Sunday, July 9, 2006

Grab some Kleenex and get ready for the "Ugly Cry"

When I'm old and decrepit, please send my kids a link to this site (just don't ever tell them about the blog!).

Go ahead. Visit the site. Cry, wipe your tears, then come back and read the rest of the post. I'll wait...

*chintzty Muzak playing*

...I know. It's like Josh Groban got together with AARP and created the World's Biggest Guilt Trip.

Not that I necessarily think of it as such, you understand...

Actually, it quite obviously leads my thoughts to my grandmother, Honey, who has suffered as the butt of many a joke here at chunkyrhino. Why all the teasing? Well, duh. I have a hard time handling emotions, and so use laughter as a defense mechanism. Sheesh.

If I were to really bare my soul on the subject, I would talk about the immense love and empathy I feel for her, and how sad it makes me to see her fading away. Notice I said empathy and not sympathy. While I obviously am sympathetic to her trials with Parkinson's, I think empathy is the better word. It fits. She and I fit. I can't explain the connection, and unfortunately, it's not a warm fuzzy one, but it is ours and it is strong.

I remember as kids when Honey and Pappy would come to visit, how we would be on cleaning duty the entire week before their arrival. Mom would be completely freaking out over the mess that was our home, and rightly so, seeing as how not only was our grandmother a domestic goddess, she was also a judgmental perfectionist. Just the combo you want to have in a mother, right?

Honey could be stern and cold, but her intentions were honest and good and usually based in love. I firmly believe she did the very best she could, coming from a background which haunts her to this day. Things were not spoken outside the house in her day; troubles were ignored, abuse was overlooked and accepted as the norm. The loss of a baby? Not to be mentioned -- not even to their only other child, who would come later in life. Mental issues? No such thing, just bad moods, or bad children, spouses, siblings, neighbors, etc...

She adored my mother in ways that I really think are unspeakable and hidden, but always there. Wanting different and better for her daughter than the hand she had been dealt, Honey was strict to a fault. Critical, harsh, unwielding, but also vulnerable and proud and desperate to do what the Lord asked of her. When my parents showed up at their house to announce their engagement, Honey begged my mother not to go, clinging to her daughter's knees even as she was getting into her fiance's car. He was a divorced man, a non-Catholic, and her faith was rigid and devout; she honestly felt she was trying to save her only child. I believe that. I think my parents do, too.

The situation between she and my dad never really got much better, but they made fun of it, teasing and poking and prodding...made for some lively family vacays. Eventually she came to love him, and he her; the tenderness he shows towards her now, the resigned way she will not eat one. more. bite. unless he's feeding her -- all of that seems to cancel the years of torment and tension.

Not that those years were easily forgotten. Again, her intention got in the way, and in times of crises, though she was there to support us, she blamed him always. Even as he lay in the hospital on the brink of death, she cursed him to us as she supervised our scrubbing of the baseboards with our toothbrushes. She went back to her upbringing, like most of us do when faced with difficult times, and I think her love for us and anger at the situation manifested itself in her hurtful words and actions, because she knew no way else to filter through those feelings. I've been there.

That was me in high school, when my "disease" first came to light. Angry and unsure, scared and frustrated, I took my emotions out by screaming, yelling, hitting, crying, and begging forgiveness. I will never fully know the damage I did to my relationships with my sisters and parents or my husband, and that is something I will carry with me to my grave. I didn't understand what was happening to me at the time, but that didn't matter to the people I was hurting. I think it must have been that way for her. I was fortunate enough to get the help I needed, while there was really no such thing available when she needed it most.

I know I've made her out to be a monster, and many of you have probably stopped reading this by now, but that's okay. This is for me, anyway. She was not a monster. She was quite possibly one of the world's greatest grandmothers -- while she could turn a cold shoulder faster than you can say "grudge", her embrace was always warm and inviting when it came to me and my sisters. The woman could cook a cajun meal like nobody's business, but it was her honey toast and frozen grapes that I still remember to this day. Her recipes are just sitting there, waiting for us to rifle through them, and many of our favorite dishes will never be reproduced, as they are locked in her mind forever. I actually think that is a relief for us, because it feels like a betrayal to even imagine anyone else cooking our Christmas dinner.

She had the softest skin, paper-thin, much like her figure, and we were always arguing with her to sit down and enjoy a meal with us, a feat she rarely accomplished in her business to keep everyone's drinks and plates full. She was amazing with her hands, and sewed each of us the most beautiful life-size Raggedy Ann dolls that are now dirty and dingy and collecting dust somewhere. She made all the little crafts women of her age did, and it hurts me to hear my grandfather talk about how guilty he feels sitting in the empty house night after night, surrounded by her knick-knacks and decorations, knowing she will never again be able to enjoy them.

She was the master of the guilt trip (taught me everything I know, by way of my Mom), and when it came time to tell my family about our surprise, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, she was the one person I could not face. As hard as it was to deliver the news to my Mom, I could not even imagine saying the words to Honey. And so I didn't, and once again my Mom bore the brunt of my mistakes, taking the blame from Honey for my shortcomings.

Oh, but the love she had for my babies. The delight in just holding them -- not watching them walk or laugh or talk, but merely to rock them in her arms -- that's all she wanted to do. One of the greatest gifts I have ever been blessed with was to see her hold my babies, and know that in the end, it wasn't all bad, and that my "mistake" was actually a blessing. Jax doesn't remember her, obviously, but Ryan does. She will sometimes ask me about her, show me pictures and remind me what they were doing in each of the shots. Of course, now she's scared to go near her, and that breaks me. It's at these times that i want to show her the pictures of Honey and I when I was little, or play the tapes that she would make of me and my sisters singing songs. One day when I'm strong enough, I will. But not today.

I guess I feel guilt over thinking of her as though she has passed, when in fact she is still alive and breathing, just not "living". Her spirit and soul are no longer there. Her wicked sense of humor has vanished in the vacant look of her eyes. She does not really know me, and the kids upset her when we visit. I do not wish her death, but I do wish her peace, and I fear she is suffering still.

Her illness came upon us slowly, many many years ago with the initial Parkinson's diagnosis. I distinctly remember hours on the computer, researching terms and symptoms and treatments. At first the shaking was hard to deal with, because I cannot remember her ever having been sick before. Then her foot swelled up and she eventually had to use a walker. She became delusional, another excuse to crack jokes in order to avoid pain. Talking to us when we were not there, claiming my grandfather was out to kill her. And thne just like that, she would come back and insist we were wrong, she never did any such thing. Oh, how offended she became if we told her of her actions, and who wouldn't be? Pretty soon, we just began to go along with it, more for ourselves than for her. And now she's bed ridden, can hardly speak, won't eat, and sleeps all day long. What LIFE is that? But there's my grandfather, by her side, morning, noon and night, still holding on to the faint hope that she will get better and come home with him once more.

So, yeah, that video dug deep, but not because I pity her or her circumstance, but because my soul suffers with hers. We are made from the same cloth, and though our lives took different paths, I feel her with me all the time. I love her and I miss her and I wish she was here to hold me right now. But more than anything, I wish her peace.

Consider it the "Granddaughter's Wish".

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