OK, I did it. I put myself out there - let's see if I manage to see it through. I've emailed my Aunt to help me determine if/when I can interview my grandmother.
So let me back up. My father's mother died the summer after I graduated from high school - I was 18. There was no money to send all of us to the funeral, so only my father went. At some point in the past, my mother had "smuggled" some stuff out for us kids as momentos since everything was picked over by family in Hawaii. Not one item came from them directly. And apparently we weren't mentioned in the will either. This just highlights some of the lighter offenses of my Dad's family against us, and they wonder why I don't keep in touch them?
Knowing what I know now about my step-pig-fucker-"grandfather", I'm more neutral about not getting to know my paternal grandmother. What kind of person was she to allow so much abuse in her own home? Still, since the moment she died, it has been a serious regret of mine that I didn't get to know anything about her. When she died, I was just coming into adulthood, so it was her death that made me realize how much I was going to miss by cutting them out of my life.
And now that I've cut my immediate family almost completely out of my life, I see my mother's family once every year or two. When I do see them, I've recently been struck by the fact that they all seem to be involved or at least informed of each other's lives. My cousins chat with my grandmother like they're long-time buddies who last saw her a few days ago. Probably because that's exactly what their relationship is like.
For this, there is regret. Deep regret. But as my mental health has made it more difficult for me to face my family rather than easier, I just haven't known how else to proceed. And until recently, my mind hadn't really thought of her as a person, but as an icon. It wasn't until my little sister was in her 20s that I realized she was a person with a history, a story, emotions, hang-ups, interests, and an ability to communicate in ways other than mimicing me and driving me insane. I think that even losing my maternal grandfather didn't really wake me up to this idea that my family members are individual people.
Last fall I came up with this idea. Well, 2 ideas really. It started when I found some old letters from my mother to me. Re-reading them I could remember what strong reactions I had to each one, and how they could still invoke the same intense emotions. I thought that I should collect them all and transcribe them and then write about my reactions/responses for each letter. Kind of a limited-aspect auto-biography.
Then I got to thinking about my grandmother, and I started thinking about ways to include her. And include my mother in a way other than passively - actually talking to her instead of just transcribing the things she's written in the past. I decided I was going to interview them.
My freshman year at The Evergreen State College, we all had a project to collect an "Oral History" from someone. I chose a favorite teacher, and had one or two "interviews" with her that were really just long conversations, that were taped, transcribed, and then used in a paper to summarize everything and include my thoughts on what I'd learned.
I realized it would be an amazing experience to do this with my mother and grandmother. It would be for me, and for them. We could talk about everything and/or anything that they wanted to talk about, and they could ask me about myself as well. I planned on "interviewing" them both separately, and then once together.
Worst-case scenario: I have a personal learning experience, as do they. Hopeful scenario: I transcribe everything to share with the rest of the family. Best-case scenario: I eventually write a memoir that has more to it than just my side of things.
I chickened out last year. I had problems figuring out how I was going to record everything. I had problems determining a format for just how much Q&A there would be. I searched my house high-and-low for a little auto-biographical booklet my grandmother gave me as a girl. I had intended to read the questions and her earlier answers to her, and then see what she thought and if she had different answers now. Then I finally found the booklet and realized it would take hours and hours, if not days, just to get through the booklet - it was much longer than I thought. I contemplated grabbing a few key pieces, and also asking her about the blank spots she'd left, and to fill-in her family tree a little better.
But in the end I lost my momentum, and then I lost my nerve. And now my grandmother is leaving us. If I had done this last year, maybe I could have had an actual relationship with my grandmother over the last few months. Now it all just seems morbid. And even if I can convince people I have higher-intentions than morbidity, there is her failing health to consider. She has cancer, she's dying soon - I imagine she is on a lot of drugs that make her sleepy and week. I just don't know how much she would be up for this, since I haven't talked to anyone who has actually seen her recently.
I made a decision this morning to stop being a chicken-shit idiot and just TRY. Just try, and see how it goes. I feel that it is too little too late, and that the rest of the family will think so as well. But part of me is certain that she will enjoy having an actual conversation with me. As the years have gone by, I've become more and more aware of how much I'm hurting my family by staying away. I'm not sure how to deal with that. I have not thought of how I can remedy the situation and still keep my sanity. And not hurt them more. Because part of the distance is also to keep my negative emotions away from them until I've learned to process them better and they are willing and able to talk about more than the weather and their health with me.
There is a confronation that I have to have with each of them, or at least a serious discussion. My sister and I have had many discussions since that cup of coffee at FPH about a decade ago, and we actually have a good (but flimsy) relationship. But there are some serious conversations that need to happen with my mother, my father, and my brothers. Most will be bitter and angry and scary, except for my baby brother, which will be mostly apologetic for not being in his life since I moved out at 18.
I just don't know if or when they or I will be up to it.
There is guilt about my lack-of-relationship with my grandmother, but no negative feelings at all. So while it may be sad, I think the conversation will be easier and happier. We can talk about whatever she feels up to talking about.
So I emailed my aunt to start the process. No backing out now.