Right after the New Year, a Christmas card arrived for Dee from my late husband’s mother. Typically, all cards arrive after
the fact whether it be her birthday or Valentine’s. Sometimes no card arrives at all and I take that as a sign that she is once again in hospital due to one or another of her health issues, which my BFF, who is a nurse, is fairly certain will shorten the woman’s life but isn’t doing that quickly enough for me.
Accompanying the Christmas card was a smaller envelope addressed to me.
Lovely, I thought. Nothing says ‘happy new year” like a screed from Will’s mother.
“Please send me pictures of my granddaughter,” she wrote.
She never calls Dee by name. Even in the cards she sends, she rarely uses the child’s name and even more rarely does she do much more than simply sign her own.
Dee, from the beginning of her existence really, has only been an opportunity to claim the coveted title of “Grandmother”. In fact the first thing she said upon being told I was pregnant was to announce,
“Finally! Now I can buy one of those cute grandma sweatshirts.”
Being a grandmother has never been about Dee herself. It’s a status thing. It’s pictures to share. It was another opportunity to stake a claim on yet another territory of victim-hood because from the beginning, Will and I did nothing but tell her “no”.
No, you can’t name the baby.
No, you can’t be in the delivery room.
No, you can’t have the baby for overnight visits or the weekend.
No, we aren’t driving an hour every Sunday to your mother’s so you can play at being grandma for an audience.
No, we aren’t going to bring her to your house when your alcoholic sister is rampaging, and no your sister isn’t be a part of Dee’s life.
No, you can’t babysit because you can barely walk.
She was never kept from visiting, but she refused to come to our home because it was contrary to what she wanted. It also meant she was tacitly agreeing with the reason behind our avoidance of her home – that it was a hoarders’ heaven. Seriously filthy and in some areas, completely nonnegotiable. Weeks worth of dishes molding in the kitchen sink, the dishwasher and even on the breakfast bar. Mounds of fast food bags, wrappers and super-sized cups on the fireplace hearth and around the lazy boy where she nested most of the time. In the garage, the bloody vomit stains that preceded the death of her dog dried and flaked away for two years.
The war over Dee was not even the first or biggest battle that either Will and I fought together or I fought alone after he got sick. It was simply par for the incredibly predictable course where the woman was concerned. In fact, by the time Dee arrived on the scene, his mother would only call Will’s cellphone and not our home phone. She’d figured out that if I didn’t know about something she was up to until it was too late, I had a lesser chance of stopping her.
Most of her plots had to do with money. She’d perfected the art of guilting where her son was concerned and it nearly always involved a combination of throwing his dead dad at him and reminding him that she was just a poor, marginalized widow that the world was against.
Her biggest loss on the funding front came when I inadvertently discovered that she’d check his name on a joint checking account and was trying to use it to obtain a new line of credit.
The account was (I would figure out later after I’d been widowed myself) leftover from the days when she was collecting Social Security survivor’s checks. At sixteen, the money (and the account) should have been turned over to Will, but she never told him about it and there was no reason that he would have known this. She kept the account joint and continued to use the money herself. In addition, she made him get a job, pay rent and buy his own food.
I stamped down hard on the credit line idea and I made Will take his name off the account. If she found me hard to take before, it was war from then on.
Fast forward. Will died in January of 2006. She behaved atrociously the entire three months leading up to it with the highlight being the day she told the hospice Social Worker that I had physically abused Will while he was ill. This lead to the Social Worker hauling me into her office and demanding that I explain myself.
Of course, the accusations were fabricated from the half-truth/half-fantasy world that Will’s mother dwelt in and the Social Worker spent the rest of Will’s stay falling over herself trying to make it up to me.
The funeral was a nightmare.
And then I heard not one word from her for nearly ten months until she called one day and suggested that we both apologize to each other for our “crimes” against the other and then move on to set up visitation for her with Dee.
I did not quite tell her to “go to hell” though it was on the tip of my tongue. But I did set her straight on what I thought of her and that seeing Dee, supervised only, would only occur when she could convince me that she was no longer emotionally unhealthy and that her relationship with reality and truth were more than just passing ones.
And then another year went by. During which time I met Rob.
It amuses me and astounds me by turns that I could met, fall in love with and plan to marry a man from a foreign country, quit my job, sell my house, emigrate and marry without one single member of Will’s extended family noticing. To me, this was, and still is, proof of how little Dee and I meant to any of them. Will’s mother included.
If not for Rob, I doubt any of them would still have the slightest idea of where we were because it was only at Rob’s urging that I contacted them.
Really, I wouldn’t have been moved to do it on my own.
And it was only my belief that Will would have wanted me to send photos of Dee that I bothered to make that small gesture at all. Will knew perfectly well that his mother was selfish, a liar and a user. He apologized for it with “she’s had a really hard life and I feel sorry for her.”
It was guilt and pity that motivated much of what he did for her. The bills he would pay. The cash he gave her. The odd time he would take on some household chore or task to help her out.
He resented being her only child because he had no one to share the burden as her physical issues rendered her more ill and increasingly disabled, and more than once, we discussed just moving to my hometown because it would put distance between us and her demands and also because he liked my family better. My family was a chance for him to have the real extended family he’d always dreamed about growing up. People who weren’t perfect but still had each others’ backs, which was very much different from the vipers’ nest of his mother’s family. The alcoholism. The dysfunction. The barrage of guilt and battering of self-esteem.
In a lot of ways, Will’s mother owes her continued ostracism to Will himself, who let me know from the first that he didn’t want any of our children to be too close to his mother or extended family because of the misery they’d made of his childhood.
The letter she sent about the pictures was nearly a grocery list.
“Next year I’d like a 5×7, wallets and a fridge magnet.”
Thanks to Facebook, I don’t print pictures anymore, so the photos of Dee’s school events, soccer games and holiday adventures stopped a while ago. All that’s left are school photos. I buy one package and divide them up between our family, friends and Will’s auntie and mother. They don’t go very far and she’s lucky I bother. I still don’t like her. I will probably never forgive her for the hell she instigated during Will’s last months when I, frankly, had no extra patience or time for her hysterics, attention-seeking or games.
For the time being, I haven’t told Dee the reason behind my distaste for her late father’s mother but when the time comes – I will. I have no intention of allowing Dee to meet this woman before she is old enough and armed with the truth. She will not use my daughter the way she used her own son.
Until then, I send photos. I resent the time and effort it requires. And I keep checking the obituaries.