I never knew my grandmother until she died.
I saw her. I spent time with her. I knew her name and saw her a few times a year. I like to tell myself that in those last six years, I got to know her better. My grandfather had preceded her in death and I wonder if maybe she reached out more to us after that because she wanted a chance before she followed after him. I like to tell myself that.
Her name was Helen and my grandfather would have launched a thousand ships just to be with her. Before she died, she told me their love story. She told me how she gave up everything to be his. She paid some dear, dear prices to carry his name. And she told me she would have done it again and again. He adored her for it. I never knew that. I never knew who they were and what they risked for each other.
There was a lot about her I didn’t know.
Many stories about her have since come to light. Some not-so-good. Some charming. Some that comfort me in moments I feel so alone. My father and I have talked many times about her. He loves her in that devoted way sons love their mothers. But he understood her more than I think she ever realized. I ache to hear him talk about her—ache and never want him to stop telling me her stories.
There are stories of her diving into the sea, fully clothed, and reveling in the power of the waves. She encouraged a good dozen kids to join her and walked proudly into the hotel afterward, dripping wet and grinning. There are stories of her, fierce on the tennis court. Skiing off the edge of a pier with her thumbs up, asking to go faster. Reading racy stories with her friends and tossing the pages into the fire, one by one.
And there are other stories. I’ve heard it said she talked too much—rambled and carried on, unaware that the other person was ready to disengage. I’ve heard it said that she was sometimes thoughtless, exclusive, opinionated, and downright hurtful. I’ve read journal entries of broken-hearted people who yearned for her approval and felt they would never have it.
I learned that she fought a long hard war against herself. She spent decades in therapy, desperate to understand herself and change what couldn’t be changed. Her life was blessed with a love that doesn’t seem to exist these days. Love people would kill for. Love that would be enough for other people. My grandfather worshipped her and devoted his life to being her knight in shining armor. But she still fought against sunrise every morning.
She was unlike anyone I have ever known. A person I never knew. And I am just like her.
There is a label for people like my grandmother—people like me. Drama Queen. It’s an ugly label. A person so easily and callously summed up in two words. It’s said with rolled eyes, sighs, and pity or condemnation. Most of the world, it seems, can’t abide people like that.
But when I think of her I don’t use those words. I don’t see a person to roll my eyes or scoff at. I see a woman who tried so hard to love with everything in her. Who tried to battle her inner demons for the sake of a husband and children that she more than worshipped—she stayed for. Against a hard, cold world that hated her for what she was, she stayed. Her life wasn’t easy. She lost a family for loving my grandfather and having faith in something none of us really knows. Her youngest child died of a horrifying disease. Cancer stole years of her life and ending up stealing her husband, too. But she stayed.
There is still so much I don’t know about her. So much I desperately wish I did. Late at night, when it’s dark and still, I lay wrapped up in the quilt she gave me for my wedding and think about her. I think about the legacy in her DNA that’s been passed on to me. The DNA I have already passed on to my children. I think about the years she put on a happy face and never gave up. And I wonder how.
People who knew her and my grandfather have told me my husband and our love is so similar to theirs. He worships me. He devotes his life to being my knight in shining armor. I would give up everything for him again and again. But I still fight against sunrise every morning. My inner demons wage war. I’ve spent years trying to understand myself and change what cannot be changed. I try so hard to love with everything in me.
Against a hard, cold world that hates me for what I am, I stay. For the sake of a husband and children I more than worship, I stay. Even when I don’t want to. I don’t know how she did it, I just know that she did. She was me. Before I even knew what I was. Before I even knew who she was.
I ache to hear her stories—ache and never want to stop hearing them. Even the bad ones. Sometimes especially the bad ones. Maybe someday, I will have a granddaughter that hears my stories—beautiful and ugly—and takes comfort in the threadbare, clumsy re-stitched quilt I made for her. Maybe she will know that I stayed and so she will too.
I carry in my heart the question of what I am and why I am. I have carried this post in my heart for more than a year. I have asked myself if God still loves a Drama Queen. And I wonder if my grandmother wondered that, too.
If I could answer her, I would tell her I don’t care if God loves a Drama Queen or not. Because I love her. All of her.