The first week of August is always difficult for me. It is the week of my grandmother’s birthday. By now, all are aware of the significant impact she had on my upbringing and life in general. Even in her absence, her love for me continues to guide me. Yesterday would have been her 80th birthday. It is so very hard for me to imagine her at 80.
She was quite possibly the most beautiful woman that I have ever seen in my life; she will be eternally youthful in my memory. Now, I know I did not fall out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, but she was breathtakingly beautiful. She will always be 40 years old in my mind.
I awakened yesterday morning, late. Very late. It was 9 am. I NEVER sleep in like this. I sum it up to being completely exhausted from a week of travel for work, meeting school deadlines and trying to get ahead for the upcoming week. I woke up completely discombobulated and sad. I sat up in my bed, alone. Hair going twelve directions, with a half assembled “messy-bun” sitting cock-eyed on my head. Actually, messy is not even a good description. It was a “disaster-bun.” Eyes swollen. Pajama pants and a sweater; yes, a sweater. I sat up in that bed completely overwhelmed with sadness. I could not figure it out. The heaviness in my heart was unbearable. I leaned over to retrieve my phone off of the bedside table to check my messages. Maybe I would shake this feeling. Immediately, I noticed the date. It was August 4th. Grandma Dona’s birthday. Her 80th to be exact. I began to weep, uncontrollably. A wave of emotion came back over me that did I did not understand. Until, I did recognize it and understood.
Let’s rewind a bit. In August of 2004, I was preparing to send my youngest son to Kindergarten. The two older boys were gearing up for first and third grades; I was heading to Greenville College to compete my Bachelor’s in Secondary Education. In May, I finally finished my associates after 4 years of going to school part-time. The plan was to teach high-school Social Studies or Biology. Within three weeks the kids and I would be back in school, full-time.
I was married to my first husband at that time. We were just shy of celebrating our 10 year anniversary in November of that year. It is such a phenomena to me why our minds suppress certain events or memories. Full disclosure, I never believed that it was a real thing. Until one day I realized my own mind has suppressed memories over the years, in a mental vault that I did not I possessed. Yesterday, one of those tucked away memories surfaced after 15 years.
My grandmother was very ill at this point in 2004. She was diagnosed with a liver disease called “NASH.” Non-alcoholic steatto-hepatitis. No worries, it is a mouthful. Today, NASH is referred to commonly as fatty liver disease. She had cirrhosis of the liver. As far as I know, she had never had a drop of alcohol in her life. I watched this beautiful woman slip into a world of despair for 5 years. I would go every week, sometimes twice a week, to visit her. I would fix up her medications and bring the boys to visit.
As many who suffer from chronic illness do, she became depressed and non-compliant with her care. She was on a list for a liver transplant. This is a huge responsibility for the patient and the family to ensure that the plan of care is followed for the best outcomes if an organ becomes available.
She became difficult to some extent; I know now that this was the disease process and her loosing hope simultaneously. I did not understand that back then. I grew frustrated with her “stubbornness.” I had a lot going on in my life with my then husband. Our kids were growing; and we were growing apart. He was 15 years my senior. I was changing. I was not the same woman at 28, almost 29, that I was at 18. This is normal. I know this now. He however was not changing with me, he was 44 at time and set in his ways.
We grew apart in so many ways. If I were honest with myself, I am not certain that we were ever “together” to begin with. The more I sought my education and desire to be more than just a “housewife,” the more he seemingly isolated himself from me. He was not a bad person by any means, we simply did not exist on the same plane any longer. I was fairly outgoing, and he was the introvert of our relationship. Think Tigger and Eeyore trying to be married. We never really “fought” outside of a couple of isolated times throughout our 10 years of being together. We might fuss, rather, I might fuss at something. At that point I could count on one hand that I had completely “lost my shit” with him. He was more passive in his frustrations. I would go so far as to say now that he was passive aggressive. I just did not realize it back then: I assumed all was well and he was perfectly content in our life. This façade quickly faded as I grew myself outside of my role as wife and mother to three small boys. My desire to be more, to have more, to experience more was viewed as a waste of time. That was a hard pill to swallow.
I distinctly remember having a conversation on our front porch one evening after he returned home from work. It was that same summer. I asked him to sit with me. The kids were playing outside and I was rehearsing lines for a play that I was in. He was visibly annoyed at my ask. I was being my normal chatty, dreamer self. Noticing the disdain, I asked him, “what would you do if you could do anything that you wanted? What would you like to see for our future and our family? What do you dream about?” His reply was curt. Why would I waste my time thinking about things like that? Why would you? I was destroyed in a moment. I felt all of the emotions of the scared, insecure and bewildered little girl I was. It was the beginning of the end after that day.
In August of that year I was feeling overwhelmed by all my kids now being in school full-time. I no longer had “babies.” I was nervous and excited about advancing my education for a new career as an educator; my grandmother’s illness and my collapsing marriage were weighing heavy as well. Something had to give.
As we do as humans, we take the path of least resistance in some circumstances. I started backing off on visits to my grandmother to giver her space…….however, it was I who was needing space. When her birthday rolled around that August 4th 2004, I had not seen her for a couple of weeks.
August 4, 2019 could not have been further from my mind back then. I woke up that morning 15 years ago, I am assuming, like any other crazy day with three boys 8 and under.
It was her birthday. She was 65. I planned to see her and take the boys to visit. She was very close to my children and they seemed to bring a sense of peace, even if only for a moment. My intentions and plans were good that day.
Somehow, and I still cannot recall how it all went horribly wrong that day. I mentioned that the boys dad and I really did not fight. He avoided direct conflict, and would react in passive aggressive ways that I will not go into at this time.
There was a “tipping point” that day. When I sat up in my bed yesterday, all disheveled it came flooding back…….I remembered that I “snapped.”
I need affection and support. I need to feel like I am doing a good job and am appreciated. I remember trying to be everything for everyone around me, but I was empty. My cup was empty.
I recall feeling rage over something that occurred when he came home that day. One I had never felt to that extent in our marriage. I tried to get him to talk to me and he would not. He would walk in ignore me, ignore our three boys and begin to mumble about what I did not get done during the day. Never a “hi honey, glad to be home;” or “hi, kids, what did you do today.”
I felt like we were a burden to this person that was supposed to love and cherish us. Again, it was a tipping point. He had so disregarded one of our sons that evening and I was over it. I am pretty sure I said a few choice things (at this time this was SO not me). I remember following him into our bedroom as he ignored me. I jumped up and down, like LITERALLY jumped up and down; I screamed at him to simply get a response, ANY response. Nothing. Literally nothing. He stood eyes closed, arms crossed in front of me. It was as if he was teleporting to another dimension. I was hysterical. I wept. I have no idea where the kids were or what they were hearing. I did not care. 10 years just unfolded in that moment. I recall going to the kitchen and he mentioned something about needing to do dishes. There were less than a half dozen dishes in that sink; and dude…..your wife is having a galactic meltdown. Doing the dishes should not have been on the agenda.
I flung the dishwasher open, threw the few dishes in just so he would shut up about it. I know now he was deflecting.
Again, he was not a bad person. He had his own demons, I just did not understand at that time.
I was so pissed off that I could not get the bottom washer basket back in because I was really was being a jack-ass. I ended up grabbing it and throwing it, dishes and all; I broke the door to our dishwasher in that moment. Realizing what I had done I fell to the floor in exhaustion and defeat. I was sitting there, a pathetic heap of a woman, in the corner of my kitchen sobbing. He simply stared at me as if I were a freak of nature. I cannot say that I blame him looking back.
However, I was just defeated. I retreated to my bathroom, to regroup. I looked at my face. I was even more defeated. Full disclosure when I cry it is just ugly. There is no dainty, ladylike crying with me. It is a disgusting puffy eyed, snot blowing, coughing extravaganza. Sounds so hot doesn’t it?
Again, it is my Grandmother’s 65th birthday. The most important person outside of my kids, birthday was quickly passing. There was no way I could see her. She would know something was off. I could not do that to her.
I looked like Apollo Creed beat my face in the ring. It really was that bad. I decided to call her and tell her I was “sick” and that I would come to see her later that week. She answered the phone in her typical soft-spoken tone. I will never forget the disappointment in her voice; perhaps she “knew” something was not right in my voice. I like to think I do a really good job of hiding things. However, I have learned that for those who truly know me there is no “hiding.” There are only a handful of people that can recognize this in me.
I wished her happy birthday in my best upbeat voice. She told me about my mom and nephew bringing her flowers. She sounded tired. Her breathing was heavy between words. I was too absorbed to notice then. I can hear it now.
That week got busy, and then the next. It would be three more weeks.
I did not see her until I got a call saying she was rushed to the ER for respiratory distress. I dropped everything and rushed to her. I remember walking in to the ER, into her bay. She looked at me and said through her oxygen mask, and ragged voice, “I guess this is what I need to do to get you to come and see me.” I jokingly told her to hush. I told her of the boys escapades starting school and my “busyness.” Those words will forever haunt me. I walked out side and started sobbing (remember, I ugly cry). Her youngest son, my uncle who is almost 8 years younger than I (again, another story), sat next to me on the retaining wall outside of that ER and I vented about what she said. I will never forget his words, “She doesn’t mean it. She only says that because she loves you so much it hurts.” She was the one person, outside of my kids that I could not bear disappointing. I did. She forgave me; and two days later she told me that she still thought I would make a great nurse. I told her we would “talk later.” Those were our last words. That was almost 15 years ago in a few weeks.
Sometimes the trajectory of our lives is changed in a moment. I always thought it was her death that did that, for me. I realized yesterday, it was her last birthday. It was that day. That was the tipping point that put into motion so many things that have occurred over the past 15 years.
I never became that teacher. I went on a wandering path that has been filled with so many emotions and experiences. All of which brought me to “today,” and to all of the people and “things” that today holds. The grief that I felt yesterday was not so much that it was her birthday, but that I allowed a circumstance, a person to affect me in such a way that I missed out on the very last birthday my hero spent on this earth. That tipping point was a first of many to come. I know she would be proud of me, despite all of my incredibly stupid decisions since she has left this earth. I hope that she is able to know how much I love her and I how I strive everyday to be the strong, independent woman I know that she wanted me to be.