Daily Prompt: Inheritance
My beloved Grandmother died in 2009, three weeks before my youngest daughter was born. I will never forget the emptiness I felt as I walked my body, heavy with pregnancy, down the aisle of the church. I was following her casket. I was walking into hell as she was floating away to heaven. I was the last person to see her awake and alive. Everyone else saw her hooked up to machines as her body gave out. She had been in the hospital for her heart and had been planning to come home soon, but it wasn’t meant to be. The day before she died I sat in her hospital room and watched her sleep for a bit. I sat there feeling the baby kick and squirm while she lay there in a peaceful rest. When she woke up she told me she didn’t feel good, but she hadn’t been feeling well, so I chalked it up to what had been going on. I had come to bring her my son’s one-year pictures, to hang on her bulletin board. I remember hanging the pictures of my blond haired, blue eyed boy so she could see his sweet little face. We laughed about her desire to have a great-grandchild with dark hair. She told me she was coming home and I believed her, she told me she couldn’t wait to meet Elise. She never did. I live every day wondering if I could have stopped her body from giving out. If I had said something, would she had lived? It is a guilt that everyone tells me I shouldn’t carry, but it was part of my inheritance.
I had my little girl a few weeks later, hair black as coal, wild shoots, and curls. Like it was as shocked as she was to be in the world. She had gotten her wish, but missed seeing it by days. My little girl has my Grandma’s big, luscious full lips. A trait no one else has, we often say that Grandma kissed Ellie on her way up to heaven and gave her a gift. Ellie’s inheritance.
She has given me something else, too. I’ve had it a long time but it has gotten bigger and stronger as I’ve aged. My mental illness. Grandma wasn’t well for most of her life, but they didn’t treat the problems the same as they do today. Mental illness left untreated, especially bipolar disorder, worsens with age. When my Grandpa died in 2005, her tether to reality got cut. That’s when her illness came out in full force, without the love of her life to keep her grounded she felt she had nothing. She would sit in her chair for hours, rubbing the fabric to nothing, as she reminisced about the same few stories. Over and over she would tell them, to comfort herself, or to keep memories alive I’ll never know. It was obsessive, and I started to see the mania for her actions and her stories. I would sit and listen to them no matter how often I heard them because I loved her. And because I had no idea what was waiting for me around the bend.
After she was gone, I learned she had been in the hospital several times when my dad and aunt were young. Then one day I, too, found myself where she had been. Held prisoner by my own mind, unlike her I was lucky enough to receive a diagnosis. It was five years ago this November that I learned I was bipolar. Five very long years of medications and relapses from self-harm and suicidal ideations. Three hospitalizations and hundreds of doctors visits. Five years of trying to be a good wife and mother. Losing friends because I’m sick, reconnecting with old friends because they understand. I am lucky to have the support of my family and team of doctors. I owe so much to my psychiatrist, we have worked together all these years to keep me alive and thriving. I had been sick before the diagnosis came, but in November of 2012, it finally had a name. This was my inheritance.
Her love was strong, her laugh was tinkling. When I was little I thought she was the most glamorous woman I had ever seen. She would let me sit at her vanity and coat my face with her expensive makeup. She would set my hair in curlers, draw me warm baths. I always felt safe and loved after she and Grandpa would tuck me in when I spent the night. She would lower the blinds and turn on her collection of music boxes. Sometimes I can still hear “musical dreamer” in my head. I cry for her, I miss her all the time. My baby is 8, time tells me she’s been gone too long. When I’m sick I wish for her chicken
noodle soup. during Christmas, I miss baking cookies with her. On Sundays, I miss our old family dinners. I know she would be devastated to learn how sick I am. I know she would tell me everything was going to be ok and then force me to eat something because she was an old Italian woman. I see her face in my daughter’s and it comforts me. As they say, grief is the price of love. The price of love for me is carrying this illness that we both had/have to live with. This is my inheritance.
Her love lives on, which was always more important than what was “wrong” with her. There was so much right. She was amazing, and she survived with bipolar disorder. So will I. This is my inheritance.