Sunday, April 4, 2010


Another Easter Day is drawing to a close, and I find myself feeling thankful. This Easter started like most have in the past, a joyful celebration in church. The kids enjoyed their time at church, and Rudy was more attentive than usual, asking me about different parts of the service for the first time. Easter actually started for me last night at the Easter Vigil service I attended at the Cathedral. As usual, it was my favorite service of the year. Those age old stories and words repeated are moving and the experience in the cathedral was a delight to my senses. Different voices, different places, but each year I find the commonality of our shared story. My grandmother came to me in the service, and I was moved to tears. A line I've heard spoken many times over, "Be what you see, receive who you are" brought things into focus for me. I awoke this morning feeling refreshed from the experience last night, and ready for this day to be here.

After church, I took my kids down to see my parents this afternoon. First, we met up with my niece and nephew out on the farm where I spent a lot of time as a child. My grandparents have been gone for well over a decade, but the farm remains in the family. I take my kids there several times a year, and we wander the same fields and paths I wandered when I was their age. I show them the cows and explain the growth of the crops in the fields to them. We fish in the ponds and I tell them about my grandmother. The woman who adopted my father when he was orphaned at the age of 6, remains the one member of my family of origin that I will miss until the day I die. She was kind, affectionate and nurturing. I loved spending time in her presence, although we often sat in silence. I would sit at her table and watch her working, or follow her outside as she completed chores. She sheltered me, cared for me and loved me. I was the only granddaughter she knew very well, and she never let me forget for a moment that I was smart, capable and special. She had a lot of hopes for me, and I worked hard to make her proud of me.

In the spring of 1997, her husband, my grandfather, died unexpectedly. He was 87 years old. For the next year, I tried to hang on to my grandmother with all my might. I had just completed college, and had begun law school. I came home often to help my father care for his mother. I taught her how to drive again, at age 86, and made sure she knew that I thought she was smart, capable and special. I loved her presence and who she was, but in the end she died in the summer of 1998 from a broken heart. Once my grandfather died, she didn't know who she was or how to be without him. I had heard stories like this, but I watched her live this one. She had no medical condition that could be diagnosed or treated, but she hurt. Her heart hurt. She wanted to go home. And ultimately, she did. I never really mourned her death. I simply shut out the sadness, and got busy with my own life. Every now and again I would think of her, but mostly I tried not to. The pain of her absence was too much to bear. At every station of my life after 1998 - graduation from law school, marriage, the births of my children, I felt her absence acutely.

In the summer of 1988, my grandmother and I experienced our only impasse. I confided in her that something awful had happened in my life. It was beyond her ability to cope. I could see it in her face, I had hurt her speaking my truth. At that moment, she was the only adult in my life I trusted. She was the only person I could think of to go to when I was scared, alone and hurting. But, ultimately she did not know what to do with my pain, my shame. It would take years for me to talk about the experience again, and to this day I struggle to find the words to be able to talk about what happened. She and I never spoke of my confession again. It created a distance between us though, an unspoken hurt. I blamed her for not helping me, and I think she looked at me differently, perhaps that was my projection, but I went from being her beloved to a stranger she didn't quite recognize.

Ultimately, she died not knowing that I had long since forgiven her for not knowing what to do, for being scared of the truth. This past year, I have been struggling with that experience, and praying for some guidance in how to deal with the old trauma, the old shame that seems to be so deep that it permeates who I am, who I have become. While therapy was somewhat helpful, I think it really has taken unearthing the "stuff" of it all to help give me some clarity and ultimately some compassion with myself. That same compassion has spilled over, and I am finally able to see the whole experience from her perspective. There was nothing in her background, in her life experience she could draw from to know what to do, how to be or who I needed for her to be in that moment. I was a scared, broken child. She was a gentle woman who had lived an incredibly sheltered life, and was very likely as scared as I was in that moment.

Today, I took new flowers to my grandmother's grave. I've been doing this a few times a year for the past few years, but today I really wanted to go there. I felt something different and wanted to physically be close to where she is. I've dreamt of my grandmother a few times in the past few months. I feel her presence with me. It seemed fitting on this Easter to go back to the church where she was a matriarch and attended for 87 years. The place she was baptized, confirmed, married and eventually memorialized, where she is buried out back in the family cemetery.

I told her I was sorry for not being able to let got of my anger with her sooner, but that I wasn't angry with her anymore. And I wasn't angry with me anymore either. That I've forgiven both of us for not knowing what to say or do in that moment. I told her that I still loved her and thought about her nearly everyday. I thanked her for loving me, for being my shelter in the storm of a lonely childhood. I told her that I so wished she had lived to see my children - her great-grandchildren, but that I understood why she wanted to leave this earth. Mostly though, I told her that she didn't need to worry about me anymore. I whispered to her that I knew she was scared for me, but she didn't need to be anymore. That I was strong, that I had survived, and that I had found some peace in this life. That the God she clung to in her lifetime had delivered me from my sorrows, and gave me such joy this Easter. That while I'm not certain where she is or what she's up to these days, I wanted her to have joy in her heart. That while I was lost for a time, I have been found. I have been able to open my hands and receive who I am.

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