My grandmother passed away last Wednesday. I stayed with her in the hospital a few times in the days leading up to her death , though she had been sick for awhile at that point. She had Parkinson’s disease. Over the last few years, she lost the ability to walk. Over the last couple of months, she lost the ability to breathe without the help of a machine. Despite this physical decay, I have a clear picture to remember her by from an earlier time in her life: when she raised me, protected me, and loved me unconditionally.
My biological mother abused the heck out of me. She screamed at me for hours on end when I had done nothing wrong, no matter how much I cried or how much I begged her to stop. She told me that she would rather have a dead son than a gay son. She had wild mood swings in which she would sing happy songs at the top of her lungs one second, then lash out at me for not walking like a man or for getting an A- on an exam the next. Out of everyone in my family, my grandmother protected me from my mother the most. She and my grandfather lived with us, and she always held me and comforted me and told me that she loved me after each of my mom’s terrifying screaming sessions. In many ways, I considered my grandmother my actual mother, because she always gave me the warmth and caring I wanted, both in general and in response to my biological mother’s mistreatment.
While I feel sad about my grandmother’s death, I feel, for the most part, pure gratitude. Just as I did not choose to be born into a family with an extremely emotionally abusive mother and a neglectful father, I also did not choose to be born into a family with an endlessly nurturing and giving grandmother. Anyone who knows me knows that I care a lot about rejecting traditionally masculine norms of being unemotional, aggressive, focused on income over all else, etc. When I think about it, I have to thank my grandmother for giving me a safe, accepting space to explore my femininity and feminist identity. My biological mother always yelled at me when I showed emotions outside of anger or when I wanted to color my hair or walk with a bounce in my step. My grandmother encouraged me to explore what made me happy, society’s standards be damned.
Sometimes we have choices and sometimes we do not. I did not choose to be born into a family with my biological mother and father and grandmother, nor did I choose for my grandmother to pass away. However, I can choose to honor her legacy everyday by continuing to prioritize compassion over competitiveness, caring over cutthroat ambition, and emotions over hard logic. I selfishly focused this post on how my grandmother affected me, even though I know she showed love and forgiveness to so many people in her life – but she would have wanted me to be selfish, and I can choose to honor that wish, too. In a patriarchal society that encourages boys and men to prioritize our own gain over caring for others, I will my choose to nurture and heal, just as my grandmother did. I miss her, and I am so, so grateful to have had her.
Thanks to the online community and readers of this blog for giving me a space to commemorate my grandmother! Would appreciate any insight on grieving a parent (or grandparent) as well as any reactions, feelings, thoughts, etc. that emerged when reading this post. Hope everyone is well, having a great holiday season, and ready for my next post in a few days.