s some hope for me after all.
Well, my condolences.
Yet I would say that even if the rest of your family were saintly. My own are and were, if not saintly, at least mostly tolerable company. Still I felt the loss of each grandmother. And I have met other grandmothers of generous qualities, who required no loathsome family as foil to set off their goodness. I think that if you ever rewrite this for another purpose you might make it more about your grandmother and less about the others.