The Importance of Grief

My dear Grandma Joyce died two weeks ago tomorrow.

I miss her more than I ever thought I could.

Grandma Joyce was wicked funny. Once when she woke up from a particularly hard surgery she said, “I’m so hungry I could slit my own throat. Oh, wait: someone already has!” She never missed an opportunity to tease her grandchildren mercilessly. (When I happened to slip my cell phone away between my legs when I was visiting her, she instantly replied, in no hushed tones, “It looks like you have a penis.”) Her favourite joke lately was to respond, after being asked what she was up to the last few days in her residential home at Concordia Place, “they roll me this way, then they roll me that way.”

She was up-to-date on the news, reading the newspaper every day even when her eyes began to tire easily. When I told her about Trudeau’s tussle in the House of Commons, she chuckled and said, “I remember when they used to chance his father through the streets.”

She was an avid reader, which is what I find most incredible. With six children, and after being married young, reading is usually one of the first hobbies to go to the wayside. But not my Grandma Joyce. At the lake, when she appeared to read the most, I would ask her about what she was working through at the moment. I remember I asked her once about Atonement and she stated that “the first half was kind of slow.” In her eighties she was still a devout literary critic.

She didn’t have a good life all the time, but she loved her life. Her outlook was incredible for an eighty-nine year old. I would allude to some of my worries, and she would shrug in a “what can you do” so of way. She wasn’t being dismissive, she was counting her blessings. And mine. Four out of her six kids still lived within a ten minute radius of her family home. “I’m so lucky to have people near me,” she would say.

We were the lucky ones.

*

I have started keeping a journal lately. This is what I wrote after attending her funeral:

“I think of Grandma: a whip-smartass farmgirl, married at 19 with a handsome husband who had been to war. I wonder if she felt worthy of his love. I’m sure she was intimidated by this man, even though she loved him. I hope she saw herself in female literary heroines. I’m sure she had no idea what she was doing, sometimes, and I hope she found solace in living through these women. Even back then, she carried her family’s heritage on her back. She faltered, sure, though anybody would have. She was a woman of her generation. She was one tough cookie.
I miss her so much. I want to know how she did it.”

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How Having the Best Intentions Sometimes isn’t Enough

I admit I can be a fairly proud person. I like people to see me in a certain way: strong, independent, smart. Witty. Cute. Fun.

I was hired as a Research Assistant at the University of Manitoba this past February. The job is fascinating with a steep learning curve: I’ve written and edited a book proposal, a literature review, a big federal grant application and numerous articles. I love it, because I’m learning so much and feel so important to finally have a job directly related to my field.

I’m in heaven, basically.

*

I’m been sitting on this post for a number of days now, because I don’t like criticizing people. I have a hard time standing up for myself, because I know that more often than not, people with the best intentions would never want to hurt or offend me.

However, society inevitably seems to be set up this way, and I get knocked down a peg. Which isn’t fair to me, despite someone’s best intentions.

It wasn’t even that big a deal (but it was, I realize now, because I’m still thinking about it). My colleagues and I were in line for lunch, and I happened to see someone I knew from a totally different realm of life. They also happened to be part of the medical establishment – in short, they knew a part of my medical history. Anyway, immediately this person reached for my hand in an intimate gesture as it lay next to my wheelchair controller. Without really noticing what I was doing but feeling awkward nevertheless, I moved away from their touch.

Harmless, right? Right. I couldn’t help but notice that my colleagues had moved away from myself and this person, though. They were likely trying to allow me my own space to say hi to them, but I also felt like it was a commentary on how this person was treating me. Would they have reached for my hand so intimately if it wasn’t right within their reach? Was talking an octave higher normal for this person, or was it because she was seeing me a certain way? In other words, was she addressing me any differently than she would have another one of her former “patients”? If so, why?

These kind of thoughts keep me up at night. I only tell this to you now because this is the reality of being a disabled person, or basically anyone perceived as different. And it’s especially prevalent when there’s some kind of power imbalance, which there usually is between a disabled person and a nondisabled one.

I tell you this not to shame that person. She was only saying hi, after all, and who knows if the intimacy with which she greeted me was mildly inappropriate for the work setting we were in or not.

All I know is that in front of my colleagues, I felt shrunken. These were people I worked with, after all. I want them to see me as capable.

And I hate feeling that way, despite someone’s best intentions.

But best intentions don’t always make things right.