Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nana, Mum, Me

My grandmother passed away.

She was Nana to this entire town- everyone knew her. The ladies at the bank, the pharmacy technicians at CVS, the people at the grocery store. The guys at the liquor store knew her order and never carded granddkids when they were picking up for her.

She was that kind of nana. She was funny, always dancing, loved people, loved dirty jokes. She cried at patriotic songs on the Fourth of July and shouted Irish songs on St.Patrick's Day. She was the best cook. She was funny and people truly loved her, and she truly loved them.

I love Nana. When I was living in Korea and surprised my family by coming home for Christmas, she was the one who threw her hands in the air when she saw me, gave me a huge hug, and told me how happy she was to have me home for the holiday.

In contrast, when I woke my parents up the night I got in, my mother asked, "How did you get here?"

This is not really about my grandmother. It's about the emotional tear between my mother and me as my grandmother was fading away.

I understand that losing your mother could be stressful, heartbreaking, life-altering. For my mother, it is/was. Of course I would understand that she was hurting and that she needs some cushion of flexibility and understanding while she deals with her loss.

I do understand these things.

The problem is, it was too much. It wasn't her pushing people away, being cold and wanted to be alone, falling into depression, nothing like that. It was aggressively attacking without once trying to be understand that her children lost someone close to them, too. Her husband, my father, had an awful relationship with his own mother and my grandmother loved him and told him constantly that he was her own son.

There are moments that certainly can be forgiven. On Cinco de Mayo, she told J and I she was going to have my brother throw on some steaks, she didn't know what sides and couldn't even think about it, but if we wanted some meat we could have some. J offered to take care of the whole meal and we would buy everything for fajitas, drinks, everything, and she wouldn't have to try to put together a dinner and we could celebrate a little bit. She flipped out, responding that if people didn't like what she was making (even though she just told us she had no plan) then we didn't need to eat with them. She didn't say thank you but no thank you, she just raised her voice as if we were trying to mug her or something. J was offering to buy everything and make a big meal, and she slapped his offer back in his face. He was incredibly offended and hurt, but honestly this is not uncharacteristic of their relationship so it's not like he was totally taken aback. She told me later, during another argument, that I just wouldn't understand and she didn't want anyone celebrating anything near her while her mother was slipping away in the nursing home.

That, to me, is certainly forgivable and understandable.

But there were other things. That same night J and I grilled our own meal outside, choosing to stay away at that point. Later, as we were cleaning everything up, my father approached me as I brought in things to the kitchen. He basically repeated something that my mother had been on us about for about a month, so  I can pretty much guarantee this came from her.

My mother had been pressuring and guilting all three of her children for a while about going to visit Nana. I know that I went about once a week and I thought that was fine. My mother has been telling me for years that Nana was dying and that I needed to hurry to see her, so it was a little bit boy-who-cried-wolf. When I was in Korea she told me that she didn't think Nana would be there by the time my one-year contract ended. I had been through the mourning emotional rollercoaster several times at this point.

When Nana starting looking worse, I went once or a couple times a week. She had undergone back surgery so she was totally out of it when I went to see her. My brother went once a week or so, and my other brother has avoided my parents whenever possible so who knows how many times he went. The point of this is to say that we were being pressured to be more like my cousins, my mother's sister's kids, who were going "3-4 times a week". It was a frequent conversation, actually, about how our cousins were going all the time and clearly cared more about Nana than anyone else did. In fact, my father said that if I didn't care about going to see Nana for Nana's sake, at least I could do it for my mother's. My brother told me that he came in from work one Saturday (works 6 days a week in hard labor) and was covered in diesel oil, exhausted and hungry, and she said, "So visiting hours for Nana don't end for another two hours." He had already been twice that week. Why the pressure?

By the end of the conversation with my father, where I told him I DO visit Nana, I don't understand why all this guilt, etc. etc. It ended with a compromise that I had to turn in like a spreadsheet or some kind of log of my hours visiting Nana and he and Mother would never say my cousins' names to me ever again.

I love my cousins, so it's not that. In fact, I called one of them that night to ask how many times she visited every week and she told me about once. My other cousin a little more, but that was it. At that point I was totally pissed and hurt because these constant comparisons to my clearly amazing, model cousins was a farce. Either my parents were lying to put more guilt or they truly believed that my cousins are that much "better" than her own children.

She's compared us before, and recently, about other things. Mother and I will get into it, but my youngest brother usually bites his tongue on this topic. That means that if HE says it, it's a pretty big f*cking deal, and he yelled back at them a few weeks ago, "If their family is so good, go live with them! You constantly compare us to their kids; you compare C and Kate (cousin) all the time. If they're so great, go let them be your children."

It's been messy.

Once I was told to submit to them some kind of log, I shut them out. I just couldn't believe it.

Then, my grandmother passed away. She had given me a box of her photos several years ago because I was working on a family history book for her and my grandfather. I was the only one who ever cared about the photos, so I had the early ones of her and her mother when she was 3, my grandfather and his brother fishing, their wedding photos, etc. When my Nana passed, I wanted to put together some photos and also figured I could do the photo collages for the wake. I started early on the project the next morning, and in the middle of it my mother yelled down from the stairs that she wanted me to bring up the photos Nana gave me. I asked why and she said she wanted to go through them, "frankly they belonged to the four kids but especially her since everyone knew she was supposed to get all the photos." I told her I would scan and print any she would like, but Nana gave me the originals while still mentally able to make that choice and it was her gift to me. I knew if I brought them to her I might never see them again during her lifetime.

She finally said fine, but asked what I was doing with them. I said working on the collages. She was going over to my grandparents' home later to dig through all the photos (there were buckets and buckets full) and I asked to go along. I said I would bring my laptop and computer to scan them, I wouldn't remove any physical pictures. She said no, it was up to her and her siblings to go through them and she didn't want me coming. I asked, defensively, to go later once they were done to scan the photos. She told me that I was never to go into my grandparents' house by myself- I was welcome only at her invitation. Also, she and her siblings would do the collages since it had nothing to do with granddchildren. At that point I was angry, closed up the photo albums I had been looking through, and made my way for our apartment. She flipped out, yelling that she "shouldn't have to explain myself to anyone, my mother died, I wish you would just offer to help, I'm so tired of you judging my grief" and ran out the door. I was surprised, because I was offering to help by making the collages. That was the whole point. And I wasn't judging her grief, I was getting pissed by how much she was closing me out and acting like I had never loved Nana.

She got out into the driveway, got in her car, and started sobbing. Even though I was still angry and hurt, I went out, opened the door, and started rubbing her back. She told me she "Didn't know how to keep going without my mother", which is a heartbreaking statement. She was upset, but after about 20 minutes she seemed ok and left to go to Nana's house to look through the photos.

That night, I get a phone call from Kate. She was at my aunt's with my mother. She asked me if I wanted to get together with her and a few other cousins at her house a few days later to make collages and the slideshow video the funeral home plays in the background. She was saying that she's not really sure how she ended up on this project since she's "not crafty" and "not a picture person" but there it was.

I was pissed.

I had offered to do this, in fact, had already started scanning and retouching photos that morning when my mother told me to stop, it wasn't my place, and why couldn't I just be helpful?

Hours later, my cousin asked if she could do anything, and my mother asked her to do this. In fact, Kate said later at her home when we were making them that she would rather be doing anything else, this was an awful task, etc. Between every emotion and frustration I had at that point, I had too much to drink and J had to come get me.


I know that I sound like a  teenage girl with this. I know I sound like one whenever I talk about my mother and I can hear her telling me to "Stop being so dramatic." I told J yesterday that I'm glad for several reasons we have lived her this year, and one of those reasons is to see the real dynamic between my mother and myself.

Maybe I am being dramatic, I don't know. I'm too close to the situation right now. Maybe in a year, or whenever we move out, it won't seem such a big deal.

But for now, my mother made it clear that I am not the daughter she wanted, or maybe she just wishes Kate was her eldest. I'm not sure how much of a difference that is yet.

She also made it clear that we are not good for one another. If we were just friends, Cosmo magazine would be telling me this is more toxic frenemy status.

I'm not sure.

What I am sure about is that we are much happier with one another and our lives when we see each other basically only on the holidays.

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