This may prove to be the most difficult blog post I have ever attempted to write. I have wanted to do so from my earliest days of blogging, but I have also been afraid to write these things. Why? A few reasons. I have been afraid of the emotions it would stir up in both me and my sister. I have also been afraid of what would happen if any of the people mentioned (I will not be using any of their names), one of whom is an attorney, read this piece. I have had visions of being taken to court for defamation of character or suffering some other hideous consequence from sharing this awful part of my personal history. In the hopes that fortune really does favor the brave, I have decided to go ahead and write it. Who knows, maybe only my eyes will end up seeing these words.
Since some of you may not know the backstory, here it is in a nutshell. After my father killed my mother and Liz and I spent several months in an orphanage in Chicago, our distant cousin in the Denver area heard about us from his mother. Despite his wife not wanting to have us, he sent for us to come and join his family. In short order, his wife grew tired of Liz and sent her to live with her mother. We called her Gram just like her grandkids did, even though she was not our blood relative. After about two and a half years, the wife decided that I was too bad and too "crazy like my father" for her to deal with, and she sent me off to live with Gram as well.
As tends to happen, the relationship between Gram and I changed as the years wrought changes us. She was essentially my parent despite the 53-year difference in our ages, and she took care of me. She was the one who yelled at me when I did something wrong, and she was the one who woke up in the night to comfort me when I was sick. As I entered adulthood firmly convinced that being single was what fate had in store for me, our roles began to change. Her body was wearing out, and I tried to take care of her in whatever ways I could. This was a challenge because my body had also begun to weaken from lupus. But we managed to live together in a way that worked for both of us. For years, her children told me that they were glad that I was there; they didn't worry as much about her because she wasn't always alone.
And then Gram's health got much worse. Suddenly I was a pariah and an untrustworthy outsider. Her decline in health at the age of 90 was entirely my fault in their eyes. I was neglecting her. I didn't feed her enough. She was dehydrated and it was all my fault. Little did they know that I got up in the mornings and made her breakfast every day. I did an exercise routine with her every night, trying to keep her arms and chest from being as weak as her arthritis-wracked legs were. I went to the store and bought her adult incontinence supplies so that she could drink enough water and not worry about being able to get to the bathroom quickly enough to prevent an embarrassing accident.
When she went into the hospital, I was told that I couldn't even tell my sister that she was declining, and that she was not allowed to come into the house. They didn't want either one of us stealing any of Gram's things, they told me. Her son told me that he had set up the furniture and other things in certain ways so that he would know if I had moved them to get into her things. I told him that I already had; I needed to strip and remake her bed because she had lost control of her bladder while they were there earlier that dreadful day. He was furious that I had stripped the bed and taken the clean sheets out of her dresser! I can only imagine the horrible things that he would have said about my lazy and slovenly behavior if I had left the wet sheets on the bed. I was a liar and a thief and every other thing you don't want in your home or family.
Every day, there were angry comments and accusations. They couldn't see that it was simply the ravages of time and years of wear on her body that had taken their toll. It had to be someone's fault, so it was mine. I began to look for an apartment because they made it very clear that I was no longer wanted there. I would get up in the morning and pack up some of my things or shove them into trash bags and haul them to the curb. Then I would get dressed and go to work, after which I would go to visit Gram in the nursing home. Sometimes I even went there before and after work. Gram knew how they were treating me. She told me that I needed to protect myself by finding a place to live as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, I kept purging and packing my belongings while her children went through all of her things and began to box up and dispose of her life.
I remember one day hearing them packing things up and saying things like, "Why the hell does she have this?" My heart was breaking at the certain loss of my mother figure and my home. I was not a person who ever prayed for anything because I felt unworthy to ask for assistance from Heaven, if Heaven existed, but I heard an impassioned plea escape my lips. "Lord, whatever you need me to learn from this terrible experience, please let me learn it quickly." As I continued packing up my own life, my heart told me my answer. Even though these people that I considered my family for most of my life were being so indescribably angry and full of hate towards me, I would never hate them back. I would continue to love them as human beings even if they could not treat me like one. This is a philosophy that remains with me to this day. I may not like someone, and I may despise their actions, but I love them as a fellow human being.
When Gram's death loomed closer, they moved her back into her home on a hospital bed. As luck would have it, I had found an apartment and would be able to move into it the next week. Amazingly, I had scheduled a week of vacation three or more months before this, and it happened to be perfectly timed. On a Wednesday, I came home from work to find her three children talking in her bedroom. Gram was lying on the bed with her shirt wide open and her breasts exposed, and nobody was doing anything for her. I was furious. "What the hell is going on here?" I snapped. They replied that she kept undoing it and so they weren't going to try any more.
I calmly buttoned up Gram's shirt out of respect and love. I told her, "Grammie, you need to keep this buttoned up, all right?" She smiled sweetly and nodded, and never unbuttoned it again. I told her that I had found a place to live and that everything would be okay. She smiled a beautiful smile and reached up her hand to stroke my face. "I love you," she said. I told her that I loved her too, not caring whether her children heard me or not.
When she knew I would be safe, she refused to have oxygen and set about the business of dying. When I came home from work on that Friday, her children were talking about how it was taking her so long to die, as if she was doing it wrong or something. Within a couple of hours of me getting home and telling her that it was okay for her to go, she died. After her body was removed, one of her daughters asked me if I would be afraid to sleep there that night. I replied that I was never afraid to be in that house, and I wasn't going to be that night either. In the night, I swear I heard her footsteps walking through the house. Her steps were sure and there was no dragging of her feet due to the crippling arthritis. I smiled and returned to sleep, knowing that Gram was no longer in pain.
The next day, I started to move my things to my new home. A number of boxes had already been moved to my sister's house to make things easier. I came back from the apartment to get another load and was greeted with the ultimate betrayal. Two of Gram's grandsons were changing the locks less than 24 hours after her death. They weren't even giving me a chance to have access to my own things. I was hurt and ragingly furious. I am pretty sure I used about every curse word in my arsenal at them because of this cruel and insensitive treatment. I called my sister for help and grabbed the most important of the things that were still there.
When my brother-in-law heard how they were treating me, he was furious. Even though we have never been close, he was angry at the unfair treatment I was receiving. He was afraid he would do something reckless, so he called the police to be there and keep things from getting out of hand. One of the cousins was going to appropriate a portable evaporative cooler that my brother-in-law and sister had given Gram, and he made sure to get it out of their possession. I got as much as I could on one trip and left many things behind.
One of my cousins told Liz that she would be dead to him from that day forward. The other told my brother-in-law that if he ever saw him again he would kill him. Neither one of them cared what happened to me. I have wondered a few times who got the benefit of the two televisions and two VCRs that I had bought for Gram and had to leave behind. Who got the dozens of books that I didn't have time to move before I was locked out of my own home? I reminded myself that they were only things. What had really been stolen from me was my family.
At Gram's funeral, Liz and her family and I sat in the back of the church. When Gram's family walked behind her coffin to the front of the chapel, Liz and I stayed behind. My neighbors said, "Go! You two are her family too!" We stayed in the back with the rest of the neighbors in attendance. When the time came for the mourners to pay their respects to the family, the cousin who offered to kill my brother-in-law and his mother turned their heads the other way as we walked by. I laughed out loud because it was childish, and I knew my heart was in its proper place.
At the gravesite, members of the family were taking some of the carnations and baby's breath from the spray on her coffin. I took some home as well and set them to dry in a vase on my dresser. I returned to work a few days later with a broken heart and went about living my life. Most of my family was gone. The one cousin I never expected to do so reached out to me and told me that she had told her father how wrongly he had treated me when he bragged to her about what he'd done to me. After all, she had told him, I essentially lost my mother too. I couldn't see her for years, though, the pain was too strong.
Some days I would be driving somewhere and find myself with tears streaming down my face because of losing Gram and because of the horrible ways her children had behaved. I felt sorry for her because they had been the way they were. One very sad day I was watching tv in my bedroom, eating dinner in front of one of the old movies that living with Gram had enabled me to love. I took my plate to the kitchen and came back to my room to find the flowers from her casket lying on my bed. I wept from the feeling of her being so close but so far away. I wept for the loss of a family that I had loved for decades. And I went on and rebuilt my life and healed the wounds of betrayal.
Postscript: A couple of weeks after Gram's death, I drove down the main street adjoining the street I had lived on. I glanced down toward the house and saw one of the people who had gladly accused me of thievery had violated the rule that all three children would only go into the house together. She was carrying out a laundry basket filled with things that she had taken while the others weren't there. Yet I was the one suspected of being a thief.
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