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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Goodbye Grandma

It goes without saying that it has been far too long since my last cathartic moments of writing a few willingly read. There is definitely a need to write more, but time always seems so limiting. After moving back to SLC it has become ever apparent that I need to return to some of the basics after the adventure of the last two years chasing love.

Time is still limited so this will be a no frills post. No multimedia, videos, pictures, just words on a page about two lives that intersected across two different generations.

Just shy of 95 years Grandma Visser passed on. For those who have read the past or know me personally, you know I am not a religious man anymore. I choose a more humanistic approach to life. I believe that we have this life to lead and we should live it to the fullest. Enjoy each moment. That is easier said than done. Yet, we should push for it. As I work in a less-than-fulfilling job I see the need to change. I join the ranks who believe you should do what you love. Hopefully the groundwork I am preparing is the foundation of my pursuit of the ideal. I see what challenges my grandmother faced and I am grateful for the example of endurance and perseverance.

Back to the issue of religion, not directly, but as it influenced the happenings of today. Grandma has been preparing to die for years. It isn't that she had no interest in living or decidedly did not live, it is that she was ready for the day she hoped leave behind the trials of this life. She was a convert to the LDS church and I believe she had Christian-based faith. I do think she hoped for peace in death, whether she bought the whole eternal life concept or believed otherwise, I cannot fully attest.

She was the product of the Great Depression. When she owned her own home she lived frugally. She enjoyed a great garden, good food, proper kitchen tools, and comfortable furnishings. She didn't live extravagantly. She often commented on the waste of modern society. She used, re-used, and re-purposed anything she could. Who needed Tupperware when there were perfectly good empty sour cream containers? She re-purposed pots, wire hangers, and all sort of things. It wasn't hoarding and she kept a spotless house, but she also didn't just throw things out or buy stuff just to have stuff.

She had a flashlight from my grandfather that she kept for 40 years. She saw no sense in new-fangled LED lights. Many have told me I need to just get rid of my dad's truck. Its old, needs some dents fixed, is out of style, and lacking shiny "curb appeal." Aside from the sentimental value, I simply see no reason to replace something or waste a perfectly good working truck. This is one of the great lessons passed on to me by generations. The truck, like the flashlight worked and there was no reason to fix something that wasn't broken. In her later years she also practiced such ideology with people, especially me.

I dreaded the events of today. My ex-wife had voiced her plans to meddle and attend all family events surrounding the funeral. Boundaries and respect seem to be lacking. Then, of course, there would be my family. Family is a loose term these days. With the few conversations I had with Grandma while away in Tijuana/California, it was obvious I was as necessary to my family as a smoke detector in a smoker's lounge. She had been told that I was in Texas or wherever. With her failing memory I didn't blame her for being confused at my correction and the families misguided gossip of what I was doing. I knew today would be a day where my family would put on the great, fake Mormon smile that my mom had perfected and show superficial interest in my life. It would either be that or simply pretending I wasn't in the room. I have given up the Mormon smile with my family. I wasn't there to fight, but I was not there to divulge details of my life there otherwise had no interest in. I had no reason to actively add to the gossip. Yes, it is cathartic to vent, even if it all seems negative. I had wondered if I might have just had a bad attitude in the past, but, as with the last several times Iv'e attempted re-join the family, I was once again reminded of how unnecessary and how unhealthy that could be.

We followed the usual Mormon menu of funerals. Prayers, sacred metaphors, etc.

The funeral began and my brother-in-law conducted. He read the obituary that was well written, when I read it online. He read the survivors names and their spouses as husband or wife. When it came to my name he apparently forgot how to say husband when it came to Endhi's name. "Partner" was all he could muster. It was only the pronounced, public reassurance that I didn't fit with these people, regardless of how biologically connected we might be. I had been asked to be a pall bearer, but that is all they could risk. There would be no other form of participation for this "black sheep." I wasn't shocked. I was to be seen and not heard. I showed up for the funeral out of respect for my grandma and her alone. I knew the service would hold little for me in the words said or the rites done.

I heard the words uttered, but I took the time to also hold my own private service. I took time to internally reflect on the life of the lady I called grandma. We didn't always see eye to eye and I steered very clear of engaging in any political discussion. When she needed say her peace I just let her before trying to re-direct to a recipe or memory of her life. In my teenage years and young adult life we butted heads on various family topics. She had her moments of bitterness and I had my moments of inherited bull-headedness. I heard my brother and sister sugar coat aspects of her life. I heard claims a life lived without complaints or showing weakness. It was a lie. I had heard occasionally of her suffering. There were times that she cried.

So what? Big deal? Why have we become a society where showing no emotion, unless it is happiness (real or otherwise), is the only thing acceptable? What courage is there in hiding the reality that life isn't always easy? Why is it admirable that someone not show humanity when enduring or remembering tough times in life? Unfortunately Mormon culture is all to often the culture of "smile like you mean it (and take Prozac if you don't)." It doesn't address the here and now because in some unknown future Jesus will make it all OK. Screw that idea. Live for the here and now. Sure, don't wallow in sorrows forever, but feel the pain, and the triumph, in life. Seize the day!

My grandmother survived her husband and all 3 of her children, not by mere years, but decades. She was widowed far longer than married. Life was lonely and rough. And she didn't just grin and bare it. She worked hard and was engaged in life. She made the most of what she had. She didn't let go until she was ready to. She was a stubborn, opinionated, sometimes prejudiced, sometimes bitter, tough old bird. And then there were the other times, more recently in the years closer to her death.

There were the quiet moments where she expressed how she saw no reason to love me differently even if she didn't quite grasp it all. Moments of surprise when she took my first boyfriend aside and said "be good to my grandson." And the talk about 2 years ago when I asked her directly about whether she knew of any other gay people in the Visser or Oliger line. She didn't, but it led to a frank discussion on her views. They were surprisingly progressive. They were views of love and desire for my happiness. They were everything I had hoped to hear, but didn't expect. The icing on the cake during this unexpectedly honest and frank discussion between two very different generations was the re-assurance that her son, my father, wouldn't have loved me any different had he known before his death. There was her admittance that she had no idea where my brothers and sisters had gotten the idea that their behavior was acceptable. We both agreed that Dad simply would not have stood for it.

She was my unexpected ally and only connection remaining with my family. I imagine funerals will be about the only time I see them. Sure, I wish that they would have reacted differently. I miss the times that were good. Today was a reminder that those times had passed and now may not ever return. Even with the memories of better family times, I accept life as it is and choose not to subject myself to future brow beatings at other family events. I have more self worth than that. I have my grandmother's example of courage and hard work to push me forward.

While there was much public display of sorrows and memories tinted with the overarching Mormon theme, I had those quiet moments to mourn and feel the pain of losing a woman I loved and respected. I lingered a bit longer at the graveside. After my family had left it was time to bring a close to the formal mourning as I broke down spontaneously in my husband's arms. There is a necessary cleansing that happens with tears. Genuine tears, not the public displays for sympathy, but the deep release within your soul, shoulder shuddering type of tears.

I will miss her. I will miss the hours and hours of conversations, many times repeating the same stories. I will miss talking to her about food and some new recipe I tried. I will miss hearing her say "I love you" and know it held no preconditions or social expectations. I will miss the connection to my father that she represented.

I'm not sure I have fully accepted it. It will take time. I have already had moments today when I thought of something I would share with her next time we talked. While not unexpected, it is strange to think of her being gone. At nearly 95 she has just simply always been there. She was a pillar in everyday life, even if we didn't talk often enough.

I will hold dear the memories, good and bad, of life with Grandma. I will work to honor the example of frugality and hard work she gave me. I will celebrate the peace I feel she has found in a life well lived and a passing accepted.


Actually Textual said...

That was beautiful. I am religious, so I do wish that God bless your grandmother, your hubby and you.

Trev said...

I was just wondering the last few days how things had been going for you; glad to get an update.

The funeral and family issues sound tough, but, wow, your grandmother sounds awesome. I love hearing stories about understanding older relatives like this--they do not seem to be uncommon. I suspect experience often gives people a certain sense of pragmatism and focus on what's really important.