When you get a phone call that your ninety year old grandmother is in the isolation unit of the hospital with double pneumonia and a “leaky” heart valve, you go. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is or where she is, you just go. When we received this call about my husband’s grandmother two nights ago in the late evening we made arrangements to get on the road to go see her right away. Luckily she only lives a couple of hours away and we could be there shortly.
The time in the car was fraught with, what ifs? It had been four, maybe five years since we had seen Grandma Benson. Instantly, Loren felt guilty over this fact. Some family issues had caused tension in the past and things had not been the same these last few years.
Loren, his brother, and his mother were all abandoned by his father when the boys were just one and three years old. I don’t say that to be dramatic, but I won’t mince words, completely abandoned is what they were. He decided to walk out of their lives, as well as the lives of the rest of his family and never looked back for no other reasons than selfishness and cowardice. There were never any stray birthday cards, random phone calls, or sporadic visits. They just plain and simply never saw him again. His mother tried over and over to take him to court to at least make him financially responsible for the children he knowingly and willingly helped to produce and then walked away from three years later. But for a dead-beat who mainly worked under the table he always claimed he didn’t have any money to pay with and couldn’t produce a paycheck for the state to garnish so no financial support was ever given.
Their mother, suddenly finding herself alone with her two young boys went to school, earned her master’s degree, and became an artist and teacher. Their whole childhood she made a concerted effort to keep the boys involved in their grandparent’s lives. Time went on, the boys grew up, and became hard working men with loving, stable families who adore their children and are there for them in every way.
Then one day we hear from grandma that “Michael” had been stopping by to see her. A rift was born. Grandma forgives her son, of course, in the way that only a mother ever could. I’m told grandpa, whom I never met, wouldn’t be so lenient of this transient’s sudden resurgence, or her acceptance of it. We certainly weren’t. No one felt he had any right to access even the smallest corner of the boy’s lives. No one could stomach the thought of him in such close proximity after all these years of nothingness. What did he want? Why was he there?
What right did he have? What did he think as he sat in his mother’s house and gazed at her pictures on the wall? Did he just keep pretending his children didn’t exist? Leary of ever running in to him, and grandma misunderstanding, thinking their mother had told the boys (men in their thirties by now, mind you) not to see her anymore because of Michael’s presence, their time together over the holidays, and other visits and phone calls became strained, and eventually nonexistent.
We arrived at the hospital, flowers in hand, and grandma recognized Loren right away. Ninety years old, and still sharp as a tack and feisty as hell. Skylar had gotten so big, she had said. And she asked Loren what he was doing all the way over here (in her town). She had been in the hospital for almost two weeks. She told us how she was feeling, and talked about how bad the hospital was. The male nurses whom, she presumes must not be able to become doctors, and are settling for nurses instead. The constant poking and prodding. She doesn’t like the food, it’s bland. We offered to go out and get her anything she wanted to eat, or otherwise.
“Oh no,” she said. “Michael’s been bringing me KFC and Arby’s.” She floats his name across the room as if it’s nothing.
Stunned, Loren turns white. I know what he’s thinking, but we don’t say a word to each other. We had no idea Mike was still hanging around. Would we have to worry about possibly running in to him here? I don’t know how Loren would react. I don’t know if he could handle it.
The nurse comes in to start an IV. She looks at Loren and says “Are you Mike? I’m supposed to call Mike”.
“No, I’m not.”
If she only knew what a shocking question that was. Loren excuses himself to uses the restroom, but comes back shortly thereafter. “I got spooked,” he tells me. “I saw a man standing at the end of the hall that I thought looked enough like me that maybe I should know who it was. He just stared at me strangely until I turned around and came back.”
I’ve never seen a picture of Michael, and any of the ones Loren might have seen growing up would be thirty years old now. We stay for a while and chat with grandma some more. We tell her we’ll come back when she’s out of the hospital and take her to lunch. We write down our address and phone numbers for her, again, just in case they had somehow been misplaced over the years. It’s clear that she needs to rest, so we go. We ask the nurses to please notify us if her condition changes.
After we get to the car Loren tells me, “I couldn’t believe it when she said my dad’s name. I don’t know what I would have done if he had walked in there. I mean, they don’t even write movies about stuff like that,” he says. ” Who knows what kind of response you’re supposed to have. I don’t even know what the appropriate thing would have been to have done. I guess I would have just kept calm, and told grandma I love her, said goodbye, then left. She doesn’t need there to be a problem. I probably would have just ignored him, treated him like the stranger he’s made himself to be.
I’m glad he didn’t show up. And I’m glad I got to see grandma. I’ve been feeling guilty about not seeing her these last couple of years anyway.”
On the way home we discussed the reverberations parental abandonment causes for generations in society. The brokenness in children that leaves them unknowingly unable to function properly and all it’s many examples projected in abuse, neglect, mistrust, lack of intimacy, inability to form meaningful bonds, sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol dependence, etc.
Broken homes, broken world.
In Loren’s case, he had no idea his lack of a father had even affected him until he became one himself. It’s been a painful eye opening road of acceptance and healing ever since. We talk of Miss Elliott. A child, so helpless, so innocent. How could anyone just walk away and never look back? He doesn’t understand it, couldn’t even begin to imagine how someone could commit such an injustice toward their own flesh and blood, a child nonetheless.
I’m proud of my husband for letting go of the anger and feelings of betrayal by putting others before himself. I’m proud that he doesn’t let his childhood define him. I’m proud of him for visiting grandma even though Michael could have shown up at any time. I’m proud of the husband and father he is: a bigger man, a better man, his own man.