Posted by: Hannah | 02/03/2014

on death, family, and introversion

My Grammie – mom of my dad-who-raised-me – died two weeks ago.

I struggled mightily with my feelings after her death. As a small child, she welcomed me into the family with open arms as the first “grandchild”, even though I was a step-granddaughter. She babysat me often. She read me the French side of the cereal boxes in her cupboard, amazing me completely; she was the first person I ever knew who spoke a language other than English, and it fascinated me.

As I got older and more grandkids were added to the mix, I started feeling cut out of things. There were undercurrents of tension there for a whole host of reasons I won’t go into in a public forum, but suffice it to say over time I drifted away from her. I always sent a Christmas card with the kids’ photos in them (and she never forgot Christmas or a birthday) but I… well, I’m admitting it now, I let hurt feelings (not always mine) and pettiness (again, not always mine) get in the way of trying to develop a closer relationship with her and thus that whole side of the family.

Friends near and far expressed their condolences, and it felt dishonest accepting them, because I wasn’t bereaved. I cried a little, but mostly on behalf of my dad, my aunts & uncles & cousins, even my younger siblings, all of whom knew her better and were closer to her. I felt like a fraud saying “thank you” for prayers and well-wishes, knowing that others needed that comfort more than I did.

On Saturday the whole massive French-Acadian clan gathered together for her funeral and a reception afterwards. The funeral home was packed. The reception, ditto. I saw family friends I haven’t seen in thirty years. I saw cousins in their 20s that I last interacted with when they were bratty toddlers who cried and broke things. My own favourite aunt didn’t recognize me at first.

But when they did see me, I got hugged. A lot. A LOT. There were tears. Lots of “oh my goodness look at YOU!” and “the last time I saw you, you were only this big!” I showed pictures of the boys to what felt like dozens of people. I promised to visit soon, to bring the kids, to friend cousins on Facebook and call aunts more often.

I felt wrapped around, enveloped, swamped. I smiled and laughed and cried and hugged. I ate lobster salad sandwiches and drank endless cups of tea. I wished afterwards that I’d taken a picture of the dozens of pairs of shoes lined up inside the front door, because Maritimers always take their shoes off when they come inside.

I posed for this picture, with all my cousins save one (my sister in a neighbouring province couldn’t make it) and some of the great-grandchildren, too.

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I came away vowing to do better, to make sure my kids know this huge clan they are related to, even though they can be overwhelming, troublesome, difficult, and messy. If age has taught me anything, it’s that everyone’s family is like that, to one degree or another. That I’ve been holding them to a standard they can’t reach. That I haven’t been accepting them for who and what they are.

I also came away completely exhausted. Depleted. Drained. Yesterday I couldn’t even get up the energy to get dressed. I spent the day in my pajamas, lying on the couch, able only to re-read a book I’ve read a dozen times before. I craved silence, peace, isolation. I felt like a flickering flashlight powered by dying batteries. My kids were out of sorts all day, probably because I was so out of it.

If I ever doubted my introversion before, consider all doubts removed. I gave every particle of energy I had on Saturday, and needed yesterday to slowly recharge. Today I feel quite a bit better and I’m sure by tomorrow I’ll feel better still.

It’s been a strange couple of days. I’m still processing it all. I’m tired and exhilarated and sad and hopeful, all at once.

Oh, and I have one more solemn vow – no organ music at my funeral. You heard it here first, folks. Especially not “Morning Has Broken“.

 

 

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Responses

  1. You are a wise one, Hannah.

    • Thank you. I don’t think of myself as especially wise but I really am trying hard to grow as much as I can.

  2. How Great Thou Art is THE funeral song on my mom’s side of the family, and it always makes me cry – it’s also a heart rendingly beautiful song.

    It sounds like an exhausting weekend. My dad’s biological mom and I were not close at all. She didn’t like my mom and so that kind of feeling got passed on to us kids. At her funeral I was actually startled when my (much older)cousin wept as she reminisced about how special Grandma was, and all these wonderful times the two of them had. I couldn’t remember her doing one single thing with me, not reading to me or snuggling me or anything. So I was like you, I did not feel bereaved, not really at all.

    • My younger cousins were completely heartbroken. Two of them did readings, as did my youngest sister. One of my cousins in particular could barely get the words out. I understood, because when my mom’s mother died I was completely destroyed, and I still miss her terribly even though she died eight years ago. But still – it was an odd, being-on-the-outside feeling.

  3. They played How Great Thou Art at Matt’s Grandpa’s funeral too – but then they played Let It Be by the Beatles, which apparently he loved. I’m with you on the no organ music. I’m trying to decide between Thrift Shop and something by the Indigo Girls at this point. 🙂
    I’m sorry for your loss, even if that loss was different from everyone else’s and didn’t entirely have to do with this woman’s death. I’m glad you reconnected with your family and I would have been in the exact same position on Sunday. I’m mustering my resources at the moment for Eve’s birthday party next week-end.

    • True story – my Grammie loved *all* music. She was especially fond of Bob Marley. I’d have loved to hear some reggae but I guess they don’t score any of that for organ.

      And thank you. It is a loss, even if (as a wise friend on Twitter told me) the language of condolence always assumes a tight bond. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say at a time like this.

  4. The way you wrote about your Grammie on FB I had wondered if you weren’t particularly close, but I’m a big believer in the loss of family being a big loss nonetheless – if it’s not a personal loss it’s still shared, or sometimes it’s the loss of what might have been. I wasn’t close to my grandmother (she preferred boys, so I was low on the totem pole), but I still think of her and am grateful for the things I’ve learned from her.

    It sounds like it was a really good to reconnect with that side of your family. I hope you find more ways to extend the connections without exhausting your introverted self. 🙂

    • I was so very careful with my words on that Facebook status. I couldn’t say nothing for fear of upsetting the cousins, but I didn’t want to post something that would cause a huge outpouring of sympathy, either. I struggled with it.

      I think they will be a lot less exhausting if I can sit down with them one-on-one. As a unit, they are a force of nature.

  5. I reconnected with some cousins 5 yrs ago or so. She looked at me and said “I always thought you didn’t like me.” I sat stunned and said “I thought you didn’t like me!”. Families are funny messes. But that’s ok, they’re family.

    Also: there are places where people don’t take off their shoes when they come inside? Seriously?

    • Yes. Exactly this.

      And yup, shoes off in the house is a regional thing. I KNOW. I was surprised, too.

  6. Really? In Canada? Everyone takes their shoes off here. But it’s Canada! We got weather!


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