Apologies to my tens of readers, this post will be a departure from my usual blog fodder. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to random pictures of food and boring traning stories soon enough… 😉
Today was my grandmother’s memorial. I’m very fortunate that I’ve only lost a small number of people in my life and only had to attend a few of these types of events. They are always a little strange, but lovely in their way.
My relationship to my dad’s side of the family is complicated. He’s the oldest of six kids who all grew up in tiny house in Havre, Montana. I think being stuffed into that small space during their formative years embedded some dynamics in place that are still around today. Later on, most of his family lived close together up in Oregon, while we lived down in Southern California. So, we only saw them once a year or every other year for a few weeks in the summer or when someone came down to visit us, which was usually my grandparents.
But despite this, (or maybe because of it), I loved being around my grandmother. She was so different than all of the other grandmothers out there. First of all, she was six feet tall. She didn’t bake (and was a TERRIBLE cook) and drove like a maniac. She was also an elementary school principal and a bit more in touch with what kids were into. I loved visiting her small town of Brownsville, (fun fact: they filmed Stand by Me here), where you could ride your bike everywhere and you could recycle cans and get a nickel for each one. (!!!) One of my best childhood memories was in sixth grade when my parents flew me up to visit my grandparents. As the oldest of four, it was amazing to be an “only child” for a little while and I have very fond memories of that trip.
When I got older, our relationship got more complicated. My dad got a job in Portland when I was in my early 20’s, so they moved up into the mix. He was diagnosed with MS around this time and it was a really tough time for our family. My mom hated Portland and they’d just lost the entire support system they’d had after 20-some years in Southern California. My dad’s family didn’t exactly step up and in fact sort of pretended nothing was happening, which was tough. (I understand now how hard it is to suddenly have family living nearby that wasn’t there before and that it’s hard to reintegrate them into your life, but I didn’t at the time… )
I think one of the hardest things about becoming an adult is seeing the “formative adults” in your lives as real people, warts and all. In addition to being smart and strong-willed, my grandma could also be a bully. She needed to be in the middle of all of her kids business and if you didn’t agree with her advice then you were wrong. These were hard things to reconcile. As she got older, she also started getting more passive-aggressive and say provocative and hurtful things. I tried to chalk these up to her getting older, but in response I would retreat and not make the extra effort to attend family gatherings. So, over the past few years, I’m sad to say, I didn’t spend much time with her and my feelings going to her memorial were conflicted. It’s hard to want to spend time with someone who is difficult to be around, but at the same time you still love them and miss them when they are gone.
But listening to her peers and children share memories of her was very helpful. It allowed me to celebrate the lovely things in her personality and let go of the hard feelings. My grandmother was a lot like me in many ways (good and bad). She wasn’t afraid to try new things and have adventures. Even though she was the least athletic person on the planet, I think she was proud of the fact that I jumped into triathlons at the age of 33. (She didn’t understand why I’d want to, but she applauded the leap.) She taught me the resilience of people and that you are only as old as you act. At the age of 88, the last two activities of her life were modeling her wedding dress and attending a baseball game for god’s sake. She lived her life fully and I am inspired by that.
Rest in peace, Grandma Draeger. I’m so happy to have had you in my life.