That’s my aunt, Nancy, on the left, and on the right is my grandmother, Lucy.
I’ve had a complicated relationship with my grandmother, but I didn’t realize it until I met my friend’s grandmother for the first time. Her grandmother would hug her, kiss her on the cheek, joke with her, slap her on the butt, that kind of stuff. Stuff that close friends would do. I only saw that kind of stuff in cartoons when I was young, but I didn’t realize I was missing out on anything.
Despite being relatively close to my grandmother and living literally right across the street from her for most of my life, there was always a wall between us. There was definitely an age gap, a little more than most people have with their grandparents, and there was a huge difference of interest and hobbies. I was always into video games and the internet, while she was into baking and sewing. I did adopt her interests a little bit over time, but we never really had anything else in common–except for our undying, and almost obsessive, love of chocolate.
I have many memories of my grandmother, but most of them are not good. In 2008, when I wasn’t even 10, my mother had to start taking care of her around the clock. We had only assumed we would only have to do that for a year or two, at the most, but it became eight years. Because I was homeschooled, and both my parents were gone most of the day, I had to teach myself middle and high school–but that’s a story for another time.
My grandfather has been bedridden because of nerve damage for as long as I can remember, so Lucy, my grandmother, had to take care of him around the clock. She never showed how salty she was about it until she was diagnosed with liver cancer a year and a half ago. But more on that later.
At 15, I started to learn how to drive. My grandmother and I began to go to a women’s only gym together three times a week, so until she died earlier this year, I spent a lot of time with her. Quickly, she had more and more errands to do every day, despite the lack of planning and actually telling me about her errands until she wanted to do them immediately then. So while I was only planning to go to the gym that day with her, she would suddenly give me places to take her afterwards. I hated that because one, she would never give me any warning because she didn’t care about my schedule, and two, I was going through an intense depression and anxiety (and maybe a little OCD) stage of my life and I had to know what my plans were at least a week before. So when she changed plans on me, my anxiety became through the roof.
The lack of communication and a mental thought decay lead us to discover that she had Dementia. See, when you hear someone say that, you probably think of Alzheimer’s. That is a type of Dementia, but Dementia itself is much broader. My grandmother didn’t have Alzheimer’s, but she did have Dementia, although I don’t know what specific kind. My mother decided to keep it a secret from her, so she never knew she had it even when she finally died.
After a couple years, the gym we went to closed down and Lucy was too fragile to go anyway. At this point, her mind was much worse and we would not let her drive anymore (looking back, that was the beginning of her resentment for us). So the burden of that fell on me, her chauffeur, who ended up driving her everywhere, everyday, for the rest of her life. The girl who works at McDonald’s still recognizes me to this day. Luckily, at that point, I was used to the plans suddenly changing. As much as I hated it, she forced me out of my social anxiety bubble anyway. Her words started to die as her mind couldn’t think of what she wanted to say, so I was left with helping her remember things and communicating for her when talking with other people. I became her translator.
You know, there was one time when my friends and their mom came over to our house to have lunch, and we were talking about Lucy. My mom talked about how in her childhood, my grandmother was never fully emotionally there. That set off a switch in me as soon as I heard it.
I realized then, my grandmother was a turtle. Her emotions would peek out every now and then, but if anything came close to her, she would hide back in her shell. That shell became empty as time went on as her Dementia got worse and worse.
You see, my grandmother grew up a very long time ago. She was taught by her mother to be a housewife and her only job was to please her husband, the man of the house. She hated that, but that’s what she was taught, and that’s what she did for the rest of her life. Even when there was a time when she should have divorced my grandfather (later, he did have a revelation and became a lot better), she hid back into her shell and stayed the perfect housewife. It was her only identity.
That was her biggest problem. She never showed her true emotions and was the most passive aggressive person you would ever meet. Most of that aggression evolved and became a disdain for my mother, despite the fact that my mother was taking care of her and was the nicest out of her three daughters.
Looking back, yeah, she never showed me any emotion, either. I was 17 when she hugged me for the first time, and it was so out of nowhere that my brain just stopped working for a solid minute.
That wasn’t to say that she never showed her love. She did, in sewing. Near the end of her life she sewed me a quilt, and even though you could look at it and tell half her mind was gone from the clashing color choices and the Christmas theme even though it was in the middle of summer when she made it, that’s how she thanked me for driving her around the
entire fucking state.
In her last few years, and I hate to say this, but our minds became alike. Hers was deteriorating and became similar to a brain with extreme ADHD–like my brain. I could finish her thoughts when she lost them and I knew when she was trying to think of something, because I’m in that state, all the time.
As more time went on, even though we grew closer and had more things in common, my disdain for her grew. I love my mother, but my grandmother did not love her. Looking back, it was obvious, but it only became obvious in the last few months Lucy had left–some nights that my mother hasn’t even talked to my dad about yet.
My grandmother had her favorite daughter, and her favorite daughter–my aunt Sandy–is the worst daughter of them all. You see, Sandy doesn’t give a shit about anybody. Her own kids don’t even like her. We had to pay Sandy to come up here and visit with her own mother right before she died.
But the resemblance was uncanny. Sandy and Lucy share personalities, except Sandy doesn’t repress her emotions, she takes them out on others. I think that’s why my grandmother liked her so much. She was envious that they thought the same but Sandy was able to get it out. She lived her own life and did her own things.
But I can’t understand why she hated my mother so much. She probably thought my mother was bossy, but she was bossy because she needed to be. She was bossy because my grandmother would “just so happen” to forget to take her pills. She was bossy because my grandmother could not stop and sit down, leading her to fall on multiple occasions. But my mother took care of her. She was the one who moved herself and her family to the house across the street so she could work full time for her mother. She was the one who sacrificed her children’s education for her mother’s health. She was the one who came home every day, dead tired. She was the one who took her and my grandfather to every single doctor appointment–and that was a lot. She was the one who was being verbally and emotionally abused by her own sisters.
But my mother was much more emotionally mature than Lucy was. And maybe she knew that and she hated that.
A few months before she died became the hardest. There were days where she thought she was in hospice, despite being in her own house. There were days where she had no idea what was going on. There were days where she forgot who people were. There were days where she would rant about my parents and her husband all day long, even though they were in the room with her. But she never said a bad thing about me. Every time I was mentioned, or she saw me, she relaxed and smiled.
But when she was of sane mind, she relished in all the attention she was getting. She wanted to die, and she wanted everybody else to come down with her. After a decade of taking care of my grandfather, doing his every will, it was her turn. She could ask for whatever she wanted, and she would get it. She loved it.
I sacrificed most of my high school years because of her, but my mom sacrificed so much more than that–yet, I was her favorite person in the end. I wanted to be mad about that, but I couldn’t, because she wasn’t the same person she used to be. She wasn’t even a sane person. But at the same time, I never knew who she was before the dementia.
You won’t hear people say this, but when somebody has dementia and they die, the family rejoices. They can get their lives back. My two aunts, who were almost never there to help, were sad, but they were the only ones who were. They were so angry at my mom who couldn’t stop smiling, but my family and I didn’t care. We couldn’t stop smiling either. It was the hugest relief. My mom stopped communication with them very quickly after that and they never asked why.
My relationship with my grandmother was a very complicated one, and I wouldn’t even call it a relationship. I see people’s relationships with their grandparents and I get sad, because I never had that. But Lucy gave me what I needed. Whether she knew it or not, she took my anxiety and my OCD and beat it with a stick like an unwanted child. Now, I don’t care about sudden changes to plans. I can speak to people. I’m the most patient person you will ever meet. I don’t have anger issues anymore. I don’t have those problems because dammit if I said no to taking her to space and back. But I still resent her for it, even though I started to love it.
So here’s what I always wanted to tell her.
Fuck you, Grandma, and your shitty chicken biscuit too.