This week something really painful happened to me. It felt like being punched in the stomach. It came completely out of left field and so I was not prepared. Earlier I posted on Facebook this cute photo of my dog and myself at the park. One of the comments left by my extended family included condolences for the loss of my grandmother. The thing is I did not know that my grandmother had passed. I was already experiencing a rough week and this was an added hurt that I did not need right now. I quickly went to Google to confirm that my suspicions were correct, and sadly I was right. My grandmother had passed and no one in my family told me. I instinctively knew that my brother had not received a call either.
Both my parents have been gone for a while. I have an aunt and an uncle plus cousins who live in Florida. All of my extended family are Pentecostal even if they are not United Pentecostal. Just like the church I grew up in they all feel they know the truth and are special, even better than other churches. Only they have the real truth! These beliefs have done so much damage to my family.
When my mother had run through all of the “acceptable to her family” churches in Madison we started to attend Calvary Gospel. Calvary Gospel was very similar to the other churches we attended except for one thing, baptism. They baptized in Jesus name and not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My mother’s family was so angry when we started to go to that church. They told my mother to never let herself be rebaptized because she would be damned if she did. They also did not believe my baptism was valid. Fast forward a few years and all of our family picked up and moved to Florida leaving my mother, brother, and I alone up here in Wisconsin. We drifted apart. Some because my mother was always the black sheep and some because of the distance. My mom’s family didn’t like who she married the first time and then again the second time. They did not approve of my leaving Pentecostalism and eventually Christianity. They also turned their back on my brother when he came out as gay. They have a very narrow idea of what is acceptable and none of us ever fit into it. Over the years my grandmother would send me letters and cards on the holidays. They were always very surface based and they always ended with a warning about getting my heart right before the rapture. Merry Christmas, watch out the devil is going to get you, was the feeling they always gave me. When my beloved grandpa passed no one in my family told me. When I found out I was heartbroken. He had been sick for a long long time and so I was kind of surprised when he finally passed. Once I found out it was too late to send flowers or fly down for a funeral. I learned of his passing months after the fact. I cried for days right after my third child was born during a time that should have been filled with light and joy. I cried for my lost grandpa and for the cruelty my family delivered.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago, my brother and I had this conversation and I told him I assumed grandma would pass soon and I did not think anyone would tell us. That is exactly what happened. You might wonder why I was shocked, I wondered that myself. I think cruelty always shocks me even when I know it is coming. How could they be so mean and cold? I might be hard for them to find after all of these years but my brother lives in the same area as they do and they could have found him easily. My grandma was not always the easiest person to be around. She never asked about my children her great-grandchildren, she really never asked about me. It was like in her world I did not exist unless I was saved and in the manner she expected. I was not fully human in my lost state. She always cared about my salvation but I know that is because she felt she would be held to account by God if her family was not “living right.” My mother’s siblings feel the same. They did not tell us about her death because they do not wish to talk to us. We are lost and unclean. They, unlike my grandma, have never cared about our salvation. They have made no attempts to proselytize, they have just turned their backs and wiped us out of existence. It is like annihilation. We don’t exist to them. We have no worth because we are not exactly their brand of Pentecostal. Plus there is some racism mixed in. I am the brown grandchild and that makes me even less acceptable. They have no desire to have the brown granddaughter and gay grandson at the funeral to ruin their day.
My grandma’s passing hurt me more than I could have anticipated. I was bewildered by the pain. It was so deep and there was so much of it. After a few days, I realized what was happening. I was grieving all of the lost years. I was grieving the relationship I always wanted to have with her. I was feeling the rejection and abandonment of all the time without her. I was reminded of how much my mother’s family dislikes and rejects my brother and myself. All because of religion (well and a dash of racism). How sad that they have allowed this to keep us apart. How sad that she never knew her great-grandchildren. How sad that after losing her daughter she let herself lose her grandson and granddaughter, her only remaining link to my mother. How sad that even though I walked away from it all so long ago it can still reach out and hurt me.
In all of this, I am trying to hold onto the good things I feel I got from my grandmother. I’m tough and resilient just like her. I’m physically strong and strong-minded just like her. When I was a little girl she always marveled at my sturdiness and made me feel like I was invincible because of it. I’m sure there is more but that is all I can see right now.
Because of how my mother’s family is I have strived to be more accepting of my own children. They are all adults now and they all believe different things about God and spirituality. I try my best to always let them know that I love them no matter what. Nothing can tear them away from me, least of all religion.