week one. Topic: "You gave everything you possibly could."
I teamed up with oxymoron67
"You did all you could. You gave all you could. He gave all you could. They did all they could. Everyone gave all they could.". Over and over in my head. "You did all you could". I almost laughed as I'd repeat the words to myself. It didn't matter if I was talking about me... my mother... my father... or him. My grandfather. It didn't matter, because at the time, the words meant nothing. Even now, as I write this, I have to remind myself that it's true... "you gave all you could.". I know that now. Usually.
Since I was three years old, when my mothers father passed away, I had two grandparents. My mothers mother - an amazing woman who I am still close to, talk to on the phone once a week even if it's just to hear about how I never call, and see at least a few times a month. As children, my brother and I were at her house practically as much as our own. We spent some weekends there or if our parents went away whether for a day or a week, we'd go there. And then there was my fathers father. A wonderful man. He lived within local distance usually too. He went down south for some winters, but the rest of the time, he was around. I would guess we'd see him... hmmm... if you don't count holidays, maybe three times a year. He'd pop over, take us for ice cream, he once took me to a baseball game. We just weren't close. I was okay with that, because it had always been like that. It was just what I knew. We'd even had silly arguments. Like, one year, he called me on my birthday to say happy birthday. I wasn't home and I got the message and didn't call him back. Obviously now I know I should have, but as a kid, I just figured, okay, he was calling to say happy birthday, thanks, that's cool, sorry I missed him. When I saw him two weeks later, he had a birthday card and a check for me but he wouldn't give it to me until I apologized for not calling him back. Things like that. Again, I saw nothing weird. It was just how it had always been.
In 2003, he became sick. To this day, I don't know all of the details. What I do know is that while he was not any kind of drinking during the day-always drunk-intervention time drinker, he and his friends certainly did enjoy their alcohol. I saw him drunk once when I was eleven (a time when some kids have been drunk themselves at least once.) and it scared me. That was just the type of kid I was. I guess it all caught up with him. According to what I know, what actually began the infection that would take his life, was a simple bladder infection.
When I learned he was in the hospital, I started panicking. "What if he dies?" I would say to myself. "I barely even know the man. What on earth is that, even? How do I barely know him? My cousins know him. Why don't we?". I promised that, if he made it through, I would change things. I didn't really know how I would do that, but I would. I was eighteen at the time, an adult, old enough to make a difference in my own life. and my own relationships, right?
It didn't matter. He didn't make it through. We all gathered at my uncles house the next day and my cousins and I went downstairs and started comparing notes. It was decided that only one of us would speak, an honor give, with little to no debate, to the oldest of us, my cousin Miriam. As everyone started talking - my brother, myself and six of our cousins (my sister and one other cousin were really too young at the time I guess.), I glanced over at my brother shaking my head. I had always known my grandfather had been closer to my cousins than us but they had STORIES! I mean, they had stories the way we did with our grandmother. How could it be that we all came from the same place - my grandfather had three sons - and things were SO different... only for us? Why? How?
I made it through the funeral, then the traditional Jewish mourning period of "shivah" and then I figured, "well.... nothing left to do but move on." Right?
Try as I might, I COULDN'T move on. I was stuck in this horrible intense grief that would make no sense from a simple standpoint. I hadn't known him incredibly well. Yes, he was my family, he was my GRANDFATHER. But the grief I had was unbearable. I stopped going to school for weeks at a time. I didn't leave of my house for days. I didn't care about anything. I don't even think I cared about anyONE - including myself. let my passions die right along with him. I let my friendships slide. I broke up with my boyfriend at the time. (Not that we were going to end up together forever by any stretch anyway, but we were having fun... until I stopped caring.) I cried all the time. Nobody got it. I was not functioning.
You see, death does funny things to a person. People with amazing close relationships often feel guilt when their loved ones pass because of harsh words said here or there or a fight they had the week before. And the grief that comes from the death of any loved one is unexplainable. And I believe that everyone feels and experiences it differently. And in this situation.... I felt it in ways I still can't properly put into words. I don't think William Shakespeare could put THOSE feelings into words and describe them as they were.
It. Was. Bad.
To this day, I don't think anyone except maybe my brother understands how bad it was. He was the only one I REALLY shared this with. Everyone knew what had happened, but nobody knew what was happening in my head.
I knew I was feeling guilt. That was when I started telling myself that I did all I could. I'd say those words over and over again. Never believing them. Not once.
It took a long time and some help, but I began to see that the reason I was grieving so heavily was actually not just guilt - but also deep rooted and scarily dark anger. See... I was mad. At myself, yes, TRUST me, I was mad at myself. But I was also mad at my mother. I knew she and my grandfather, while perfectly civil, were not particularly close and that that MUST have had a lot to do with him not coming around as often as he did with my cousins and their families. Right? I was mad at my father. Why hadn't he insisted? And the worst was I was mad at HIM. Why hadn't HE insisted? We were his grandkids too! Why didn't he fight and say to my dad "I want to see the kids"??? Nobody would have stopped him. Right? I was SO angry. And I carried that anger for a very long time.
Eventually , I went to a therapist for a non related issue and this came up. With her help, I was able to see that my mother couldn't help that she and my grandfather weren't close - some people just aren't. That my father SHOULD have pushed more, yes. But, I wasn't in their battle - if there even was a battle. I didn't know what went on. I didn't know how much he did or didn't push and why. My grandfather - where did I get off judging his efforts when I had no idea what they actually were? What was he to do, bound into our house on Friday nights and sit down to dinner without being invited? And myself - that was the hardest one of all for me to get over. You see, I know now that I was the child. was the CHILD. What exactly could I have changed? As a child, growing up among this being "just the way it was", what more could I give? Yes, I was eighteen when he passed, but not when all this started or became "normal". It was ALWAYS normal as far as I knew. It was unfair to expect myself to have changed that as a child or even as a teenager. It wasn't up to me. Of everyone to be angry at, my therapist explained, it should not be a child who was brought INTO a situation.
I am not saying I am "over" it. I still have regrets. I WISH things had been different. But I know it is unfair to hold myself, my parents or my grandfather at fault for such a complicated situation that I wasn't privy to the details of. Did I give everything I could to that relationship? Maybe not, but I did everything I think could be reasonably expected of someone in my position. Did my parents give everything they could? Well...once again, I was not privy to all of their reasons, their debates, their decisions. I have to assume that, yes, they gave everything they COULD. That may not be everything I think they SHOULD have but everything they COULD.
And my grandfather. The man who is not here to "defend" himself. (Not that I am attacking him.) The man who was always wonderful to us when we did see him, even if he was trying to teach me a lesson by not giving me my money until I apologized to him for not returning a phone call (or perhaps especially then).... did HE do all he could?
Here's the way I see it.
He saw us. He did sometimes try to do things with us that were rejected by my parents - for their own reasons. He loved us. He never missed a birthday or a holiday, even if it was just with a phone call and a card and check in the mail. He never talked harshly to me, not once. I have few memories compared to my cousins, true. But I am not my cousins and my parents are not theirs. More than anything, he loved us. I had two grandfathers. One passed away when I was three. I don't remember him, but I know he loved me. And one passed away when I was eighteen, putting me into a debilitating state of grief, loss, sadness, blame and anger... and I know he loved me. And that's all that matters now.
And, so, without getting into a debate about what happens when one dies.... if there is some kind of way that he is with me right now, watching as I type this, hearing my thoughts as I think about him... I just want you to know... that even though I probably barely said it... I love you. And you... with the time you had, the environment you were in, the situation you were given.... at this point and this point is all that matters.... you gave everything you possibly could.