Growing up, my siblings and I always seemed to favor going to my mom’s parents’ home, more than my dad’s parents’. I guess it was because my paternal grandparents (Grandma and Grandpa) seemed more stern, and kids were more or less seen and not heard when at their house. Whereas, my mom’s side of the family were all very kid focused. It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I really got to know my Grandma and Grandpa.
It came about when I was eighteen. That’s when my parents had to sell my childhood home due to hardships. I had just given birth to my daughter a month prior and depended greatly on my parents for support. While they were in between homes, they sent me, my baby and my niece (who we had custody of) to live in Daytona, while they traveled for my dad’s job. Grandma and Grandpa lived in a 55+ community, but they were able to sneak us in under the radar, and made it to where my parents could rent the home next door to them temporarily for us. During that time, I was alone with an infant and a preschooler, and aside from what my parents sent to us, I had no money or resources. It was scary at night in that home too. Every noise freaked me out. I truly thought it was haunted. With all that, on top of dealing with the emotions of being a new mom and still grieving my breakup, I barely ever slept. My grandma could tell that I wasn’t coping well, but never brought it up for discussion. What she did do though, was offer to leave her side door unlocked one night so I could come in with the girls and sleep in her sunroom. That way I wouldn’t feel so alone or freaked out by the noises at my place. I took her up on it and quietly creeped in that night and put my niece to bed on the couch, and slept with my baby on the daybed. It was the first night that I had gotten any real sleep in quite a while. In the morning, we got up and joined my grandparents at the kitchen table for breakfast. It became a nightly and morning ritual after that, and the first time I ever really got to know them. During breakfast, my grandpa would lecture me on how bad my ex was for me and tell me how he had high hopes for me. My grandmother would sip her coffee, smoke her cigarette, and every so often, offer a tone of agreement. Shortly after that time, my mom told me that my grandmother had said some things to stir trouble in my parents’ marriage. I of course took my mom’s side and severed ties with my grandmother immediately. Not even questioning if she had actually done it or not, as I should have. To make matters worse, I had choice words for my grandmother, and ones that I could never take back. Regretfully, more than a year and my grandfather’s passing went by before I spoke to her again. At my father’s and uncle’s urging, I finally swallowed my pride and went to her home for a gathering. We both acted as if nothing had ever happened and just moved forward from there. She even came to my wedding later that year and supported me.
It wasn’t until about seven years later that her and I finally talked about it all. That’s when I had briefly moved back to Daytona and was pregnant with baby number five and pending divorce. Needless to say, I was emotionally going through it again. I couldn’t work at that time, so I became a stay at home mom to my two toddlers and took online classes while my older two girls were in school. My favorite part of the day became going and seeing my grandma. Several days a week, I would stop by after the older girls had gone to school and we would sit on her porch and talk while my two toddlers played. It was during that time that I truly got to know who my grandma really was. She told me many stories about her past and as it turns out, we were a lot alike.
One story that stuck out dramatically for me was the one about how my father’s dad, her then boyfriend, had left her. Her second son with him (my dad’s baby brother) had just died in infancy. I guess Leeroy couldn’t handle his grief, or maybe just saw it as a way out, but he stole all the money my grandma had put aside for the baby’s funeral and left. Never to be heard from again. It wasn’t long after that, that she decided to end her own life. She told me how she drove out somewhere one night and was going to end it all. But after some time there and bawling her eyes out, she couldn’t do it. Other than with her own mother back then, she had never talked about it before. Back then, they didn’t talk about depression. Most didn’t even know what it was that they were feeling. They did their hair and make-up and put on a smile while in public. Breaking down was only done behind closed doors. If they showed signs, the older generations often chocked it up as baby blues. Depression was taboo.
She had every right to feel what she was feeling. She started young and had seven kids by the time she was forty. Burying one of them along the way. She had multiple failed marriages/relationships, including a boyfriend that stole everything from her and abandoned her. She dealt with abuse at points in her life. She struggled to raise kids and make ends meet. It’s no wonder that she suffered from depression and contemplated suicide. Yet, despite all of that…she managed to get it together, pick her life up, and persevere. Because that’s the only choice she had. Thankfully that wasn’t the end of my grandmother’s story. In 1971 she met the man that I would later have the privilege of calling Grandpa, and they were married the following year. He turned out to be her one and only true love. They grew old together. Often bickering as old couples do…but holding strong to one another until death did them part. It took her until she was almost fifty to get it right, but she finally did and had almost thirty years with the one she loved.
I am beyond grateful for the times I got to spend with my Grandma as an adult, and truly get to know her and bond with her. I wish I had been given more time with her, and wish that it didn’t take me so long to get to know her and build our bond together. I’m sure there was still so much to know about her, and probably more that she wished to talk about finally. Sadly, she passed away about a year and a half after she had opened up to me for the first time. I miss her often and sometimes still talk to her, as I know she is listening and looking down watching over us.
It is crazy how similar my life was to hers. I too was raising six kids by the time I was forty, had two failed marriages and an ex-boyfriend that didn’t stick around to help me raise our child together. My ex-husband stole everything I had and took off to never be heard from again. I dealt with abuse of all kinds along the way. I suffer from depression and anxiety because of it, and have attempted suicide on a few occasions. BUT, because so many strong women like her fought through the bullshit and pain, I now have the privilege of being able to talk about my story. I can now break through the stigma of depression and live my life in the open. No more hiding behind closed doors and suffering in silence. If I am feeling upset and hurting, it is my God given right to talk about it. Who in your life may have paved the way for you to live your life as you do today?
I hope I find my one and only long before fifty, but if I have to wait that long for the one that is perfect for me, so be it. I am living this life through all the obstacles and hardships that have come along the way, because that is God’s plan for me. Those are the things that have made me the strong and independent woman I am today. I have learned that I don’t have to have someone in my life to complete me. I don’t have to settle for bullshit relationships anymore, and put up with narcissism, lies, and games. I finally know how to cope with my anxiety and depression. I finally know that I can talk about things and it doesn’t matter what other people think of me afterwards. Their issues are theirs and theirs alone. I am who I am…I am real, I am human, I make mistakes, I learn and grow each day, and I continue forwards. Thanks to all the strong women (and men) that have come before me, I know how to be a fighter and a survivor.
No one should make anyone feel as if having depression or any other mental illness is taboo. Depression is real and it can be serious and dangerous for some. More often that not, suicides happen because people didn’t feel they could talk about their issues. They didn’t have a circle or even one single person that they felt they could turn to. It needs to stop now. Kindness needs to be the norm and we need to check in on one another. I’ve said it many times and I will say it many more times…we have to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental health. Unfortunately, depression is becoming the norm with today’s society. We have to help those around us that are living with it, and even suffering from it. Please do your part and check in on your friends and offer a listening ear. Be aware of your circle and don’t let your life become so busy that you cannot text a kind line or two every so often. We may never be able to rid the world of mental illness, but we can reach out and help those coping with it. Who will you check on today?