I received word today that my grandmother is dead. I didn’t ask how. I’d like to think she died alone and in existential agony but people like her never do. I assume all the fun went out of messing with the lives of her many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren and she finally followed the three husbands she had outlived, called to her Eternal Glory. It is times like these I wished I believed in a supernatural Hell, a place of karma and comeuppance but I don’t. Besides, I am trying to be a better person. See how well that New Year’s resolution is going.
She is the last of my grandparents to kick over. The first, and the only potentially decent one in the bunch, blew his brains out a few days before I was born, the struggle of living being more than he could bear. With all of the divorces and re-marriages, I had quite a lot of grandparents and one would think with this bevy of choices, there would be some decent ones in the bunch but not so much.
Under the category of being unable to miss what you do not know about, I didn’t comprehend exactly all that I had missed out on until I was older, until I had a child of my own and I experienced the joy of seeing my parents fulfill their grandparental duties with vigorous love. An ache grew in me. I sensed a loss and I grieved for what I did not have.
I shared recent holiday celebrations with a friend’s family, a big, loud, boisterous, happy, family. During the evening, I stepped into the cloakroom to retrieve something from my bag and while I was there, I overheard an interaction between a grandfather and his granddaughter. The grandfather was asking after the young teen’s holiday, what she had received, how she was doing, all of the usual things I imagine whole, healthy people do.
It wasn’t the subject of conversation that caught my breath, it was the love. The notes of honest affection, interest and mutual respect, were so deep, so real, so heartbreaking and simple, I was frozen to the floor. It was as pure an exchange of unconditional love as I have ever witnessed. It was transcendent.
When it was over, I was left gutted. Never in my life has anyone ever spoken to me the way that man did with that child. I slumped against the pile of coats and cried, soft, slow, big tears. I cried for the child I had been. I cried for my parents, who had lousy parents. I cried because crying seemed like the only thing to do.
I spent the rest of the evening in a bit of a daze. I wanted to know their secret. I wanted to know how I could make a family like this one. I wanted to know how I could graft myself onto this family. Most of all, I wanted that grandfather to talk to me the way he did to his granddaughter. I wanted to hear that love directed at me. I made conversation and ate and drank and never let on what was going on inside of me.
There are a lot of people walking around that think they don’t like grits. They’ve tried them, didn’t like them and swore them off. Or they’ve tried them and they tolerate them. I used to be one of those people. I used to think I didn’t like grits. It turned out, I didn’t like bad grits. All my life, I had been served sub-standard grits. When I finally had good grits, suddenly I had to re-examine all of my ideas about grits, what constituted good ones and to figure out a way to get more of the good grits into my life.
It is the same with love and with family. I thought I knew how to give love, to receive love, to build a family. Then I witnessed the real deal and now I know. I have to re-examine my notion about family, about love, about what I can give. Even more importantly, I think, I need to set new standards for what I expect from others, how I should expect to be treated, what kind of love is possible.
But first, I’m going to make grits and go to a funeral.