February 2016: Storytelling
My maternal grandmother passed away in the wee hours of this morning. And I’m not sure how I feel about it—if anything at all! It seems horrible to admit that I feel nothing. I have at times wondered what it would be like when she died. Especially during my years of bitterness and resentment towards my grandparents for the roles they played in the development of my mother’s mental illness (and subsequently mine). The illness that eventually took her from me.
I was never close to the mother of my birth mother. In fact I found her intimidating. We had a relationship of sorts until I moved across the country. We kept in touch via letters and the occasional visit. It was more a relationship of obligation or duty than of true connection—for both of us I think.
I have always felt like an outsider in that extended family. Strange to look back upon it now. It was a very complicated family dynamic. And I was a very vivid reminder of my deceased mother—someone I sensed they wanted to forget.
As I type this, I do feel sadness welling up within me—but not for the loss of my grandmother. It is for the family brokenness, for the loss of my mother, and my lost sense of self. My life is forever impacted by generations of abuse and disconnection. I came to terms with the ancestral patterns at an earlier juncture on my healing journey. This keeps my current sadness at tolerable levels. It does not overwhelm me as any death used to do. As well, I did a lot of painful grief work after my dog, Gracie, died in 2012. Some of that journey is recorded in this blog.
And I am quite aware that my perception of the extended family is very different from those who lived and breathed it on a regular basis—either those living close by or just feeling “this” was their family. That sense of inclusion. I never felt I belonged for some reason. Some may even be surprised if they read this. Most would likely tell me not to ‘go there.’ Don’t dig up the past, rock the boat. Leave well enough alone.
Family secrets. My story is laden with them. I have begun to tell bits of my story to various trusted people. It takes a lot of courage to open up and share what is buried, yet at the same time lies just beneath the surface. It is my personal and professional experience that storytelling is in fact very healing.
Confrontation is another matter entirely. And something I fear by even writing this blog. I wonder why I am doing even this amount of sharing. What’s in it for me? Will any of my readers benefit? Is there healing to be found for me or anyone else? Do I dare say aloud what “no one” wants to hear? What would my family think?
I likely won’t know the answer to any of those questions besides my own healing. And the more I ponder, the more questions arise. I have never known my “place” in the extended family (I realize that is the third reference). And now that Grandma is gone, what will happen? Will even tenuous connections be lost? I remain connected by blood. And they say blood is thicker than water. But is it enough to keep families connected? With Grandma gone, is my tether to the family frayed or severed? Strange questions, I know.
Obviously I remain part of the family tree. Grandma’s death doesn’t change that. She lived to 95, by the way. And it wasn’t the easiest of lives. Her story begins in Mennonite Russia (Ukraine) and is filled with trauma. Grandma has a good deal to be venerated for. She kindled my love of reading and was an exceptional cook, baker, and seamstress. I have much from her that I treasure, as well as what I deplore. Holding these in tandem is part of life and love—and telling the story.
The “middle” of the story is that I had a complicated relationship with my maternal grandmother. There is much that went on before and much more that will continue after. Thankfully the story doesn’t stop here. It may be the end of an era, but it is not the end of the story—my story.
The journey of healing and growth—part of my story—will continue. I am sure it will take some time for me to fully process what my grandmother’s death means to me. I sense there is something shifting deep within. It will be interesting to discover what surfaces.
May you find the courage to tell your story to someone you trust as you continue on your journey of healing and growth.