January 7, 2011 was a very strange day. It would have been my grandmother's 90th birthday. It was Kari's mom's birthday. Two of my first cousins, on either side, celebrate their birthdays on that day.
And on the afternoon of January 7, my other grandmother died. She was my dad's mother and I hadn't seen her in years. She and my grandfather lived down the street from us until I was 15, when they moved to Florida.
In the intervening 28 years, I've only seen them maybe five or six times. I'm one of 19 grandchildren on that side and I've always felt that they didn't care for me. And I felt that way even before I came out of the closet.
My grandfather was a preacher for many years. He worked a day job in one of the many chemical plants in the Charleston area and on nights and weekends pastored a small church in the coalfields. He never went to seminary or had formal training. He felt a calling when he was a young man and has devoted his life to his faith. He's now a deacon in the Southern Baptist tradition.
My grandmother was the mother of eight children, but she must have shared his calling, because she accompanied him to his church and was a devoted minister's wife.
I didn't know her that well. She was a laconic woman. When I was in high school, my dad and I would go out at the ungodly time of 7 am on Saturday mornings to have breakfast with his parents. Getting up that early about killed my adolescent body and I'd have to come home and sleep for several more hours afterwards. But I enjoyed going out there and am grateful that I had that time with them.
During these breakfasts, she would take me into her kitchen and show me how to cook. Not being interested in cooking, I didn't pay much attention. And not being much of a talker when I was younger, I failed to ask her all the questions I would like to ask her now. What were you like as a child? Did you ever actually want to be a minister's wife? Have you been happy?
It's too late now.
For many years, I felt hurt and defensive that this set of grandparents didn't seem to like me. Then, as an adult, I felt guilty that I hadn't even tried to cultivate a relationship with them. As they had done, I failed to even send birthday and Christmas cards.
I've been debating for several years about whether I would go to their funerals. My mother put some pressure on me back in December, when my grandmother's health started to fail. I told her that I felt that it was okay for me not to go, especially since I was in a very vulnerable emotional state at that time (more on that later) and I'm not well liked or accepted by my dad's family, with the exception of a few cousins and one of his brothers. I think it's partly to do with my being gay and partly (maybe mostly?) to do with my failure to meet my father's wife.
A situation that I've made steps to fix. I told him in August that I would meet her. I sent a Christmas card addressed to the whole family. I sent cookies to their house for Christmas. All of which are HUGE for me. I know that until I can get over this thing---whatever it is about my dad marrying this particular woman---that I won't know peace.
Ironically, my dad hasn't taken any steps to get us together. In fact, when he was first making the plans to drive to Florida, it appeared that his wife would not be able to make it. So Dad offered to let me ride down with him. Then, when it appeared that she was going to go, he told me not to feel obligated to go to the funeral, that there were many other grandchildren who wouldn't be there.
I'm not sure what's going on. I may have let this thing go on past the point of redemption.
As far as my grandmother goes, however, I do feel a measure of peace. I had a Reiki treatment on the day of her funeral. At the exact time, actually. She had been on my mind for days and I had been trying to really feel okay with not seeing her off. By the end of the session, I felt that I had forgiven her for not loving me and forgiven myself for not having tried to have a relationship with her.
And here's a crazy story about the funeral: One of my dad's brothers is a quadriplegic and lives in CA. He and his wife and a nurse flew in to Orlando on Monday night, the night before the funeral. They rent a handicapped van, someone doesn't hook my uncle into the wheelchair properly, his wife is driving, and rear ends someone on the interstate. Not only did they not make it to the funeral, they never even reached the hotel.
So initially the doctors say my uncle has broken his neck. Then they say, "Wait. It's not his neck; he has two broken legs." Not sure how one could mix up "broken neck" with "broken legs," but whatever.
So he's in a hospital in Orlando and they can't operate for six weeks. It's not good news; he's been a quad for about 20 years and he's medically pretty fragile. Plus, he's 3000 miles from his home. My grandfather lives in Ocala, which is where the funeral was held, so there was much driving back and forth to the hospital.
And if for no other reason than that one---drama and crisis---I'm glad I was up here, sending my grandma off with kind and forgiving thoughts and recognizing that, as with my other grandparents, a part of her will always be a part of me.