Stone Memorial (not the one I am designing)
So, this week I have begun the project of designing a stone memorial for my grandparents, and all future generations that might also want their ashes scattered (or preserved) on my grandparents land. Normally, this would be a fun and honorable task, and it is, but for the fact that my grandfather and I had a falling-out 14yrs ago that was never reconciled. So, given that I am designing a memorial to the man who refused to even be in the same room with me for years, this is a pretty ironic task I am undertaking.
And emotional. I find as I research monuments and memorials, that memories and feelings are coming up that I have not dealt with, choosing instead to bury them a long time ago.
Mistakes were made on both sides. I was 16 almost 17 and not getting along with my mother at all. Things were incredibly stressful at our house, my family was in the middle of a move from Livonia, Michigan to Columbus, Ohio. I chose to stay in Michigan and live with my best friend and her family, eventually getting my own little place. I did not speak to my family for about 1 1/2yrs, I think. I graduated from high school and took off with this same friend to back-pack the country. At that point, I was in independent heaven. And completely in my own teenage world.
My grandfather, on the other hand, took my leaving home as a betrayal directed straight at him. He felt I abandoned him and the family and decided that he would have nothing to do with me from then on. Actually, I don't know if it was right then. It might have been when I was 19 and hitch-hiking back to Ohio for their 50th wedding anniversary and the truck that picked me up refused to drop me off, instead taking me first to Texas, then to New Jersey, etc. -all the while snorting large amounts of speed. I missed their anniversary, and my parents (whom I was finally able to sneak out and call) called my police officer uncle, who then called the trucker's boss, who then threatened god-knows-what if I didn't get dropped off in Columbus safely. That, come to think of it, might have driven the nail in the coffin.
Years passed. I became a young mom (relatively, 22), settled down a little (at least no more hitch-hiking!) and had fully reconciled with my parents. My grandfather was still unbelievably angry with me and had decided he is done with me forever. That's when it really began to sink in... I was at peace with my family, had grown-up a great deal, and he wouldn't give me the chance to show him. And wouldn't ever have the chance to meet his amazing great-grandson. I, too was hurt and angry at this point. Why was I still being punished for being a head-strong teenager? But the feelings are buried.
I almost had a chance for a little reconciliation. My sister's 16th birthday, I flew up with my then infant son. All my sister wanted for her birthday was to have a party where the whole family came. My grandfather refused because I was there. My grandmother, on the other hand, decided to come. She loved my sister dearly, and I think was tired of not ever seeing me or having met my son also. She was there, and I smiled at her and interacted with the same groups, showing off Noah so she could see. But I was too afraid/too proud to walk up to her, say I was sorry and give her a hug. And she, for her own reasons, did not either. That was the last time I saw my grandmother. She died suddenly shortly after. This is one of my only life regrets.
Now, the feelings emerge again. Painfully. It feels right to write down this regret, this memory. I have admitted this to no one. My grandfather passed one year ago. (or was it two?) Time is becoming blurry. I did not go see him, and he did not want to see me.
At this point, though, I can begin to see the situation more objectively. My grandfather as a human being, with his own triggers and issues and sensitivities. He had a very tough and neglectful childhood, was not close to his family. Two of his own children (not my mother) left as teenagers and spread terrible lies about him and my grandmother through the small town they lived in. And last, but not least, my parents and I were in a terrible car accident when I was one year old in Anchorage, Alaska. My mother, severely injured was unable to care for me at that time and I went to live with my grandparents for many months. And every year after that, we spent every lengthy vacation with them. They helped to raise me in multiple ways. And it was living on their tree farm, 100+ acres of woods, that I developed the foundation of what inspires my art today. I was allowed to roam for hours on end and became a mini-naturalist, watching animals, insects and plants. Collecting them and studying them and how they were formed. It was a magical place and a magical world for me.
So even though my decision to leave home had absolutely nothing to do with him, my leaving was the final abandonment my grandfather could take. And the incredible pride that runs in my family would not allow him to back down, even when it was no longer relevant. But I understand this now, the hurt this man must have felt. I was the grandchild closest to him, the one he opened his heart to, and I was the one who hurt him the most.
So with that I have decided that I can create this memorial, remembering the grandparents that I love and loved dearly as a child, honoring their memory and the incredible impact they had on my life. And let the hurt and anger go.
But I will, and am, taking steps in my own life and relationship with my family and my son, to break the cycle of the family "pride". That it is okay to admit when I am wrong and apologize, and be vulnerable and honest, even when it is uncomfortable. I don't always succeed, but each generation softens a little more than the last. My grandfather was funny and out-going, but also incredibly strong and dominant. My mother took steps to soften this and now it is my turn. Maybe by the time my son has children, this will be a non-issue.