“So Mrs. Porter, tell me about your son.”
My father’s long-time pastor needed to prepare the eulogy for his funeral and asked my grandmother for some treasured sentiments and memories to share with our family and loved ones. My grandmother had it pretty easy too. My dad left behind quite a legacy in his 47 years with us. He graduated from one of the best high schools in Baltimore City and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He started a band along with his brother that played together for 30 years. He had three kids and three grandkids. We traveled for decades as a family visiting places like Mexico, Niagara Falls, and Hawaii. And when my father wasn’t participating in adult sport leagues, he was helping out as a team dad with my brother’s basketball leagues.
My grandmother was not short on material to be proud of when it came to my dad. She took a deep breath and said, “My son was a good boy. He wasn’t never arrested and wasn’t never on drugs.”
I sat there trying to process what kind of angry black woman my grandmother deserved to see from me. Before I could decide, my sister burst into tears, jumped from her seat, and ran into the kitchen. I followed her as well as a few other family members. We all knew what happened. My grandmother had just used this platform as an opportunity to take a dig at my mom’s family - one of my uncle’s was incarcerated and one was battling a drug addiction. But believe it or not, that was the mildest of the inappropriate shit she did during that excruciating week of planning my father’s funeral.
While my father’s siblings tried to diffuse the situation and brush it off as nothing, my father’s children were completely aware of where we stood in this family. My grandmother as well as most of them had officially freed themselves from the bondage that was us. The only reason we were even a thought during this time was because we were beneficiaries on the life insurance policy that was going to pay for this funeral. And when it was all said and done, they were done with us.
No regrets though. I never walked around crying because my family didn’t love me. In fact, I owned the idea that it was me that cut them off. I could have called them too, but I didn’t. It left me with a bit of dignity to feel like I had done that much for myself through so much pain, but of course no one else could see it that way.
From family to friends to associates, “But that’s your grandmother!” I didn’t care. I didn’t feel like I had a grandmother, and clearly she was fine without having me as a granddaughter. “But that’s your grandmother!” It was like an echo. It was like everyone was given the same script to read from.
“But that’s your grandmother!”
I get it. Where’s the loyalty? If I can cut off my grandmother, what kind of love could I possibly have for someone else? Do I even know what love is or what it’s supposed to look like? Do I understand loyalty and commitment? What is my relationship like with my own kids if my love is so fickle? Am I that fair-weather friend that nobody can really trust?
I felt the same way about all those people insisting that I should talk to my grandmother simply because she’s my grandmother. Do they know what loyalty is? Do they know what love looks like? Are they implying that I don’t deserve better than the shitty grandmother that has no compassionate to give nor teach me?
The truth was that I didn’t know what love was or what it looked like, but I wasn’t going to learn it from her either.
I remember visiting my old boyfriend’s aunts with him. They would ask him had he checked on his mother. No matter the answer, he was chastised for not being more attentive to his mom. “You need to be there for her. That’s your only mom. You only get one. You can’t neglect her.” I was very confused in the beginning. He talked to his mom every day on the phone and we would visit her about once a week. He seemed to have a good relationship with her. Was I missing something?
It wasn’t until later that I realized his mom had some extreme codependency issues and he had become the fall guy. If they could keep him feeling guilty and obligated, it wouldn’t be their problem.
He struggled with this because his mom battled drug addiction most of his life and even put him out of the house when he was 12-years-old. He spent so many years of his life, even as an adult, searching for a place that felt like home and a family that could give him that unconditional love he yearned for. So after being on his own for decades, to be told that his mother could abandon her only son but he was not allowed to do that same created an untamable demon that made love, intimacy, and connection damn near impossible.
“But that’s your mother!”
To all you people with nice mother’s and functional families, I say congratulations! I’m happy that you have a healthy, not perfect, relationship with your family. It’s amazing to experience love and compassion and to have a place to turn for a helping hand or a listening ear. It brings comfort to have a family that can come together in good times but can also weather any storm that comes your way. Family disputes are settled with same love and empathy that connects you. It’s absolutely beautiful.
For the rest of us…
Yes, that is your mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, auntie, cousin, uncle, or whomever you need to insert in that spot. They are blood, and even if they aren’t, they have been there since the beginning. They are like family. They've seen the best of the best and been there for the worst of the worst.
And they are toxic.
They can’t teach you shit but how to attract more toxicity. They will trample your self-esteem and enjoy it. They will watch you fail and revel in it. They will sabotage you and beam over the victory. It’s ok to set boundaries. It’s ok to walk away. It’s ok to find peace. It’s ok to be ok.
And on my own journey to being ok, I often refer back to the mantra that got me here.
“My grandmother doesn’t love me. You think I give a fuck about how you feel?”
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After spending a year in grief counseling, I started to see that my life needed a major overhaul. Yes, my boyfriend died making me the single mom of our infant twins, but I was still grieving my loss of innocence from decades of abuse. I decided to turn my pain into a new purpose and to share this journey with others that may need some motivation.