I Am My Grandmother’s Granddaughter.

I Am My Grandmother’s Granddaughter

It is Samhain and as much as I love the decorations and the fact that I can openly proclaim I am a witch, it is honoring my ancestors that drives this festival. Every route to my ancestors begins and ends with my deeply beloved grandma.
A decision by my parents when I was six months old to have me live with my maternal grandparents altered the course of my life forever. I ended up living with them for six years and after that every holiday, most weekends and summers even after they moved from that beloved tiny town. We would come into Milwaukee for family dinners ( my fathers very large family) and holidays. I was always with my grandparents and when they left any event I usually went with them.

My grandmother was the source of all herbs, potions, lotions, helped deliver a few babies and dealt with farm animals in Hustisford, Wi. Doctors and veterinarians were very scarce in that tiny town, especially when she moved there in the 1930’s. Divorced, a single mother, excommunicated by the Catholic Church during The Depression she managed to forge a very good life for both herself and my mother. Not an easy task. Small towns throughout America held deep bigotry against Catholics, excommunicated or not. It was my mother that was dealt the worst blow from that bigotry. An incident that was never forgotten and left the young man who delivered it with a justly deserved miserable life. My mother was terrified of her father and my grandmother who divorced him because of his unacceptable treatment of my mother, was not willing to let her continue to suffer. She shrewdly offered her ex-husband to give her a one time payment and then to never see my mother or her again. Oscar’s lifestyle was hampered by a having a child, my mother, once born, he had little real interest in, other than scaring her, so he willingly accepted. Grandma then had enough money to become the proprietor of the Lone Pine Tavern, the only place you could get alcohol for many miles. She had all the locals throughout the year. In the 1930’s people did not bring alcohol fifty miles from Milwaukee or many more miles from Chicago with them as they opened summer cottages on the islands in Lake Sinissippi , including my father’s very large family. All of them would give her orders each week for what they wanted. She remarried in 1938 to my very dear and beloved grandfather, a lapsed Lutheran, setting tongues to wag. He would be the man I would come to judge all others by. Only one has truly held up.

My grandparents understood how to let me have what they called “a thinkabout ” . A quiet loving environment where I was allowed days before answering questions or talk about what bothered me. As an adult I realize both how rare and truly special it was for them to respect my introverted nature that wanted time to look at all possibilities and to really let all my feelings surface before answering questions or asking ones I had. They were quiet people who spoke volumes in touches, glances and a word or two. I learned about real love from them. Truth is without them I would never have learned nor known how to truly be happy or create a very happy marriage.
Any months when the lake was not frozen, was filled with many moon lit row boat rides, especially full moons. In that boat grandma would fill me over and over with her stories of Baba Yaga, Freya, Frigga, Skadi and host of other Goddesses that she only shared with me. She would repeat my favorite fairy tales, ones that were “Cinderellaesque”, without a prince, but always with a girl who usually had a doll in her pocket and Baba Yaga. She told me tales of a princess who had a glass heart that was broken so her heart would become larger. Every story I know about Faery came from both she and my grandfather who was both a believer and storyteller in his own right. They guarded and grew my empathic abilities, took me for walks in the woods almost daily. I learned about life and death as we would walk through the ever changing seasons with plants that appeared dead to only return each spring and find baby animals or dead ones. Grandpa insisted that even very young children should understand the cycles of life and death thus insuring I would fear neither. Both of them helped me understand land spirits and elements including the stillness of bitter white winters. Grandma insisted that if I wasn’t at least a little dirty, stained with grass, trees or plants, wet from the lake or snow and without my beloved raven during the day and owls that nested in the maple tree outside my bedroom at night, I simply had not had a proper day. She would buy the odd pieces of any china that neighbors were selling. Tea, supper was filled with miss matched china that no one worried if it got broken. Nothing is more magical than when adults trust a four year old with real china, pearls and a beautiful dress my Aunt Celia would have recut around a stain or cigarette burn and sewed just for me to wear as I pleased. Grandma was comfortable with eating baked cabbage with neighbors as she was eating a twelve course dinner. By the time I was six I knew how every fork, knife, spoon and even the odd escargot thongs were to be used. It was her belief that I should be comfortable in any setting with any combination of people that gave me great confidence to go anywhere, make friends from every walk of life and become whatever I wanted, if only for a day.

Grandma loved their home. She had five gardens that included a large wonderful vegetable garden and lots of wild berry bushes. She had every kind of tree that would grow in Wisconsin. I believed she could grow anything. She also had a second structure, “house”, my favorite, that was built by my grandfather and neighbors who had never found a way to thank my grandma for all the help she had given with her healing ways and my grandfather who never turned off anyone’s electricity regardless of whether they could pay or not when he owned the electric company during a good part of The Depression. The neighbors had lots of construction materials and skills. A few of the very rich ones bought hot house glass and any materials that others did not have access to. They built a house that dried herbs, stored herbs, winter food, and a hot house that grew plants and flowers year round. My grandparents were able to do a smaller reconstruction of that house when they had to move to Milwaukee because of my grandfather’s health.
A single significant memory; when news of Bloody Sunday reached my Great Aunt Celia, the matriarch of my father’s family, my grandmother brought her an Easter Lily from her hot house. A moment that still finds me overflowing with tears and love. While my grandmother on the whole disliked my father’s family for very good reasons, she and my Aunt were best of friends and the two women I could completely trust with anything, I mean anything at all.

My grandmother came to live with us after my parents divorced. I would love to tell you that it was wonderful. It drove that final wedge between my mother and me and left my grandmother having to prove daily that her daughter came before her granddaughter until the day she had enough. And grandma squarely told my mother if she forced her to make a choice it would not be her. My mother unable to discuss anything regarding her decisions, feelings, this very weird sibling rivalry she felt with me, to dismiss us both. I began eating with my grandmother in her room. It gave us unlimited private time and left us both grieving the loss of my mother in our lives. It was my grandmother who told me to move as far away as I could get and not to look back. She assured me, my mother would not come to visit and would treat me as a distant guest when I would come home to visit. I ultimately decided that was far better than futile attempts to get her to work this out. My sorrow was more for my grandmother than me. My mother had been the center of her life and she did not deserve this.
My grandpa died when I was ten. It was shattering for me and it was my grandma who sat with me in our grief for all the years after. She did not die until March 15, 1984. It is an inconsolable grief , the kind that you simply have to carry for life.

Blessings,

Bridget Robertsonimage

January 2,

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There are a few events that make clear dividing marks between before and after. There is no bridge that can be constructed to get back to or even visit that before. A select few life events will change your very core in irrevocable ways. My soul was and still is altered without my ever having given consent.

January 2, is the anniversary of my first husband’s death. He had been diagnosed two and a half months earlier with pancreatic liver cancer. Oncologists kept calling it very serious. My mother, a retired nurse and my stepfather a retired doctor were both given access to his records. It was my stepfather who used the words “end stage” from the beginning. My mother, in full nurse mode made sure I could give insulin injections, change bile bags on a liver stent that never quite worked, change out IV’s, checking the line flow that included anything from from antibiotics to feeding bags. She had everything scheduled for me and there was a visiting nurse allowed by my insurance to stop in for fifteen minutes twice a week. I had a full handle on all necessary home hospital equipment as his needs changed very rapidly. I had worked out getting him to daily chemo and every other horrid test and surgery they proposed. I knew most, if any of this would not help him. But, it was his life and his decision. It was out of love that I supported any one he made.

On December 22 hospice took over, a nurse was now three times a week. I was able to get someone to assist in his bathing and personal care twice a week. I went out on full, no pay leave. I had been able to work very few hours per week until then. His family kept insisting I was going to lose my job…as if that mattered. Or tell me I would need to wait to take time for “the end”. You have no idea what it took to explain to them that it had been the end since the diagnosis.

When you midwife someone you love through death, being there daily with very little help, reality changes. Forever. Death moves in with you without invitation and pulls up a chair throughout each day. I knew to make it an ally. It took very little time for me to know he would die soon. Death would now  be my companion for life. Not because he was dying, because death initiates you as its life companion.  I was and am acutely aware of it beside me for all my remaining days in this world. Death serves a purpose. Life is suppose to have a beginning, middle and ending. In my religion the Goddess that midwifes you into life, always stays with you through it including midwifing your own death. Since then,  I both see and communicate daily with her.

If I believed in a devil it would be grief. It pays no heed to it being a quarter of a century later. Nor that I am very happily remarried. It made that demarcation of before and after. It runs a course that has very nasty timing. Rogue waves would be easier to predict. The only sure thing is that it will come out every January 2. The body is how grief keeps score. Time does let dates slip from your mind, but the body will not. If I am lucky unexplained tears will be limited to this one day. Other years it starts sometime in December. As I search for the cause of this body weeping, eventually I consult a calendar and from deep in my soul the date of his death with bubble up. Grief is tenacious. It will grip you at will and nothing will hurry it until it has completed this round. I have learned to sit back and brace my cells while it runs this emotional roller coaster in my body. And it is my body that bears the brunt of these visits. There is a large crack somewhere inside me that allows entry and both generates and receives the blast of pain, loss and drowning. None of this is about my first husband. No, it is about what happened to me as I focused solely on his death assuring myself I could process my own feelings at some future date. It was a horrible bargain to make. I had no idea that the future date would be a recurring one.

I now have cancer. I promise you no matter how terrible my days may be, this side of the fence is a cake walk compared to being the spouse care taking. I have an exceptional husband. One who both knew and fully accepted that my old grief mixed with my own cancer would be debilitating at what is suppose to be the ” happiest time of the year”. When he worked in retail it was easier . Anyone who works during Christmas season in retail, pretty much hates the holidays by the the third of December. There is no pressure to be happy. Since leaving retail, he still watches and comforts me when that grief makes it chaotic appearance. He is rare and I know that.

Grief will move on. For a few days it is being stuck in glue that demands tears, quiet and endless patience as it racks me with that pain and mental mixed with emotional agony that has no basis in my disease. No, I can’t find all the words to explain the debilitation. There is no treatment other than deciding to head straight through it. Anything else only makes it worse. Grief also has many other faces. In the midst of this pain I can find myself feeling a strange invincibility. It is a dangerous yet necessary task to live that out as well. Other “insignificant” life chores will pull at you. In some absurd perception, you refuse to do them with a daring, demanding them to attempt their worst. This part of grief knows nothing would be worse than what has already happened. It is a boldness born of living through a terrible event that causes this recklessness. I did tell a Senior Vice President at my job when I returned the first year there was nothing he could do including firing me that would come close to what I had been through and challenged him to do whatever. He didn’t and stayed wary of me for over a year. I don’t recommend that response, but it may be inevitable to get others to understand grief. Oh, and honestly there is no one, no seminar, no therapy, herb, essential oil, no spiritual guide, book , technique, meditation or wisdom that will make this better.

It’s January 2, and this is what is.

Bridget