I have tried three different times to write this story. There are reasons I couldn’t tell it until now. " You can’t have peace until you have all the pieces". Some of this story I knew; some of it I did not. Thanks, Judy for helping me with the rest.
Even as a little girl, I knew my mother and grandmother didn’t get along. I overheard painful conversations between my parents often followed by mom crying on the bed. Living only a few hundred yards from her mother-in-law, Mom was sure our lives and activities were constantly being scrutinized, judged and ridiculed. My opinionated, feisty grandmother did little to contradict these fears, and over time, the air became thick with misunderstanding and mutual distrust.
My grandmother’s family parties filled my mother with dread for weeks in advance. Positive she would be greeted with only cool disregard; she became almost physically ill. I was relieved for her when they were over.
For 30 years, my grandmother played the grand dame, keeping her daughters close, with my mother always on the outside. In fairness, my mother’s hurt turned to bitterness, and she would set her jaw; unsmiling in an attempt to look dispassionate. It made her appear haughty, cold and unapproachable.
Oh, how it must have hurt her when, during one of our legendary arguments, I “ran away” to my grandparents for solace, blurting out all my mother’s alleged crimes against me for my grandmother to distribute as juicy family gossip. (Teenagers are arrogant and stupid, and for a time, I was their Queen)
Only after my grandmother and her iron influence had passed away, did my aunts begin to reach out to my mother. She cautiously accepted their invitations to shop and lunch. I believe she never completely abandoned the dreams of a 19-year old newlywed, so hopeful she had married into a family that would embrace and accept her.
Here’s what I didn’t know. Ironically, my grandmother had been treated as an outcast in my grandfather’s rigid and righteous family…always. Never seen as worthy, women in-laws were simply viewed as outlaws. Surprisingly, even the wife of my grandmother’s favorite son (not my dad) had often felt like an outsider! My mother was convinced that only she had been singled out for rejection…but this sad tradition of exclusion had been going on for generations.
When my dad told me he was having lunch with three of his four sisters and his only brother, I thought…how nice, they will visit, make awkward small talk and reminisce. I guess that is how the afternoon started. But at some point, my father decided to speak up. Finally, it was time….
He spoke of the hurts my mother had been too proud to confront when she was alive. He told them of her isolation and the years of desperate loneliness. While my mother tried to pretend that their acceptance and friendship was not important; he believes it would have changed her life...so do I. He asked how they could have ever pretended to care about him while treating his wife with such disdain.
They listened with their hearts. The sisters were anxious to try to explain my grandmother’s possible motives and their fear of her wrath or rejection. All shared their own perspectives and spoke openly of their regrets. There were apologies and many tears. In the end, Dad, the oldest, led his siblings to forgiveness and a hopeful new beginning.
For all he said and did that day, my dad is a Hero. He is my shining knight and I have never been more proud of his kind and quiet strength. As he described this moving family gathering, we both wept for all that had been lost; for my mother, for the years of heartache, and for the healing catharsis of truth.
I like to imagine that she was there somehow; beaming as he finally found his voice…for both of them.