A little while ago, I called my mother. I wanted to take a break from the book I was reading, and she had asked me on Monday to call her soon. Oh, and I thought I’d tell her I got a B in Calculus. Well, as often happens, I didn’t get a chance to say what I actually called to say. As soon as Mom answers, she has a proposition. As soon as I say that I’ll think about it, she has to go. I love my mother, but I don’t know if she honestly thinks she respects me, let alone honestly expects me to believe she cares about anything I say when a) we can’t have a conversation without her interrupting me and b) yeah, I call her, and don’t even get to say anything! Don’t get me started on how she talks to me about my politics. Thank God she doesn’t try to preach to me against Catholicism.
Anyway, I love my mom. I do. But she’s difficult. Anyway, so her proposition is this: Since you’re going to Ohio in a few days, have you thought of taking a side trip to Indiana to see your grandmas? You know it’ll probably be your last chance.
That just makes me groan. I have different feelings about this. To be clear, my mom is talking about her mom, and her mom’s mom. Of course, there are some other relatives up there whose names I don’t know, who I’ve never met, and with whom I’m sure I have very little in common.
I never had grandparents in my life. My dad’s mom passed away before my parents even met, and I can’t say much about my paternal grandfather. I know some facts about his life. I know some of the events, choices, etc. that broke people apart in his family. Other people have told me what they think my dad felt (or feels) about my grandfather, but… he hasn’t told me. I don’t go trying to bring up things I suspect are painful to people. So anyway, I think I only ever heard my father’s father’s voice on the phone maybe twice. He has passed away now.
My mom’s dad I knew a little bit better. I knew him well enough to feel a little sad at his passing away. He had come to Florida twice to visit when I was a kid, and had sent cards sometimes, and called sometimes also. His wife was kind to me too. Still… not a big part of my life.
But to my mom’s mom, my last grandparent. Apparently she was in my life somewhat when I was a toddler, but I don’t remember it. I remember her visiting us in Florida once when I was still little, probably before I even started school. I remember being sad when she left. I remember a time or two talking on the phone. What I remember much more is how many times my mother has talked about her terrible childhood, my grandmother not being part of her life, etc. I’m not getting into details because this is the Internet and it’s pointless and tasteless.
The point is that things aren’t looking good for my grandmother health wise. As for my great grandmother, who I also don’t really know, she’s just quite old. Somehow my mother ended up going up to see them (for the first time in probably 30 years), and I guess there were some “arrangements” beginning to be made. Mother has told me to call the nursing home, and I’ve thought about it (but she hasn’t given me the number anyway).
But I don’t know what the Christian response to this is. Obviously I don’t have a particular desire to go. I want to respect my grandmothers for who they are, for the fact they are fellow humans. I pray for their souls. If I thought they honestly had a wish to see me, maybe it would be different. But how can they? It was probably before I even joined the Navy that I had any contact with either of them. Do they want a stranger to come visit? Really? And the other thing is… if I go, isn’t it rather out of the blue? I would not want my arrival to emphasize to them that “this is the last chance to see each other.”
I don’t get it. I don’t understand my mother’s relationship with her mother either. But really, what is the loving response to this? What course of action would DO GOOD? Let’s be clear: I’m sorry, but my grandmothers are strangers to me. If I go, I can’t say, “Thank you for all those memories! Thank your for the hugs and cookies! I love you and will miss you so much!” I can say, “I love you,” in the sense of charity, in the sense of striving to love every person God has made, but…
What is the edifying thing to do? What is right? What is the point of never talking to someone until they’re about to die?
I do regret not having spent my time by my uncle’s side before he died, although as a teen with no car and no money, I really didn’t have a choice. Still. It bothers me all these years later that I couldn’t tell him one last time that I loved him, fervently desired to live up to his expectations, and owed him so much. If I ever accomplish anything–my little victories–learning calculus–running a marathon, living in a foreign country–everything that seemed impossible when I was a child in unincorporated Pinellas County… everything, I wish I could tell my uncle. I wish I could feel that I’d gained his approval, done as well as he thought that I could–because he did always hold me to high standards! I wonder what he would think of my friends, of my husband, and other things.
So I don’t think this is a matter of not knowing that I’ll “regret it later.” If I had feelings to express to my grandmothers, of course I would want to go express them. I learned that much from my uncle’s death. In fact, I used that as motivation to tell my husband I loved him for the first time–because I didn’t want something to happen so that he never knew. So…
I just don’t know about a side trip to Indiana.