Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lessons Learned

This month culminates in one final stress: a funeral. My grandmother (she of this post) is finally liberated from illness and decline. By the non-trivial age of 95, she'd seen the evolution of modern modernity. Her father immigrated to the US from the Carpatho-Rusyn area of Europe to work in the steel mines of Monessen, Pennsylvania. Her mother died when she was twelve - one of many terrible secrets. Under what circumstances did she meet my grandfather (a much older Sicilian with unconfirmed and fleeting ties to an organization well associated with that country)? How did she make her way from a small steel-town to NYC at the age of 16? How did she overcome a lineage of emotional destitution - of grief - of likely abuse?

Most stories will go to her grave with her, as per her preference. Now they can dis-integrate in the ether, myths and truths of another time interwoven.

Myths may as well be truths, for all the power they bring.

For most of my life, until very recently, I held this narrative close: My grandmother loved me more than anyone, primarily cared for me from birth until I was 3, whereupon (in true 70s parenting style), my parents (in their early 20s) moved me to England on a whim. While I don't consider myself a grudge-holder, I didn't much like them after that.

No question, my parents weren't perfect (whose are?) but they brought the evolution of their own childhoods to bear. My grandmother - herself unmothered - (along my grandfather) raised 4 boys in a one-bedroom apartment, all of whom eventually surpassed her educationally, socioeconomically, culturally. But she was the catalyst of her children's ancestral improvement. That was the contract.

My own parents, for their inability to parent me emotionally, punctuated my childhood with gifts and opportunities that make me who I am. I'm able to reframe the narrative of loss, by which I've defined myself, because my parents provided me with many things of which they, themselves, never had the benefit. Things their own childhoods compelled them towards, and which they had to wait till adulthood to achieve. What they took away from me was stability. What that gave me was resilience.

Who knows what the truth is? Perhaps it's that my grandmother, who'd raised her own brothers and sons (she had no mother, no sisters, no daughters) found the spark of her childhood self in me. Preformatively, I resonated with the sadness in her, with loss. And then, when shortly thereafter, I experienced it for myself (the terrible death of stability), I got stuck there.

I've spent much of my life in a liminal space, attached to a premise, emotionally retelling/reliving a story that isn't really mine - concocted with a conspirator who, herself, was lost. And I'm ready to move on.

I'm ready to accept that my relationship was not with the woman, but with our shared interpretation of grief. I'm ready to accept that my parents didn't intend to cause me harm, even though by their actions, they did. I'm ready to accept that the family I have in this life will be largely of my own making, not by dint of shared bloodline. I'm ready to take ownership of my capabilities, which are not negligible, and not to be withheld.

Loss is everywhere but it's a myth that loss is everything.

So, tomorrow I'm taking a plane to a train to another train (and another train) to bid farewell to the suffering of a woman who knew it well because she was never able to let it go - and to learn the lesson that sometimes letting go is its own kind of loss.


  1. Thoughts and prayers with you for your loss of your beloved remarkable GM. A wonderful insightful post about loss.

  2. I'm sending you many hugs, my dear. Thanks for telling your story, and your grandmother's! I hope the funeral is a uniting experience for the family and cathartic one for you! <3

  3. Such a potent, wise, and beautiful essay, K. "myths may as well be truths, for all the power they bring." Yes! Myths often point the way to Truth much more powerfully than facts, but sometimes a fresh perspective on the facts allows us to shape narratives that better suit the path we're on now.
    Take care of yourself over the next few days, which will surely have resonances that may shake and startle but which may also be healing and cleansing and binding. Xo

  4. I'm sorry for your loss.

  5. My condolences. A lovey written piece.

  6. Family relationships are such complex matters... So sorry for your loss.

  7. Thank you everyone for your thoughts and good vibes at this time. I so appreciate it. I'm just working through things now (which is both a huge job and the product of doing very little). It was cathartic to be at the funeral and I really appreciated mourning with others to whom my grandmother was equally important. It made me feel connected, which is something I often struggle to feel in the family context. Kxo

  8. Big hugs!!!! I'm so sorry for your loss, Kristin!

  9. Beautifully written. To the point where I want to reread, which is rare. I hope that whatever you want to have untangled, untangles.

  10. Kristin, such a potent telling of internal and external myths, and truths. Glad to hear you did feel connected, a feeling we all aspire to and don't achieve often enough. Bless you!

  11. Just reading this lovely piece.. sorry I was not aware ( missed the email) and could not be there for you at the time but will/ must see you soon to reconnect- Hil