Today is my grandma's birthday. If she were alive, she'd be 101 years old, I believe. She died eight years ago on Dec 25 (we're atheists). I still miss her. Even though since her death I've found out some potentially troubling truths about her.
In 2001 when my grandpa died, my grandmother was quite lonely. I did my best to reach out to her and I soon found that we had so much in common. While my grandpa was alive, he always dominated the bi-weekly conversations, so I didn't even know until he was gone how curious my grandma was about life. About my life, in particular.
When we'd talk, she was full of questions about my life, my relationships, my friendships, my art, my gigs, my kid. We would talk for hours and hours sometimes. She would comment on how she didn't understand why her sons couldn't talk to her with such openness. I responded that maybe they weren't aware of how curious she was and how open minded. She also loved to remind me how jealous her friends were that her granddaughter called her regularly. For me, she was a joy to speak with, even when she was tearing down some of the other folks in our family - including my mom and dad.
This presidential election cycle reminds me a lot of my grandma, too. We spoke often about politics and about making change in our communities. She was a staunch ERA supporter, mailing out flyers for the League of Women Voters when I was a kid (I helped fold the flyers). She was active and stayed up on the news. She was a staunch liberal. She never got to see Obama run for presidency or Clinton (Hillary) do the same. She probably would have been a Clinton supporter both in 2008 and now. I wonder what she would have thought of Trump.
In any case, the six years I spent talking and visiting with my grandma were the most emotionally nourishing years of my life. My grandma was the most maternal figure in my life and I appreciated her support of me. One day when we were talking, she said to me, "You know what, dear? I see that you're trying to make s space for yourself, but you also make spaces for other people to express themselves. That is very special. That is outstanding." In that moment, I felt my grandma saw me so clearly and knew me so well.
When my grandma died, I was deeply upset. I mourned for months. I was heart broken. I had lost the one woman who loved me like a traditional mother. Given me unconditional love and support. ...Or had I?
About six months after she died, I was visiting my uncle and aunt in California and at some point in what was a heart-to-heart about life and our family, my aunt sort of blurted out something like, "Well, you know Judy (grandma) thought you were floundering. She would go on and on about how worried she was about you because you weren't doing anything with your life and you didn't have a solid relationship and on and on..." My first response was shock, then denial - of course my aunt was exaggerating or just making things up - and then recognition. "Ah, yes," I thought, "She did love to talk about other members of my family to me behind their backs. Why would I think she wouldn't be doing that to me?"
So then came the big question: does knowing that she was two-faced about me invalidate the feelings of maternal love that I experienced from her? Or are the two mutually exclusive? I thought long and hard about this. Went to therapy and talked it out. And I came to the conclusion that her talking behind my back had no bearing on the fact that I experienced maternal support from her for those six years and that I gained because of our connection.
It is sad to me that she was so deceptive and that she felt the need to stir the pot and talk behind everyone's back like she did. But ultimately, that was just how she negotiated her small part of the world. And because I was in denial about her bad mouthing my family to me (and what that would mean about her bad mouthing me), I gained a great gift. I had a warm, fuzzy, in-my-corner mother-figure for six years. Wouldn't trade it for anything. Not even the possibility that she didn't mean a damn word of any of it.