My grandmother is a fighter. She fought the injustices of the world when she was younger, and continued to fight happiness as she aged. She held onto her past so fiercely, that she jeopardized her healthy relationships and sense of fulfillment.
I’m going to fight like hell to be nothing like her.
I guess for her it all started in what was supposed to be the prime of her life. She was the youngest of her family but rather than be pampered at home, she became a midwife. She busied herself in the difficult experiences of other women, unsure if she’d ever be able to have a child herself.
Her vitiligo had begun to spread in patches across her face and her family had resigned to her fate as an old spinster. No one would want to marry her, when there were tons of eligible, unmarked women ready to be paired off. It was an ignorant and discriminatory time and my grandmother faced the brunt of it. People shied away from her, thinking she was plagued with a mysterious, and possibly contagious illness.
My grandfather married her because she was different and knew that if he wouldn’t be the one, she would never marry. In that time period, without him, she would never achieve respect, status, or stability in her life. However even after their marriage, my grandmother couldn’t escape discrimination. My grandfather was the only brother of five older sisters, and so was treated like a prince. They never thought my grandmother could be good enough for their darling brother, and treated her with cruelty and disdain.
It wasn’t long before my grandmother became pregnant and had two children – a daughter and a son. They were happy for a while as their families celebrated the children and gave my grandmother some semblance of respect for birthing a son to carry on the family name. Two years after my uncle was born, my grandfather was killed in a car accident.
In a flash, my grandmother lost everything she had worked hard for in the previous few years. Rather than choose to live with her in-laws where she knew she would be treated as nothing more than a servant, she took her children and went to live on her own.
Growing up, my mother always said she only had just enough. There was never any room or time for luxuries or fun. They all worked hard, and knew they were lucky to be able to survive without the support of the extended family. She went to boarding school at a very young age, and only spent two years living with her mother after school and so, never really got to know her well. My uncle supported her early in his adolescence, and still to this day provides for her.
Through years of hard work, my uncle and my mother have both broken the cycles of poverty, ensuring that their mother made it out with them. My uncle is an extremely successful business man today, with multiple properties and businesses to his name. He bought and furnished a beautiful three-bedroom house for my grandmother, right in the heart of suburban Atlanta. For more than thirty years, life has been good and stable to my grandmother.
But she doesn’t see it that way.
She hasn’t been able to let go of the pain that her earlier years of life caused her. She clutches to those memories like a medal of honour, reminding everyone that she has endured and will continue to endure. No matter how good life is to her, she dwells in the heartache of the past, dragging her loved ones with her. She tried to isolate my mother and her brother by planting seeds of doubt and mistrust, she nearly ripped apart my uncle’s marriage, and she’s mistreated just about everyone in the family.
I cannot begin to fathom how difficult it must’ve been for her to leave her married home and start over with two very young children. I will never understand the pain she felt. But I do see the effects of her perpetual anger on all of our lives. Rather than seeking value in the strength and bravery with which she faced her struggles, my grandmother surrounds herself in bitterness. She resents life. She resents her pain. It’s done no good for any of us.
So early on in my own life, I made a promise to myself:
No matter what fate brings me, I will become better rather than bitter. I will graciously accept the low points of life, knowing that they enhance my appreciation of the high points. I will grow and move forward, remaining hopeful and gracious. Living in any other way would be an injustice to myself and the people I love.
I will be better than my grandmother.
I have to be.