Sundays with Grandma

On Sundays we almost always went to Grandma’s after church – she warned us that she’d be “pushing up daisies” soon – so we better be there. The family matriarch – Grandma was petite, but mighty. She could swing a cleaver down through meat and bone and had no problem lopping off a chicken’s head for dinner.

Our cousins came too on Sundays so she’d be making lunch for eleven. The wives of her two sons (my mom and Aunt Nancy) weren’t allowed to cook, but were expected to wash dishes after, while the men watched football. Occasionally there were mini-dramas – my mom was always irritated that my dad put Grandma first and my normally genial Aunt got so mad once she didn’t come for a month. My Grandma shrugged it off, said my Aunt “had a corn cob up her ass.” Apologies weren’t her style.

Us kids didn’t get involved – instead we hovered as homemade noodles made with lard were being brought to a boil, steaks sizzled in the broiler, and the smell of butter, cinnamon and brown sugar melting into baked apples wafted through the house.

I only saw my Grandma retreat once. She was making her summer treat – fresh sliced cucumbers sprinkled with salt and sugar, sweet and savory – when we heard the sound of wheels on the gravel drive. Grandma looked out the window and saw a Buick park. Two boys in stiff suits stepped out. Grandma shouted – “Jehovah Witnesses. Hide!”

We ducked down and held our breath until doors slammed shut and we heard the car back out. Then my Grandma winked at me and smiled.

I Want My Mom Back – wrestling with the “what-if-only’s.”

I’m never gonna get it. Why’d my mom do this to me? I know she did it to herself, but it feels like she did it to me, to us. Her loving family, her close friends and her boyfriend.

The best advice I got was from a high school friend of my mom’s who lost her son to suicide as well. She said: “You will never understand – that darkness – they were in. And there’s a hole. It gets better. But there’s always a hole.”

I keep thinking “my mom shot her head off” over and over and over. Conversations about how we could still have open casket because “her facial features are still intact” haunt me. At my brother’s house I had nightmares of my mom’s wraith coming across the barren fields. It had hollow black eyes and no spirit. Because that thing – that darkness – that took over my mom was not her. It was too many depression/anxiety/thyroid/sleeping pill medications without timely follow-up + loss of rational thinking from a 20 year relationship with an abusive alcoholic man.

I’ve never understood how my mom could teach me to be so strong and to stand up for myself, but lacked the ability to sprint away from a heart damaging, brain atrophying relationship.

At the funeral I wanted to wail in the church – “Why create damaged tortured creatures, God?! Prove your power – RESURRECT MY MOM NOW! It’s almost Easter, for Christ’s sake.

We all have moments of depression, but how does it take over when you have so many good things going for you? Why didn’t she reach out? I spoke to her the day before – why didn’t she say anything???? Seriously – what the fuck??? What if I’d have sensed something? How do you know? I study recent pictures of my beautiful mom trying to look in her eyes – is there profound sadness there – despite the smile?

Patients on an array of medications for depression need to be forced to go to counseling and not just given a magic happy pill – that have side effects of doing the opposite. And families need to attend counseling too, so we know what to look for, how to see the truth behind the lies.

I want my mom back! Mother’s Day cards on display cut deep. Sometimes I can’t breathe. I’m afraid of the dark again, like a child.