Even before Willem’s grandfather died, his mother was jockeying herself into typical and painfully familiar positions within the family.
“I went out and found a daily nurse to visit my mother, and neighbors to look in on her, and even a daily meal delivery service to bring her lunch every day,” she announced. She spread this news far and wide, and then shyly and humbly accepted the accolades of those who appreciated her efforts toward her poor, lonely, sick old mother, sitting all alone in a house in North Carolina while C. paced the floor in anxiety, way up in New York.
Somehow I was able to suppress my immediate reflex to simply bury her in flowers and praise for all of her selfless efforts, and instead actually talked to poor, lonely old Grandma myself. Turns out that C. had sent Grandma a list of places that might be useful, something she’d printed off the Internet ages ago and couldn’t be sure if the numbers were still right, but at least it was a place to start. Grandma made her own phone calls, relying on the 8 1/2-months-pregnant woman from next door to help when she had trouble understanding the various rules and regulations, and got herself set up with a 4-times-a-week housekeeper/personal care aide and daily hot lunches delivered. She was pretty proud of herself for having figured that stuff out, and she is politically savvy enough to allow C. to take the credit instead of turning it into another Big Thing at a Bad Time.
Then, as Norman got sicker and sicker, C. carefully placed herself into the role of Communicator. (The irony of this is not lost on me, from a woman who cannot figure out how to maintain monthly telephone contact with her son or grandchildren, or prevent herself from making inappropriately violent comments in front of children.) “Don’t call my mother,” she told me. “It will just confuse her. She’s getting old, not as sharp as she used to be anyway. I’ll let you know anytime there’s news.”
Now, Grandma may not be as sharp as a tack these days, but I think it all depends on which tack you’re comparing her to. She has a keen sense of humor, a quick understanding, and better hearing than I do… maybe my problem is that all of my reference tacks are really, really dull, but Grandma seems perfectly fine to me. Granted, I am trained in mental health assessment, so why should I know anything about competency and validation and communication? I’m so misguided. Clearly, C.’s perception of her mother as pathetic and infirm outweighs her own mother’s perceptions, much less my own.
So, both before and after Norman’s death, I blithely ignored C. and called Grandma every few days anyway. Just to check in, let you know we’re thinking of you, remind you that we’re willing and eager to help if there’s any way that you can… you know, the typical grandchild-moneygrubbing-nastiness that kids these days do. “I’ll pass on anything that comes up,” promised C., “and of course I’ll let you know when the memorial is scheduled.”
Recalcitrant Kate called Grandma again this morning, because clearly all of this caring interest is a disease and I simply cannot control myself. And lo and behold, we learn that the memorial has been scheduled – had been scheduled several days ago, in fact, and Grandma was so grateful to C. for letting the whole family know about it so that she didn’t have to make a lot of extra phone calls. I decided not to let Grandma know that we haven’t heard from C. since mid-May, because, seriously, why bother? We kept telling each other, Willem and I, that of course C. wasn’t really going to clue us in, of course she wouldn’t call in time – and yet, somehow, it was still a shock to learn that, if it weren’t for all of this compulsive benevolence, Willem might very well have missed his grandfather’s funeral.
It’s because C. is so over-controlling and defensive, and cannot bear to let someone else know that she doesn’t, actually, know everything or have everything at her beck and call. It’s because she resents the fact that we have always had a lovely, happy relationship with Grandma and Grandpa, while she spent her time hating her mother and repeatedly reminding Norman that he was “not really my kids’ grandfather.” (One of our first big as-a-couple decisions came along before Emily was born, when Willem and I decided that our children would not refer to their great-grandfather as “Uncle Norman” just to make C. more comfortable.)
It’s because… I don’t even know. I don’t even care. The important thing is, we found out in time, have already made ferry reservations, and will deal with a hotel soon. And now we have twelve days to wait, and see when – if ever – C. sees fit to letting us know when the funeral is.