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Jade - To My Grandmother

My Mother’s Daughter is a collection of stories reflecting on the nature of femininity and what it means to be a mother, daughter, sister and most of all, a woman, in Australia. In this series, we speak to women of various ages, cultures and backgrounds to glimpse into who and what has shaped them as the strong and inspiring people they are today, as well as the legacy they build for their children and community.

The decision to write this letter was inspired by the wonderful women I have had the opportunity to interview for this story collection, as they have pushed me to reflect on my own values and ideas of family. After an abusive childhood due to alcoholism and mental illness, my mum decided to cease contact with her mother shortly before I was born. I decided to write a letter, more to myself than to anyone else, and try and come to terms with how this situation has impacted me.

To my grandmother,

Where to even begin? My name is Jade. I’m not sure if you actually know my name, or did my parents name me after you left our lives? I’ve never had the chance to ask. I know your name, but not much else. Only because I see the hurt in the eyes of my family when I’ve asked about you, and so, I try not to do it too often. I cannot imagine the memories and pain that flood back to them because I have no connection to you, I wasn’t even born when you hurt my mother for the last time, when she said, “Enough is enough.”

You have been many things to me over my life, so many conflicting concepts; A monster under the bed waiting to snatch me from my mother. A lonely woman living a solitary existence. A drunk, an illness, a regret. I often think about the fact that we have most likely crossed paths. Maybe we walked passed one another without a second glance because we may as well be strangers. It’s been 20 years of resentment and trauma passed from generation to generation. I am now trying to free myself from this animosity.

The woman I have become and am becoming has been impacted and shaped by you, if only by your absence. My mum was changed by how you treated her, it changed how she viewed her relationship with me; how she dedicated her life to ensuring I would never feel neglected, because she knew what it was like to go without comfort or her mum’s unconditional affection. My mother worked so hard to be nothing like you and to provide for us. It’s a weird feeling to know you’ve been raised well in spite of someone else’s shortcomings. Whether or not this lack of attention from my childhood has contributed to what I can now introspectively recognise within myself as anxious disposition, perfectionistic tendencies, and sometimes crippling self-doubt.

I have come to understand my mum as a complicated and flawed individual. She is both a protector and distant: capable of being hurt and hurting others. I understand how her difficult childhood has affected that ways she perceives life. Buying and wrapping your own Christmas present from the age of eight will do that. Not having access to a doctor when you break your foot, will do that. Being scared to be in a car because you’re sure you’ll be the victim of your mother’s drunk driving, will do that. Being ignored, overshadowed, abandoned, and mistreated as a child can only damage a person almost to a breaking point. But not my mum.

I have to say that although you haven’t seen your daughter in over 20 years, mum is an amazing woman, and I hope you miss her. She is hard-working, strong-willed, and incredibly intelligent. She has made something of herself in a world she wasn’t taught to understand or embrace. Most importantly, she tells me that she forgives you. She is a role model for me in more ways than I can even know, but this took me a long time to understand. She does not harbour anger towards you or her past, only a dull pain.

I don’t want to sound self-pitying, but it was hard growing up without a loving grandmother figure in my life. My dad’s mother never had time for me, and I always feel like the black sheep with that side of my family, now also permanently estranged. It’s always left me feeling like I’m not worthy of such a relationship, I’m not good enough in whatever capacity that has made almost all my family desert me. Christmases were not a time of celebration but were formal and awkward; birthdays were the one time a year I got a text or a suggestion they knew I existed. The feeling of neglect started with you I think, even though I understand it to be a consequence of circumstances as opposed to your actions.

It may sound as though I hate you, but I don’t. I’m trying not to be angry anymore. I was, for a while. I felt I had to shoulder the pain you caused others, take the weight of the past onto myself even if it wasn’t mine to bear. But I’m starting to understand that when it comes to family, nothing is as simple as black and white. You made bad decisions that reverberated across generations of people, of families. You did and said things you can’t take back and probably don’t even remember, but it is time to finally move on, I think. I want to thank you for making my family stronger, for making us cherish what we do have, and for allowing me to learn that people will hurt you in life, but it is possible to rise above it. We’ve made loving and positive memories, and ensure we never leave each other lonely anymore.

Mum is sure you loved me and think about me often. She believes that in your own way, you did love her, but you didn’t know how to, not really. Whether or not this is true, we will never know. But I’ve realised that’s okay. I wish you happiness. I wish you healing. I wish you support and understanding. I hope you have strived to be a better person, a better mother-figure to whomever is in your life now. I hope you found belonging like we did.

I forgive you.

Sincerely,

Your grandaughter Jade Alise

 

Copyright © 2019 Jade Alise Smith

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.


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