Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grace and forgiveness

My paternal grandmother's name was Grace. My daughter Lucy is named after her - Lucy Grace Antoinette.

Grandma died when I was pretty young, but I remember her smile, and her white hair, and her diminutive height. She had five children, my father being the oldest. He then had three children to his first wife, the oldest of which just died.

I remember going to the annual Christmas party at my aunt's house. It was my favorite time of year. My childish memories are of the swinging wicker chair that the kids all loved to sit in. Of the spiral staircase leading up to the roof and the hot tub. Of the bar, where all the adults congregated, drinking mixed drinks and eating delicious food. There were tons of cookies, and everyone dressed to the nines. My aunt Luella, with her bright red hair, loved me to pieces and always made me feel special. 

My aunt's husband was an identical twin, and they got a kick out of confusing people. My oldest brother has a daughter, Jenny, who is about four years younger than me, so by the time I got around to being interested in her, my parents were divorced and I wasn't attending the party anymore, or she was maybe on to more interesting things as a young teen. I only met her little brother once or twice, but I remember my oldest brother always being kind to me, as was his wife. 

I am the only child of my father's second marriage, and my mother has never been easy to get along with. The boys didn't get to see my dad much after he married my mom, and especially after I was born - and then 4 months later he became permanently disabled with a brain aneurism that left him institutionalized for almost 4 years. 

There haven't been a lot of opportunities over the years to build relationships with my siblings, though my sister and I (from my mom's first marriage) are now close and have shared the trials and tribulations of marriage, moving, parenting, and now caring for an aging parent. And I don't think that my dad's family were given much of a chance to understand how changed he was by his brain damage. And I think that he left a lot of hurt in his wake up until that point, so it was easiest to just slip away and let my mom deal with the bulk of his care for years and years. 

For the last 10 years or so, I have been my father's caretaker, which is a big job, especially emotionally, as he deteriorates into dementia, and has had to have increasing levels of nursing home care. My dad's family showed no interest in helping me with that, or even in staying in touch, which hurt my father very much - but I suppose they may have figured turnabout was fair play. I don't know, really. 

I do know that he is our father. And it hurts to have been left out of my brother's obituary. I have never had much in the way of a close family and I cherish what I have, and build what I don't, out of whole cloth, and loving people in my life. It is almost amusing to me how much it hurts for my dad, and perhaps me, just by association, to be rejected again. 

Regardless, I refuse to do that to others. I have joined the CLF's prison ministry, writing letters; and am going to be part of a pastoral care team at Rochester Unitarian, where I can continue to serve and reach out to congregants in need. Thankfully, I have what I need right now. Friends and a husband who understand my lifelong pain around my family's disassociation with each other, and who cherish me for who I am, not because of the sins of my parents. 

Forgiveness is the art of building bridges across pain. It has been a difficult concept for me over the years, and one that I continue to wrestle with. 

Grace is undeserved and unexpected. My sister often surprises me with moments of caring and grace. She did so this week. My mother often makes me laugh uncontrollably at her crazy sense of humor. My children lavish me with undeserved and expected hugs and kisses and affirmations of my mothering journey. My life is full. Grief and loss, joy and grace, are all steps on the daily travels of my heart. I am grateful for this fullness of my days - even the sorrows amidst the joys.

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