“Who lives in the same house their whole lives? It seems crazy to think of anyone doing that now,” my sister said.
She and I were laying in our grandparents’ bed, reminiscing about how long they must have had said bed and everything else in the little two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in which they’d raised two kids.
“It reminds you how much more content we could all be, doesn’t it? How we probably all do have enough?”
The little square house on the corner lot had always been enough for my grandma. She hadn’t actually lived in it her entire life–she’d grown up on a farm half a dozen miles away–but she’d been here our entire lives and all of our dad’s.
The one bathroom across the hall from her bedroom had been enough to share with two kids–even when they were one teenaged boy and one teenaged girl.
The tiny kitchen with no dishwasher had been enough for her family of four plus her own little sister to share hundreds of meals in.
The dining room table that was probably too big for the dining room had been enough to fit three generations around when spouses and grandkids were added to the mix.
And for decades the small living room was enough to host as many as four generations at Christmas. My sister and I marveled at the miracle of space and physics that allowed all those bodies and gifts to fit into that single room; another option was never even considered.
Last night that room seemed too small and without enough seating for a handful of us. The magic, I guess, left with her. Maybe it’s all the swearing; I’m pretty sure this house has heard more cuss words in the last week that I’ve been staying here than it did in the entire fifty plus previous years.
My Grammy and I couldn’t be more different. She was slender and tan and poised. I am… not. She was practical, level headed, and content. I am restless, idealistic, and probably a touch irresponsible if I’m being honest.
I often worried I wasn’t enough for Grammy.
Not Catholic enough. Not motherly enough. Not wifely or pious or selfless enough. It’s not that she told me I was lacking, but her example set a standard I could never seem to live up to.
Well, there was that one time she told me. Jared and I had separated and she emailed to tell me I needed to go back to church, among other things. I responded with a missive about all of the ways she’d let me down, thereby letting myself completely off the hook for having to take any of her advice. She sent back one more reply: she told me she loved me and was sorry if she hadn’t always made that clear.
That was nine years ago.
We never talked about that exchange. Jared and I got back together; I never found my way back to church; we went home for Christmases and summers and I stopped in to visit her when we were in town. I called her occasionally, but not near as often as I used to, and we didn’t talk for as long or in as much depth as we had back when we were both good Catholic women. I was a disappointment.
I hated that. It ate at me and I resented that she couldn’t appreciate how much happier I was having forged my own way as a woman on my own terms. I resented that she didn’t love me as much as her other grandchildren. I resented that I wasn’t enough for her.
When my Papa died two years ago, my grief was easy. Our relationship was uncomplicated and I was simply heartbroken. I knew then, though, that a messier grief was coming. I knew that someday soon Grammy would follow her husband of 63 years and I would have to face all the things we didn’t say to each other.
I knew for over two years. I did nothing to change it, except make a few more phone calls.
There was enough time to make things right; I just didn’t use it.
I’m struggling to cope with that. I’m looking for proof that I am – I was – wrong.
She said my name and gave me one last hug in hospice. She made an extraordinary effort to come have one last dinner with me last month, despite the physical discomfort the two-hour drive caused her. She told me over and over again how great it was that my kids called to thank her for birthday and Easter cards, which she always made sure arrived on time.
She came to my book signing a few years ago and told me she was proud of me. She bought so many copies, and I found out later she sent one to my little sister when she was going through horrible crap in her own personal life. (By the way, a self-help book your big sister wrote is not an awesome gift to receive when your world is falling apart.) When Lindsey told me that I felt some of my own regret lift a little – one because I was not the only one to get well-intentioned if not particularly helpful advice from our grandma, and two because… damn, she’d thought I’d written something worth sharing.
I found a ceramic baby shoe marked with my name, birthday, and birth weight on her desk. She’d sat and wrote bills and organized events with this reminder of me beside her.
In closets and cupboards, on walls and in albums, I’ve come across hundreds and hundreds of pictures of me. Baby pictures, school pictures, pictures of me doing absolutely nothing more interesting than sitting in a chair and watching the world around me. Just as many pictures of me as of my sister and brother and cousins. And I know it’s stupid and petty and childish to even think about these things now as proof – to even be looking for proof – but I have to. I need it to be enough.
A remarkable thing happens when someone is dying, if you’re lucky. Family gathers together, to be with you and each other, and they begin to tell stories. And as the hours and days pass, the stories go further back and deeper beneath the surface. Sitting beside my grandmother’s bed at the hospice house the last week before she died, I learned something new from these stories: she worried about being enough.
We, her children and grandchildren, were shocked. Shocked to learn she worried, shocked to learn she doubted herself, shocked to imagine she didn’t know with absolute certainty how much she’d meant and given to everyone around her.
“It’s OK,” we’d whisper as the days went by and her breathing labored on. “You’ve done enough.”
I hope she knows now.
I hope she knows now what I could never seem to tell her: that she gave me a sense of home and belonging and security in a childhood where those things were often lacking. That I tried desperately in my early years of parenting to be just like her. That she and Papa are the example that my husband and I aspire to. That it is her example I’m following every time I volunteer to join a committee or show up to a fundraiser.
That I’m sorry.
That I loved her, always.
I hope she knows now, and that it’s enough. It has to be.