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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vera's thing.

I was very close to my grandmother. She was very rigid - not strict - but rigid in her emotional bearing. She held back her feelings because she was born in England in 1911 and that is what they did. Since my mother had to work, she and I were always together. She was a good "third" when my mother was around, for holidays and functions. She was up for having fun and going places. We often said we should get a "fourth" meaning my mother should get re-married and then the real fun would start. I'm not sure I loved her, but I was the closest one to her and she is all I had and I miss her now that she is gone.

My grandmother moved her whole life to be near me. When I was 6 years old, I was placed with a babysitter during the half day so I could attend kindergarten. She looked after a bunch of kids and stored us all in the basement while she watched soaps, only letting us in the kitchen to eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I could not eat them. I never tried. Her house smelled. She always yelled at me. One weekend my grandmother asked what I did in the basement and I responded, "Sometimes I cry." I truly have no independent recollection of the basement to this day. My grandmother had rented an apartment across the street and moved in by the following week. We were never apart for the next 12 years.

My grandmother died in the summer of her 100th year after 8 years of prolonged illnesses that took away her ability to speak and everything else. She asked to be cremated and it was done. While she was not religious, in the fall we decided to have a Mass in her name and I would host brunch to say a few words. I sent an email advising anyone who was interested to come. A few outside her immediate circle told me they would.

Less than two weeks before the event, I got an email in my inbox that arrived with the subject heading "Vera's thing." Immediately my heart stopped. I figured someone did not know she was dead. Then my brain flashed to the literal meaning, as in, Vera's things. I thought maybe someone was telling me to remove her belongings from the nursing home. Of course! I thought, I had not been back since the night of her death and I had to collect her stuff. Silly me to forget her stuffed animals!

But I opened it and realized that it was a response to the Funeral Mass. Someone in the email chain had changed the title of "Mass for Vera Moore 24 Sept 2011" to "Vera's thing." and was telling me they would be there. WHY? I was really insulted.

So I thought about it for a week. I thought seriously and at great length about my relationship with the people involved; about what the future would be if I complained, and what I was saying about myself if I did not. Funerals are for the people still living. Everyone wants to see a loved one squared away, but truthfully the spirit has flown. I do not think we attend our own funerals. Only those left behind do. If you are going to a funeral, you are going to support the living. If they were coming to "Vera's thing.", they were coming because of me.

But it seems they could not do that without first insulting me.

So I complained. I returned the email to the offending party and - without laying blame - asked that she ensure the person who changed the title did not attend. She admitted it was she would did it and that she was sorry but it was really my fault (not sure how she got that one in there) and that she was really busy when she was forwarded the email (still not her fault) but if I still do not want her to come that she would understand.

"Don't come." I wrote. She was not a blood relative. It's hardly the end of the world. Besides, she "would understand"...right?

I never heard from her again.

But I did hear from her father.

In the end, she was not as understanding as she led me to believe. I can only imagine the conversation, but somehow her father was to blame because he had forwarded the email to me keeping the offending subject line intact. He began that he was sorry he had done it and it ended with "under the circumstances [he] and [his wife] would not attend either". What really caught me was a line in the middle, where he said that he apologized for not taking the time to craft a proper response. I was stung. Until that moment I did not realize that he had not done that. I did not realize he was capable of more than what he did write. I had never seen that side of him. I had always assumed the limited amount he gave was his best. I have been misled all these years.

What is evident is how casually they approached this function and how quickly they blew me off. They did not want to come, they did not really know Vera, but they could not lose face and not attend. However, she could not leave it at that. She had to insult me first. She changed the title of the email to that specifically because she wanted her dad to know how little she regarded me, and she wanted him to be in on the joke. There are no accidents, there are no coincidences.

Then - when she was found out - she complained to her father so that he would write that email to hurt me. And like a fool, he did. It had nothing to do with him... and yet it did. I wonder if he would have written a different email if I had a father of my own at home to protect me. I believe he would have gone to some lengths to salvage the relationship if he feared retaliation. But then, if he had the smallest amount of respect for me, he would have sent that carefully crafted response he mentioned. When I did not do the right thing and "forgive" the slight, they decided together to sever the relationship within a few hours. I know this because he "wished me all the best". This sentence always has the taste of sour grapes. It's a response best saved for couples that are breaking up. I was shocked at the heartlessness of doing this to a grieving grandchild. This was not adult behaviour. If anything, he should have passed his regrets through my mother, to prevent doing more harm.

But I was also relieved.

In truth, the relationship was faltering for some time. I had attended a number of events for these people. I had done my best to be a good guest and yet I always felt judged. There was always something I wasn't doing correctly. I did not greet ugly strangers warmly enough. I did not smile gently when the fat one openly insulted me. Their interests - no matter how arcane - were always paramount and at the cutting edge of chic. Mine always needed hours of explanation. It was exhausting. I opted to play the buffoon rather than interact seriously with them. And when that failed to protect me, I just made excuses.

I gave a 20 minute eulogy at my Grandmother's Wake and ended with a poem that brought me to tears. It was beautiful. I could only have done this in a room full of friends. I could not have them arrive late and leave early. I could not have them insulting the waitress or looking down on the table manners of others. I could not have them being "ironic" at this function, I could not allow them to be snobs. I was looking for a way out and my grandmother gave me one. Grandma is, even now, self-satisfied and smoking in the Hereafter with shining eyes and a down-turned pout that was her way of smiling when she got her way. Back when I was a child, members of the offending family had said they were related to kings and queens of Ireland. This is likely true, but my grandmother laughed her head off when she heard it. She lived poor with three sisters, through two World Wars in London, England. She knew only too well about middle-class families putting on airs.

Someday, one of them will die. And I'll wear a red dress to the thing.

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