My Grandma and her baby boy Jack
I want to preface this entry saying that I have to come to a lot of peace and forgiveness with my stepmother, Marjorie. I’m sure there’s more to come but I feel a whole lot less resentment than I used to and being able to write that last entry without sweating and my hands shaking demonstrated that to me. I actually had some really decent times with her over the years as well. Planning my wedding with her was a very bonding time and she was extremely supportive to me during all of that. She handled Cindy’s estate like no one else could have. She saved my mother’s china and crystal for me all those years when she could have sold it and I’d never have known (she did get rid of her wedding dress though). Obviously any relationship isn’t all anything. I thought about including these comments in the abuse entry but then realized that’s the kind of rationalization I did all my life. Sometimes it’s important to just tell the truth and let it stand on it’s own.
This story though, involves Marj and definitely a manifestation of whatever drove her darkness but it also tells a tale of one of many miracles that have always been operating throughout our lives. Sometimes they were just more shimmering or maybe I was just more desperate to see them. This one, however, shone so bright it was unmistakable.
When our beloved Buddha passed in 2000, my Dad and Marj were in Puerto Rico with no real phone service. So I was the person who got the call and had to make the decision whether to resusitate her or not. It was clear what her wishes were and the state she was in so I made that call and she passed a few hours later. I finally tracked my father down in PR and told him the terribly sad news, that his mother was gone. I remember thinking that night how poignant and somehow beautiful that my father broke the news to me of my mother’s passing and I did the same for him 35 years later.
We held two services for Grandma, one in Illinois where she’d been living at the time of her death and the second one a few months later in Maine. She mostly had lived in a retirement community there as as she’d aged she wanted and needed to be near my father. He was very very good to her in those last years, picking her up on a regular basis and taking her on drives to the Amish Country where they ate home cookin and saw “all those buggies”. She had made few friends in Illinois so the first service, at the same funeral home where we’d held Cindy’s, was more for my Dad’s friends. The second one “in the East” as she called it, would be filled with her friends and family. Like my father, my Grandma was also an only child so she maintained lifetime relationships with her cousins and their children like siblings. They all still lived back East.
I flew back to Illinois for the first service of course. I remember the night before, my father discussing the structure for how the service would go down. It was going to be one of those services where people could stand up and share stories and he’d had a video made of her life set to music which would be played. Less religious and more personal. He told me that John, who wasn’t doing very well at that time, had written a eulogy that would be read by Marjorie. I thought that was strange as she wasn’t reading her own sharing but I just let it go. Of course I’d written my own tribute to her filled with beautiful memories speaking for both Cindy and me.
The next morning my father approached me and told me that he’d changed his mind and thought it was more appropriate for me to read John’s tribute. Of course I readily agreed, this seemed more appropriate anyway with me being another sibling and so close to our Grandma.
The three page essay was handed to me at the funeral home and I sat down in a back stairway, pulled it out of the envelope and was shocked to see what landed in my hands.
The first thing I noticed was that it was entirely in Marj’s handwriting. That she had literally written “John’s tribute” herself. And you guessed it, on one of her yellow legal pads. It was three pages and the first page was innocent enough. Not by any means in John’s style of writing or vernacular but appropriate. It was about memories of him and our beloved Buddha, nothing too personal but honest recollections. When I flipped to the second page is when I fell in to the rabbit hole.
On that page it started something like this
“As long as I’m finding myself at a funeral talking about an influential woman in my life, I thought I would take this opportunity to mention other women who have passed who also had a great influence on me as well.”
Marjorie then proceeded to write glowing memories and tributes to women who had no real connection to my Grandma at all but the most heinous, hideous was she had the audacity to write Vivienne’s name on that list!
I won’t go in to all of the details but my Grandma got along with everyone with the exception of two women her entire life: Marjorie Monkman and Vivienne. Her husband, my grandfather, left my dear Buddha for Vivienne when my father was still a kid. He’d had a long term affair with her and finally just left and shacked up with her until his death. Now I’m not judging as I really liked Vivienne. My father introduced us to her as he maintained a lifelong relationship with her after his father died, within a year of the time he lost our mother. Yeah my Dad got hammered. This is no attack on Vivienne at all who was a perfectly nice woman but the fact is, she did steal my Grandma’s husband and she had no business whatsoever being mentioned at her funeral!!! I think I had maybe two conversations about Vivienne with my Grandma her entire life it was such a sore spot!
“What in the hell is going on here?” I thought!
Also mentioned in this list of “influential women” was Marj’s own mother and some family friends. Interestingly missing from it entirely was our mother and Cindy!
How wildly inappropriate. I was in utter shock and just moments away from the service.
The first thing I did was pull my father in to that back hallway. John wasn’t there yet. I asked him if he’d read this audacious thing and he replied that he had. I said “what is going on here..why is John supposedly paying tribute to all these other people including Vivienne? Are you kidding me? I’m not reading this!”. He just replied “I don’t know, John wrote it. Why don’t you talk to him about it?”. He never took sides in these kinds of things. UGH!
John finally showed up late and he was hearing voices bad. I pulled him in to that back hallway and talked to him. I stuffed down that lava inside me and asked him why this was in Marj’s handwriting (I knew exactly what was going on mind you) and what was up with that entire second page. He replied that she’d helped him with it and looked very sad and sheepish. I told him in the most motherly way I could that he hadn’t done anything wrong. That he just didn’t realize it’s not appropriate to pay tribute to other people at someone’s funeral unless they had a very close relationship with the deceased. I told him that I loved the rest of “his” essay and that I would read it omitting the second page. He so innocently said “I’m sorry Kathy, I didn’t know” and thanked me for reading it for him.
I was sincerely about to blow my top. But I in no way was going to allow this venom to seep in to my beloved Grandma’s service so I held it in, even when I saw Marj peeking around in to that hallway off and on as I was discussing this with my Dad and brother. I informed my Dad I’d be reading just the first and last page and that was that. He said ok.
I got up there to read it and watched Marj in that first row looking down at her foot as she tapped and tapped it in to the air over her crossed leg. Her teeth clenched, unable to even look up at me. I wouldn’t even give her the satisfaction of a confrontation. Buddha and I had won that round.
Fast forward to several months later and I arrive in Maine for the yearly trip. We are also hosting a big family reunion/memorial service that week. I was the first to arrive so found myself in front of the setting sun on the porch with my Dad and Marj talking about the particulars of the service which was to go down the next day. John was not coming. He was not stable enough to travel. As it turned out he was very unstable.
So there we sit, the three of us, when my father casually drops a bomb in to my entire being.
“And then John’s tribute will be read in it’s entirety this time by your Mother”
I felt like I would instantly throw up. I flashed a look at him and he said “we know how you feel about it Kathy but we’ve discussed it and John wants it read fully this time”. John, who is not even there. If this was meant to be some kind of “catharsis” for him paying tribute to other “influential women in his life” (vomit), he would not even be there to hear it! He was also not there for a reason. He was completely psychotic! How was he giving this consent much less request?
I felt like my head was going to explode. Two against one. Marj, as usual, sat there not looking at me all innocent like she had nothing to do with this whole insanity. I blurted something at her and she shrugged “Ah have nothing to do with this, your fahthah asked me to read it”. PURE BULLSHIT. She wrote it!
My Dad just moved along like case closed and I stood up mid sentence yelled something like “I’m outta here!” and just bolted. I started sprint walking on the beach tears stinging my salty cheeks. I was walking so hard and fast, desperate my mind racing, my heart breaking. How could this happen? Buddha’s beloved cousin our Aunt Ruthie was going to be there and hear Vivienne’s name mentioned? She lived that nightmare with my Grandma! It’s so beyond disrespectful, it’s flat out abuse! Of my dead Grandma!
I was pounding that hard sand with thoughts racing through my mind, desperately trying to find a solution, find a way out. I thought about leaving. But that means she wins. I AM NOT leaving my Grandma’s memorial service!
Finally, on my way back toward the cottage, a soft phrase whooshed in to my mind like a cool ocean breeze.
This is a dirty trick.
It was such an innocent, old fashioned sounding little phrase, something exactly my Grandma would say. My mind was filled with expletives and that small little voice rose up and suddenly I knew exactly what to do.
I calmly walked back up to the cottage and my father was now sitting alone on the porch. I sat down next to him, apologized for yelling at him and storming away then I said something like this.
“I know you can’t see this right now Dad but what’s going on here is a dirty trick. I’ve talked to John about that tribute and asked him (which was true) and he told me it was all Marj’s idea. She had a lifelong feud with Grandma and she’s using John to kick her in the grave. I know you don’t feel you can stop it so this is what I’m going to do tomorrow.
When she stands up to read that, I will stand up and I will walk out of the room in protest. I will do so very dramatically so people will know something is up. I won’t say a word but I will walk out. Once she’s finished reading it, I will return for the rest of the service. And if anyone asks me why I did that, I will tell them the truth. That she wrote this to kick Grandma in the grave, using John as her foil. I intend to be very vocal about it. That’s what I’m going to do to stand up for Buddha.”
My voice then started to crack and I stood up and said the harshest words I’ve ever said to my father.
“And, Dad, I can’t believe you are allowing your mother to be disrespected in this way and you and I know there is no way Cindy would have tolerated this bullshit for one second.”
I then walked in to the house with Marj reclining on the sofa, sat down on the chair next to her and calmly delivered my same speech.
I watched her sit up stiffly. I saw her for the first time since that stairway episode, want to hit me. I could feel that familiar rage rising in an instant. Yet oddly, the more she escalated, the more calm I got. She started yelling at me “you know I had nothing to do with writing that! How dare you accuse me of that?” . I replied , looking out at the ocean, getting more sunk down in my chair as she got more erect and rageful on the sofa and said “it’s in your handwriting, you wrote it, John told me it was all your idea and this is what I”m going to do. You can go ahead and make a fool out of yourself, which you will, but not without a consequence”.
Then right in the middle of that, the phone rang.
Back then we only had a landline in the dining room. As Marj and I were locked in this conflict, neither of us rose to answer the phone so my Dad came in from outside, crossed our living room battleground and picked it up.
I could tell very quickly he was talking to John. I could tell it wasn’t good. He was talking to him in that quiet voice he gets when something is serious. We both got quiet, listening in. “Ok, I’m going to have you talk to your Mother now and let’s see what we can do”. He then asked Marj to get on the phone.
I followed my Dad in to the kitchen past Marj, now raging on the phone to my completely unstable brother with words like “how DARE you tell Kathy I wrote those words? You know you wrote that!”, yes verbally abusing a mentally fragile Schizophrenic in a crisis. That’s exactly what she did.
But the miracle landed smack dab in the middle of the kitchen. My Dad stood at the stove across the room from me as I stood in front of the refrigerator and he delivered this message:
“John is calling to say that Grandma came to him in a dream and told him that second page of his tribute should not be read. That she only wants the first and last page to be read but not the second page. That it’s not appropriate to be read at her memorial service.”
As you can imagine, at that moment my entire body collapsed in to tears. Finally I knew for sure I wasn’t alone and that we had all been rescued. My heart just dismantled all that armor and melted as I said to my Dad “Dad I’m so sorry I said those harsh words to you on the porch, you know that’s not how I am normally, I was just so desperate over this. It was so wrong, I just couldn’t stand it”.
And what happened next is a moment I will remember and actually feel in my heart my entire life. I feel it now as I’m writing it.
My father crossed that kitchen, with Marj still raging on my brother in the next room and wrapped his arms around me and whispered in my ear
“It’s ok Kathy, I didn’t think those words were appropriate to be read either”.
He just never knew how to stand up to her. I don’t know what that was all about. He just couldn’t do it. It all was made clear to me then, the reason he changed his mind and asked me to read the tribute the first time. He knew there was no way in Hell I would ever read those words. Now how that got manipulated and set up for the second time I’ll never know. It’s not important that I know. It was just more of her games.
But my Grandma stepped in to save us all that day. To save herself too!
I’ll never forget the jaw clenched, rigid postured way Marjorie read those first and third pages the next day at the memorial. I have to say I sat there with a smug satisfaction that she’d not gotten her way. How could I not? I’m sure she wanted to get out of it then and ask me to read them but she was smarter than that. She’d have really been exposed then. So she stiffened herself up and read that glowing tribute to my Grandma. Poetic justice I say.
We tossed Grandma’s ashes on to the beach that afternoon after a beautiful heartfelt service then had a big happy hour party. Just the way she would have liked it. Just the way she planned it.
I took the phone from Marj and coached John after that kitchen moment to call 911 and he was admitted to the hospital that evening. He was completely psychotic. But it sure makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Just what goes on with his “voices”.
That trip was the last time I saw Marjorie. It was the time she sat in my presence writing me a letter that I never read. I imagine that letter was still protesting her non involvement in that tribute that was in her handwriting but it was too late to argue that case anymore.
The writing was on the wall and beyond now.
The war was over.
Dedicated to my beloved Grandma “Buddha” who I still feel here with me now.