Well, Grandpa up and died. He was 93, so I guess it was time. I grew up with him telling me that I would probably never see him again because he was going to die. My father told me that Grampa told him that he was going to die the first time he met my mom.
Toward the end of his life, it got so bad; I started avoiding him because I didn’t want to say my final goodbyes anymore. Yes, I admit it; I was a chicken. It was so uncomfortable. By this time there was high chance that he really was going to die. He, after all, had leukemia, prostate cancer, and diabetes and the doctor gave him six months to live. What do you say to someone that you have zero connection to other than the fact he is family, and he popped up for family visits every five to ten years? Then have to say the goodbye.
Not to mention the fact that this was the man who gave me nightmares. When I was four years old, he made a trip to visit me in Florida where we were living at the time. He sat me down in the same green kitchen and got out a lot of equipment and told me to put out my arm.
It turns out dear Gramps was hooking me up to a lie detector test to see if I loved him. At age four I remember sweating and my heart pounding at a rate that it could have jumped out of my chest and give a professional racer a run for his ego. I didn’t think loved him. He was a thin man who always reminded me of Hilter. He was proper and liked things in exact order. He would get upset if things weren’t going exactly the way he wanted it and he demanded hugs. I was one of those children who did not like being hugged, especially not by someone who I didn’t feel any love from. It made me feel creepy.
I was convinced I was going to be exposed as a liar for saying I did love my Grampa when I knew that I didn’t. It turns out that the lie detector said that I did love him to my relief and utter confusion. That still makes me think what is love and how does the test judge it because I was convinced that I didn’t love him.
Fortunately, I didn’t see Gramps often, so his gadgets didn’t seep into the fabric of my upbringing. But because I didn’t see Gramps meant I didn’t get to see Grandma either, and that was sad. Gramps wouldn’t let her come without him. He didn’t want to be away from her. He wanted her home. Grandma was a loving co-dependent woman whose life revolved around making her husband happy. They were together for 64 years of marriage, and they seemed to merge, but that meant I was cheated of my grandma, and yes, I am a bit sore about that.
When Grampa did decide to visit, it was a dramatic event in my family. Mom would break out in acne all over her face and sometimes loose her voice. She would get agitated and start pacing around the house and get really nervous. I would talk to her about her stress and try to listen mostly to calm her down telling her it would be okay, thus birthing my codependency that I have yet to recover from.
Two minutes after Grandma and Grandpa’s arrival my father would suddenly have a business emergency that he would need to scurry too. Taking his example in, the rest of us would suddenly scatter as fast as we could go. It was a race to see if I could get out of the house before Grampa would catch up to me. One time I was in my late teens, I had almost made it to my car when he caught me, “Aren’t you going to kiss and hug your grandfather?” he asked in his authoritative voice coming out from a thin small man.
Are you kidding? I wanted to ask but was too afraid to voice. He wasn’t afraid. We’d hug, and he would pout. “Don’t you love your grandfather?”
No! Looking back I wonder how a person could demand love from someone that they haven’t taken the time to get to know. Does the fact you are family require you from some written rule in heaven that you have to love someone that is a part of family? If that is the case, I guess I am going to burn in hell no matter how many prayers my mom offers for my soul.
After I was married and had a family of my own, I had gotten it in my head that it would be a good idea to do a Thanksgiving with my extended family on my mom’s side. Most of my relatives I hadn’t even seen for fifteen or so years. I was stuck in trying to remember these aunts and uncles who were struggling to figure out who I was. I was lucky though being the first grandchild thus easier to remember than all the other kids that trailed behind me.
Toward the end of eating turkey, every one of us noticed Gramps sitting in the back corner of the room sulking. We all noticed, and we all choose to ignore him. If he wanted to pout and sit in the corner well sit in the corner and pout! All of his children had stopped talking to him at one point or another and there was still a feeling from what I heard was a crazy childhood that they had endured. I hadn’t gone through all that craziness. I was just wanting to avoid hugging or having to talk about loving him when I talked to no one about loving them. That wasn’t our family culture.
Gramps finally cleared his throat and said, “I have sat here for hours, and no one has even talked to me.”
Yep, I rolled my eyes. He was the Grandfather. Shouldn’t he be the one talking to others? Shouldn’t he be happy that his family even decided to get together after all these years?
So now he is gone, and I was sitting with my guilt of not feeling too bad. Actually not feeling much of anything but angry that I didn’t have a grandpa I would have liked to have. I could have used a loving, supportive man figure in my life. Trying to get over the guilt of not responding to the death the way one “should,” I called my younger sis.
“Feeling bad that Gramps is dead?” I asked.
She laughed. “Nope. Glad he is out of pain. He was suffering a lot at the end.”
Guilt is gone. I was not such a bad person if the “kind one” in the family wasn’t feeling too sad either. “Did you know that Grampa’s had bi-polar?”
“What?” I hadn’t seen that one coming.
“Explains a lot.”
More than she knew. “Couldn’t you have told me that before I married two bio-polar men?”
It wasn’t funny.
“That’s why he was so nice at the end of his life. When the family found out, there was healing. Mom is now friends with her sister.”
“What!” It couldn’t be. Those two could almost never stay in the same room with each other mind as well be friends.
The death bed discovery changed my mother, her brothers and sisters and then the change trickled down to others in the family like me. My view of Grampa, my anger, my hurt, is not the same and never will be. There is too much thinking about discovering a person was bipolar at 90.
That death bed revelation has just changed everything. Changed my stories. Changed my understanding. Changed my feelings. Changed my family relations. One word changed everything.