It was no secret growing up that my grandmother, NM's mother, was off. Or crazy. Or "weird" as NM called her. No one hid it from me and my sister. My aunts and uncles and cousins all knew it. We talked about it. It was sort of a family joke. Nobody was under any delusion that she was a "normal" grandmother.
Both sets of my grandparents lived in the same town. Growing up, I was much closer to my father's parents, although I can see now that it wasn't exactly a close relationship either. But, compared to my mother's parents, dad's parents were the "normal" ones. We used to drive down and visit once a month or so. We'd spend the majority of the day at dad's parents' house and then drive over for our obligatory visit with mom's parents. We would spend about an hour or so there and then leave. We didn't do "family" dinners there (mom had three siblings who lived nearby or in our town.) We didn't stay the night. We didn't do anything with them. We never spent more than half a day there. I can't remember one time (although I'm sure it happened once or twice) that my grandparents visited our house. They didn't attend school plays, or science fairs, or graduations. Nm never left us with them or had them babysit. On occasion, we would stay with my dad's parents. Nm would have my sister and I go over for dinner with her parents, but we NEVER stayed there. Ever. As I grew older, I'd walk over and visit her if I was staying at my other grandmother's. I can remember dragging my favorite cousin over to visit her. He hated going.
Grandma was an odd duck to say the least and NM never tried to hide it from me. NM always spoke of how difficult her childhood had been. She always spoke of how weird Grandma was. Grandma rarely left the house. She had paranoid delusions that the neighbors were out to get her. She spied on the neighbors. She was a hypochondriac that always had some physical ailment or another (that the doctors could never diagnose). She was quiet and reserved, rather pinched really, but she was always watching and observing everything you did. She was not warm, or friendly, and rarely made an effort to actually get to know me. She complained A LOT. It was a family joke about how negative and full of complaint grandma was. She wasn't educated, but she wasn't dumb. She never worked. She was a meticulous house keeper. In fact, her home almost felt sterile. I can remember, on occasion, catching glimpses of her as a "real" person and I always enjoyed that (she had a fondness for Elvis; she liked to dance). But really, she didn't seem to have a lot of depth to her personality. She always seemed to keep herself at a distance, emotionally hidden away. I learned later that she took a lot of valium, which would explain her sedated and lethargic speech and movements. She showed little interest in her grandkids. Even the ones who lived in town with her saw little of her. They invited her endlessly to things, but she never went. Getting her to their weddings was a small feat.
Grandma ran away and eloped with my grandfather when she was still in high school. NM always described grandma's relationship with her parents as good, especially with her father. Grandma was a daddy's girl, they would tell me. I always liked my great-grandfather, but my memories of him were of after he had a debilitating stroke, so it was hard to really gauge what he was like. Great grandma was a little quirky, but nice. Maybe a touch childlike if I remember correctly. I didn't have a sense that she was not a good mother, but really, how could I know?
Grandpa was significantly older than grandma (especially considering she was still in high school). He picked her up from school one day and they ran away and got married. Grandpa had been raised by his two aunts, didn't really know his young, unwed mother, and didn't meet his father until he was an adult. He was a blue color, working man, with tattoos on his arms and a drinking problem. He was gruff and rough around the edges. He was harsh and could be scary. NM says that he was spoiled and babied as a child( treated almost like a doll, if you ask me).
Life as a young married couple was hard. They were broke and grandpa was often in the bars. Coupled with the fact that grandmother didn't like to leave the house much, life as a child in their home sounded miserable, at best. Nm talks of lots of fights, screaming, and yelling. Her father was brutish and scary and violent (although to what extent, I don't know.) The family moved around a lot. Grandma was pregnant almost immediately and was pregnant again with NM only months after delivering her first and only son. NM talks of being poor and holes in the floors and her shoes and not having enough to eat.
NM described her mother as cruel sometimes, taunting and teasing to get rises out of NM. She described her as critical and mean. She said grandmother didn't make a very good mother and NM often stepped in to do a lot of the work. NM's older brother was the "golden boy" (NM's words, not mine) and was spoiled and coddled. NM, as the oldest sister, took care of the family, did a lot of the housework and ran a lot of the errands outside of the house, as well as much of the childcare for her two younger sisters. NM remembers being left outside in the car outside of bars (in cold, snowy weather) while her parents went in to drink. Or having to fetch her dad from the bar. She told stories about having to walk home in snow and having to drag her "whiny" brother with her. I always got the impression NM had to be the tough one. She certainly likes to wear the mantle of being "strong" now....except when she's playing the victim. When she got old enough, she started chipping in money from her job to pay the bills and paid for most of her own needs (clothes, yearbooks, pocket money). Her mother was cold, neglectful, and distant. She didn't seem much of a mother at all. I often think NM married my father just to get the hell out of her parents' house.
In many ways, I sympathize with NM. It had to have been a horrible childhood. She never kept details from me. It was always out in the open and she discussed how her relationship with her mother was strained because of her childhood and I can remember feeling very sorry for her as a child. And how fortunate I was. I can also remember my father telling me that NM had "a bad childhood" and I remember it being said in a sort of "excuse" way whenever I was conflicted about NM.
In her adult relationship with her mother, NM never hid the fact that her relationship was still strained and difficult. I can remember her complaining a lot about her mother. I can remember her not wanting to visit. I remember her telling me that she always struggled to buy her mom a mother's day card, as there were no cards for "marginal" mothers (oh, the irony, as I stand in the card aisle looking for that same card.) They never seemed close. NM didn't call her a lot (and complained when she did). She didn't depend on her mother, or look to her for support, as far as I could see. But she continued to do her duty. Looking after her parents. Sending them money on occasion. When grandmother got ill and died, NM stepped in and did the hard work and arranged medications and hospital bills and stuff like that.
The day grandma died, I can remember how cold and stony NM was. She made my aunt cry because she told aunt that she should quit being such a baby about it. She had no sympathy or empathy for anyone feeling badly that day. I don't think it even occurred to her that I might be upset at all. She made it out like I was there to support HER, not like I was there to be part of a family mourning their matriarch (if you could call her that).
And really, I wasn't terribly upset. Sure, the death of a family member is never easy. But we had never been particularly close and she had been sick for awhile. One thing I think I can say for NM is that, by being open and honest, she saved me from being hurt by my grandmother. I don't remember feeling particularly sad or upset that she wasn't a "normal grandma". I just had always understood her to be the way she was. I had no expectations of her. I didn't feel I missed out. She didn't hurt my feelings. Partially, I'm sure that had to do with grandma being of the ignoring variety of narc. I don't really remember feeling too much of anything for her. Maybe a small fondness? I visited her as an adult, and didn't find the conversations horrible (as so many family members did). I didn't feel sorry for her either. I just remember feeling accepting of who she was: a nut case. She sent me letters in college, filled with complaints about the neighbors, which was as much as she'd ever reached out to me. She never got to know me. And I always felt like I'd fulfilled any obligation I had to her.
Standing by her coffin on the day of her funeral, my older female cousin and I were discussing her. No one in our family is particularly close, so it was a bit of a weird moment for me to have her confide in me. She said, tears in her eyes, "I never really felt like I knew her. I knew nothing about her childhood, her family. Did you?" Probably being a tad unsympathetic, I said, "yes, I did." And I felt I did. I asked her the questions I wanted, learned about her family, looked through her family photos. I'd maintained enough of a relationship with grandma. I didn't feel regret or loss or really anything.
Later, that same cousin (and her mother, NM's SIL, a bit of a black sheep in the family) wrote blog posts about how upset they were that grandma hadn't involved themselves in their lives more. How desperately they'd wished she'd participated more in their family. How much regret and sadness they felt over it all. At the time, I really didn't understand their feelings. In fact, I thought it was a tad disrespectful to write a blog post about what a horrible mother and grandmother she was days after she died. But, as time has passed, I can see how much they were needing to process.
And I've come to understand their point of view a tad bit more. See, my aunt's mother (cousin's other grandmother) was a very involved grandmother. She was the cookie-baking, at-all-events, help-you plan-your-wedding grandma. They knew what it could look like. Even though my other grandmother was better (by a LONG shot) she still wasn't that involved as a grandmother (she's a whole other story). I really didn't know any better. I'd had no expectations at all for my grandmother, where as, they had a whole list of things they wished my grandmother could've been. It was an interesting revelation for me.
The reason I bring this all up now, is that NM sent me a truckload of emails yesterday. She was going though old pictures on her computer and when she found one that struck her, she forwarded it to me with her comments (which sucked, by the way. Her depressing walk down memory lane was bad enough, without forcing me to witness it.)
One of the photos was a picture of me and my grandmother, when I was an adult, chatting about grandma's flowers. NM always loved this picture. I think she somehow projected an image of "family" onto that picture that really skewed the reality of the situation. She's sent me that picture many times.
As a side note, that picture (or rather, NM's feelings about it) irritates me. I have gotten the feeling in the past that NM somehow projects her mother onto me. That somewhere, in NM's deluded mind, she has overlapped the two of us. For one, I think that my NM has always used me to fill spaces in herself that her mother should have. She used me to care for her, fill her up, give her the unconditional love that she didn't get from her mom. And when I can't (or won't) live up to those expectations, her anger at her mother, and her feelings of abandonment by her mother, are also projected onto me. It really frustrates me as she seems to see us in such an overlap, like she has enmeshed me and grandma so much in her mind that we are interchangeable. And so, when I "reject" her, all that anger comes pouring back at me. She loves to tell me how much I remind her of her mother....and it's not because she's giving me a compliment, although she acts like she is.
So, anyway, this picture was labeled with the comment "just having one of those miss my mom days". Good God, spare me. These kinds of comments put me in such an uncomfortable position. Ignore it, and I'm ignoring MY mother's pain at losing HER mother. Respond to it, and I'm not only feeding her need for attention, but I'm also playing into her bullshit false memories that NM has created of her mom.
See, NOW, NM seems to remember her mother as a good, kind, supportive mom. On the five year anniversary of her death (a few months back), NM posted on FB a paragraph discussing all the wonderful things she misses about her mom. Now, while the actual examples are (mostly) true things she did like about her mom, it creates a false impression. These five (or so) memories are so horrible out balanced by the BILLIONS of shitty things grandma was as a mom. NM going on about how she "wishes (she) could call (her mom) to just chat or get support" about made me want to vomit. When the hell did that happen? Never. She created an image (and posted it for everyone to see) of a mother that was completely fictitious. Every year on the anniversary of grandma's death, or the anniversary of grandma's birthday, NM makes a big production about missing her mom (these anniversaries are months apart during the holiday season, so she usually drags it out between the two.) She posts things on FB about wanting "just one more conversation" with her mom. How a mother's love never dies. Just. so. much. bullshit. It's often hard to even look at, as it is so phony and fake. Plus, NM uses this "grief" to try and bully me into things: visits, attention from me and my kids, putting my holidays on hold to work around her (because "this time of year is so hard for me since grandma died").
Seriously, sometimes I really feel like I could vomit over it all. And yes, I know, she is doing it for attention. Clearly. So, I try to give her as little attention as I can when she behaves like this.
But what I don't get is that she actually seems to believe this shit. And I can't figure out why. Is it to somehow lay guilt at me so that I remember she could die any day and give into her demands? I know that's part of it. She loves to post things about "acknowledging people when they are here because you'll miss your mom someday." Is she trying to construct a new reality in order to deal with the mother she never had? Is it somewhat easier to completely make up a new mom, now that her mom isn't here to actually contradict her concocted version? Is she just really that diluted and mentally ill that she believes her own shit? Is it because she's never really worked through her feelings about her mom? She always seemed to have a pretty clear view of who her mom was (she never acted or stated that she thought grandma was a good mom when she was alive. In fact, like I said above, it was quite the opposite). How can she create this false mom now? It often makes me wonder just how fucked in the head she is.
Another reason I ask is because I want to make sure I resolve all my issues with my NM now. I have no delusions anymore than NM is going to be the mom I need. It was a LONG, HARD process of grieving for her. I can remember, when I first started writing this blog and someone told me that my mother clearly doesn't love me. I remember looking in the mirror, brushing my teeth, and breaking down in sobs. She had to love me, right? To get to the point of understanding that she never loved me like a mother should (that she would chuck me under the bus at a moment's notice to save her own ass) as a fucking ordeal. But I feel I'm making peace with it. And I can't imagine that I'm going to be devastated when she dies (man, that's a hard thing to write).
NM is getting older (but far from old). Am I going to miss her if something happens to her? She always threatens me that I will. What can I do to prevent myself from becoming deluded like NM and making a saint out of someone who clearly wasn't? Am I going to regret this emotional distance I've created from her? I don't at the moment. Accepting that she can not support me, can not be trusted with my thoughts, feelings, and details of my life, keeping her at arm's length has giving me a degree of peace I've never felt before. But when I watch Nm behave like she is and....well, it freaks me the hell out.