My grandmother passed away last Fall, just shy of her 101st birthday. She’s been a widow since 1995, when my grandfather died from prostate cancer. Back then, we didn’t know as much as we know now…and it was an ugly, slow and painful death. In fact, I raise awareness and funds every year now during “Movember” because of his health situation…as well as his brother and dad’s, who also died of prostate cancer…
I grew up close to my grandparents (on my mom’s side), as well as my dad’s mom. My paternal grandfather died when I was young so I never really knew him. In my high school years, we spent almost every Christmas or Thanksgiving with the Schneider’s, as our home in New Jersey was a short 2 hours from theirs in Pennsylvania. I flew in my grandfather’s plane, helped him learn electronic typewriters, automated spreadsheets and computers. From family photos and videos, I know that growing up, we spent a lot of time with them as well. I have 2 full VCR tapes, sprinkled with visits to Mee-maw and Pop-pop, or Mee-maw Fuqua. My grandfather came to my college graduation, and was pretty proud of my budding IT career at Lilly. I was there about 5 years when he passed away…
What I learned at the time, in 1995, was he harbored some hatred of my homosexuality. He thought less of me quite honestly, and didn’t think a same-sex partner of mine should be treated with the same respect that my brother and sister’s spouses were and would be. We discovered this based on some wording in the legal terms of stocks that he left the grandkids in 1995. Though few thought it was legally valid, he basically forbade any of the money he willed to me, to go to my “issue” when I died (a legal term for my dependents, aka my same-sex partner or spouse should I be in a long-term relationship). That was a bitter pill of rejection to swallow at the ripe age of ~25, after thinking I was so loved and respected all those years growing up. His stubborn German mindset won out in the end, and he wrote hatred and discrimination into his last Will and Testament.
At the time, I remember my grandmother looking at me sternly, and saying something to the effect of “I will not stand for that, Todd. No worries – consider this undone as far as I’m concerned. He was perhaps not in his right mind at his death…but regardless, I will not have you treated like that.” I knew the unconditional love and acceptance of my Polish matriarch…she ruled the nest in the end, and love and acceptance won out in the end.
Fast forward to this week. It turns out, my grandfather’s ugly act reached further in the future (now the present…) My grandmother was living off a trust set up in her name, but established and governed by my grandfather’s Last Will and Testament some 20 years ago. As would normally be the case, once she were to pass, any remaining funds would be left to their children, my mom and Uncle. And, as would normally be the case, should one of those “issues” precede my grandmother in death, then their share would be distributed to their “issues” – their children.
So, to translate all that into English…since my mom died before my grandmother, her share of the remaining trust would normally be split equally to my sister, my brother and me. Normally. If my grandfather didn’t breath more hatred and rejection into his last decisions… As his only gay grandchild, he chose to exclude me from these final arrangements….a final slap in the face from the grave if you will.
(I’m sorry – call it what you will, but it hurts even 20 years later…so spare me the glossy discounting. Call a spade a spade…)
Of course, my grandmother’s spirit lives on…and I’m glad to have siblings who love me unconditionally, and have loved my partners Jeff and Jerry as their own in-laws….particularly “Uncle Jerry.” So, like their grandmother, they immediately sought to right the situation and ensure that love and acceptance triumphed. In fact, since the “hate letter” from the lawyer came to us while I was on vacation, my sister was particularly worried how I might react, reading it cold turkey yesterday. So, she reached out to my dad (who I was visiting in Florida for an escape to warmer climates and time with family..) to make sure that he told me in person what to expect in the letter…and that my siblings had already brainstormed ways to shave off my share and get it to me, in spite of the old coot’s wishes. 😉
My siblings will probably never fully appreciate how that simple act of preemptive and unconditional love meant to me…how much it brought some relief and healing to the wound that was ripped back open, having been healed in the past by Mee-maw’s similar act of justice. Of course, I will tell them..and share this post with them. But until you’ve experienced such hatred and rejection simply for who you are, how you were born…one can only empathize, not sympathize.
I’m eternally grateful for Mee-maw, Lisa and Jonathan’s act of love and acceptance — as well as my dad’s gesture of conversation.
Rest assured, I’m sure that Pop-pop has already been “set right” in Heaven by the Powers that Be, my Mom and my Grandmother…and woe to him particular for Mee-maw’s swift words…forget the Powers that Be in this case 😉 She chewed him out good…I can hear her…“Groh, you selfish, silly man…how could you?” As only a 100+ year old first generation American-Polish matriarch could…