For years and years (the daughter is in her early 40's) this woman has been asking her daughter, "What did I do to deserve this treatment? I don't know what I did and I can't change what I don't know." It's been eating this woman alive.
When I asked if the daughter had possibly been abused as a child, the woman said that her daughter had in fact been sexually assaulted by a male family member when she was 12. The woman was unaware of any abuse after that.
We continued on in our conversation and I assured this woman that she had no responsibility in that situation and that her daughter needed therapy to recover from such a devastating trauma. I also told her that she deserved to be loved and if she were being treated cruelly by her daughter, she needed to communicate that that is not okay.
The point of this is that it got me thinking about who I have subconsciously cut from my life...a woman who I had tasked with the duty of protecting me.
My Grandmother was exactly that to me: my Grand Mother. She was the most exalted form of mother there was. She was the last word, the highest authority, my role model, and my mentor. I looked up to her, I loved her, I adored her. She truly was the epitome of everything I aspired to be as a human, as a female, as a Mormon, as a mother, and as wife.
She was very present in my life, in part due to the fact that I spent a large part of my childhood living in one part or another of her triplex in Orem, Utah. It was like musical chairs, and this triplex was like the Little Old Lady's Shoe. There was always a child hanging out of some door or window.
She wouldn't like to think of it that way. She was very refined and dignified. She had actually hoped that this triplex her husband designed and built would be quickly rented so that she could get her dream home up on the hill. But alas, things didn't work out that way, and one circumstance after another forced her to stay in that house, and house her grown children in it.
I have a vague memory of sitting on the garage stairs, in my Grandmother's lap, right after the twins had been born to my Uncle's family. My Grandmother must have been fatigued, as she acted as their nurse, feeding them bottles of goats milk, as her son worked on his dissertation and her daughter-in-law underwent cancer treatment. There was a heavy cloud hanging over that house, that death was imminent for that young mother. Thankfully a miracle occurred and my Aunt's cancer did not kill her. In my mind, the greater miracle was that I selfishly had my Grandmother back and I could continue in my role as her shadow.
As we sat on the steps, me in my Grandmother's lap, I confessed that I was sad that the twins were here because it meant that I no longer had my Grandmother's attention. She held me. She was like the statue, Pieta where when you were held by her, she enveloped you. She was strong, yet soft, and could take away all your pain.
She was well read, and there was always a book of hers lying open, with her black or red Bic felt tip pen beside it. Her paragraphs would be covered with notes and epiphanies she'd had while reading. Large chunks of the book would be underlined. And not neatly. Double underlines, exclamation marks, happy faces where the eyes looked like this ^ ^ covered the pages. It made her books feel like journal entries, and it seemed like trespassing on something sacred to turn the pages and read.
In observing her reading of LDS scriptures and other books, she felt very safe studying and dissecting them side by side. There was often a psychology book, next to a book by a general authority, where she felt that they complimented one another. The newspaper was always out in sections, with her scissors so that she could cut out pertinent articles to use in her talks for church. I sat with her and watched PBS, where she acted as a second commentator next to me on the bed, telling me why one was trustworthy, while the other was not. She let me in on a little secret that after the politicians argued and screamed at one another on TV, they all went out and had dinner together.
I would hear conversations with my Grandfather, or my Uncles, around her little pine dining table in the middle of the kitchen. She would have on a pot of herbal tea, while the adults sat around the table snacking on peas from my Grandfather's garden, or peaches from the fruit trees outside. They would talk in to the wee hours about gospel principals. My Grandmother's testimony of her church was as solid as a rock. There was no question that did not have an answer. There was no scripture passage whose meaning could not be unlocked, without the proper amount of study and prayer. She seemed to have a gift of discernment, and shared that it said so in her patriarchal blessing. People took what she said seriously.
Growing up with her in my life I came to the conclusion that there were two types of women in the world; those like my Mother, and those like my Grand Mother. Both were strikingly beautiful, so that was just a given that appearances were of the utmost importance. But my Grandmother was not afraid to tackle issues and have very intense opinions on them. Where my Mother almost felt that it was tacky to take a stand on any subject. To me it seemed that in her eyes, the very definition of a lady was that of someone who keeps their mouth shut and puts on a happy face.
I was sure that I was like my Grandmother, and I felt confident that I could be every bit the woman that she was. She was almost arrogant in the way that she was assured that every move she made, every question she asked, was personally answered by God. She would talk of the frequent conversations she'd had with her Heavenly Father, and her eyes twinkled as if he were on her speed dial, while the rest of the world was still figuring out how to plug in their land line telephones.
I was happy to be receiving my own spiritual confirmations, though it didn't surprise me. I didn't hear much of my Mother's prayers or conversations, but had the sneaking suspicion that maybe she wasn't quite cut from the same cloth as my Grandmother. After all, every one of my Grandmother's prayers had been answered. The wonderful husband, the five children, the great career as a marriage and family therapist, etc and etc. While my Mother was still a single Mom who was living in her parents home.
As a therapist it was often that there was a neighbor knocking with a plate of cookies or some homemade bread, hoping to just quickly chat with my Grandmother, which ended up turning in to a free therapy session in our front living room while the rest of the family was in the back room watching TV.
I would eavesdrop occasionally around the corner and hear words like "disappointed" "sex" and "depression". Words that were unfamiliar and intriguing to me. I liked the idea that my Grandmother was helping them. That she had this power to influence their lives for good. There were constant thank you notes littering our mailbox and front porch. Women gushing about my Grandmother's advice that had saved their marriage or their lives.
To me, this was my normal. I assumed that not many people were as lucky as I was. People came up to me at church all the time and told me this. But in some way I also guessed that there were other women in the Mormon culture who were powerful like my Grandmother.
Several years later, as a 20 year old woman and wife, when I was volunteering at the Provo soup kitchen, I got to know the director. He was a dynamic man who cared deeply for the poor people of Utah valley. Somewhere in our conversations, gospel principals came up, and he confided in me that he thought that the apple that Eve partook of in the Garden of Eden was really grapes, because that was the fruit that Jesus was constantly referring to in the New Testament. I was intrigued.
I had felt myself a seeker of knowledge all my life. In my patriarchal blessing it said that "I had a good mind, and that if I sought after knowledge I would discover things not yet in the books." There were so many mysteries that I felt were out there, waiting to be unlocked.
This director and I conversed as I continued to volunteer. Finally he recommended that I go to a book store in downtown Provo, so that I could get the book that he had been talking to me about. It was a photocopied stack of papers that the store owner had taken the time to prepare for me, as he knew I was coming. I paid for them, and thanked him.
That night I began to read, and devoured what I read. It seemed familiar and yet new at the same time. These pages spoke of Brigham Young's revelation that our Heavenly Father was Adam from the Garden of Eden. It was something exciting that I wanted to share with my Grandmother. I couldn't wait to ask her about it. When I had the chance, she seemed solemn. She sat me down on her couch and asked me if I had read every other church book there was. When I replied that I had not, she said that before I read this book I should read all of the others. She had heard of this idea- the Adam God theory, and it didn't bother her. But she wasn't going to waste her time on it when there were so many other worthy books.
I put it away. I felt guilt, though I didn't understand why.