Something, Part III

What do you consider to be the big question or conundrum of your life?

Is it possible to write a very different chapter in the story of my family of origin? All through my childhood, my grandmother Vera, one of the people I am named after, had an oversize role in the life our family. She and my grandfather had invested a significant amount of money in my dad’s business at a critical moment and as a consequence were the second largest shareholders in the company. After my grandfather died, this gave my grandmother enormous leverage in our family. She was powerful, charming, wealthy, imperious and self-absorbed. She was merciless on my mother—invasive, controlling and endlessly critical. I’d watch my mom collapse in on herself around my grandmother. It was heartbreaking. And when any of my siblings or I, but especially I, acted out, the worst response I could get from my mother was, “You are becoming just like your grandmother.”

Unfortunately, I am not sure I had any female relative in my family to look up to enough to say, “that’s who I want to be like when I grow up”.  I suspect that many a daughter who has lived through adolescence with her mother mutters under her breath, “I will never do it like my mother did”. I had a double load—I would never be like my grandmother and I would never be like my mother. It was only in her last days before her death that my mother let her guard down enough to be tender, droll, and loving, as I had remembered her to be early in my childhood. I am grateful beyond words for that time. I so wish there had been times like that while she was still healthy and strong and we were both adults.

Now in my middle age, when I examine the arc of my life, I see an incredible number of commonalities across the three generations. I see patterns of relationship, especially in our marriages, that are hauntingly similar. For a long time, I kept wanting to blow up what I had, rather than play out the story to what seemed like a devastating conclusion. I have been so fearful that I’d end up an embittered, guarded and controlling person, not just because of my own failings—and they are ever before me—but also because like my grandmother and mother, I have faced great sadness and you get so protective of that mended and fragile heart after a while. I am protective in ways that make me more brittle, more intent on holding on to what I can, more insistent that there are things that I simply must have a certain way because so much else has been lost.

The conundrum I face is this: do I have the time, the spiritual strength—and the openness to God’s grace—to finish out my days in a way that allows me to grow in love for my mother and grandmother, even though the ways they taught me to love were not so good, to love my own self, even though I am so much like them, and to love those closest to me, especially my husband and daughter, more truly, more kindly and more hopefully?

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