To Speak Ill of the Dead

My grandmother on my maternal side died sixteen years ago today, well last night technically. It was one of the worst nights that I could ever remember having. She had been in a hospital bed in my mothers room for all of Christmas, once her favourite holiday, a sliver of her former self: both in appearance and personality. She had seizures most of the night, I saw her have them, I was the one who heard her pained cries and ran upstairs, and overhear my mother say “I think shes dying” and then stood in the hallway in the dark feeling my reality fall apart around me. I was devestated when she died. I listened to the first Billy Talent album on repeat, full blast for months. Its the only thing that could help me sleep, I couldn’t eat, or function. But what I was wrestling was more than I knew how to deal with, it was more than grief, and sadness. It was hatred, anger, confusion, and a feeling of drowning coming from knowing before she died, I was still not enough.

You see, my grandmother was one fierce woman. Fierce in her passion in standing up for workers rights, equal rights, and in her hatred of squirrels. She was a great gardener, cook, and could talk politics dusk till dawn. She always carried herself in this mildly posh way that incinuated class and sophistication, and she was. She used to talk on the phone for hours, sitting in the kitchen with the cord across the kitchen door, swinging her foot like she was writing all her words as she spoke. She was fantastic in a lot of ways. She made it through a whole bunch of tough shit that I can’t imagine (partly because no one ever talked about it). Among all of these amazing qualities, there were quite a lot of rough and damaging ones. I am sad to say she was one of my abusers. They say not to speak ill of the dead, but the flaw in that is that its a part of healing, to see the person for the entire person they were. Not talking about their flaws or the things they did to damage you just stunts your healing. Rather, talking about it, allowing your feelings to come up around it, you’re able to see the full person, appreciate their good qualities and really see them for the person they fully were. So if you find this offensive, I will ask you to keep your opinions to yourself and stop reading now.

My grandmother was very abusive. She was verbally, emotionally and mentally abusive for as long as I can remember. She was cruel and manipulative and scary. When I was five or six she threatened to kick me out of the house, in whispers, because I had done…who knows what wrong. I remember where I was standing when she did it, I remember her exact villianous words as she glared at me with one of the most terrifying looks I think I ever got, I was honestly scared for my life. I tried to tell on her to my mother, and my grandma stood behind my mothers back and gave me a look I knew meant she would hurt me. So I told my mom I lied, and was grounded. I’ve been told she started making comments about my weight when I was…four? three? I only remember when when I was older. The whole time she was a part of my life she controled everything I ate, everything I wore, and even if I did every single thing she told me to I was never good enough, there was always something she was disappointed in me for. I thought for a long time she was disappointed in who I was a person, in me existing. These are just a few examples, there is a ton more shit she did, and honestly I blocked a lot of it out. A lot of it out **side note: the reason its been so long is because I had a period of about 2 months where I had a ton of supressed memories come back, partly involving her abuse, and the emotional abuse from my mother/other trauma. I retreated for a while to try and heal it** There is a lot more that she did, but if I list every incident I remember I’ll be here forever, and thats not the point I’m wanting to make either.

My grandmother is the reason I started self-harming, she is the reason I grew up hating myself and that I struggled with disordered eating and eating disorders for over half or more of my life. She had a way about her, a way of talking down to you that made it seem like she was helping you, doing charity work. She talked to me for hours after I’d hang out with my friends telling me all of the reasons that my friend actually didn’t care about me, was keeping me, a “fat girl”, around so they feel better about themselves, that they pitied me, were too nice to tell me to fuck off, and more of this really really awful shit. I was too young to know what she was saying wasn’t true, and she was also my caregiver. Children believe their care givers have their best interest at heart, I had no one to tell me that she was fucked and lying to me. I had no one to tell me I deserved to be loved, deserved better, and to feel safe in my own skin. These incidents weren’t isolated, they happened every day, every week, every month for the ten years that I lived with her. You want to know the kicker? I fucking looked up to her. I did. I wanted nothing more than to be like her when I grew up, to sacrifice every ounce of myself for her so that one day I might be enough. I wanted to starve myself to less than bones so that I’d be pretty in her eyes. I wanted to be the person she wanted me to be, this impossible person who she had in her head. I wanted to make her happy, and that meant giving up any secret cherished moments with friends (she would tear them down and tell me why they were lies), giving up trying to have my own fashion sense (she would tell me I looked far too fat or ugly in my choice of clothes), give up my plans, give up my future dreams, give up eating, give up loving myself. She (along with another abuser) took away every single emotional resource I had, every bit of love and respect I had for myself, every person who might have actually loved me, and left me isolated, in that house that was never a home.

It must have been hard for my mother, living with her mom again when she was so obviously abusive. I feel for her, it must have been awful. She said she tried her best to sheild us from her moms abusive, but here is where I take issue. She still lived with her. She was a grown ass adult, we were children, she was responsable for our safety, and wellbeing. She allowed me to look up to my grandmother like she was some sort of fucking saint. She allowed me to think all of these cruel things my grandmother said were true, and not only that she had her own things to add to my grandmothers berrating comments. She allowed the abuse to happen. And she also didn’t deal with her shit, and ended up being abusive too, in a different way.

The issue with looking up to your abusers, as a kid, is that you internalize the hurt feelings. A child wouldn’t stop loving their mother or grandmother, or whoever when theyre abused, the child instead stops loving themselves. When they told me that my sadness was selfish, or when they scream bloody murde and insulted me, I believed them, it tore me down, it caused me to bury the person who I actually was, and become the person I needed to be to survive, to possibly get enough, to possibly have some needs met. It took me years to find that me again, to feel like myself, and learn to love her, and love that past little me in the moments when no one else could.

So that day when I was standing in the hallway lost for words or actions, knowing she was dying in the other room, I was terrified to lose her, terrified I’d never have closure in feeling like I’d finally earned her love, or that she really loved me for me. I don’t think she ever really loved me. Not real love, maybe her own bullshit version of some selfish love, but no, unconditional love is something I lacked in my house after my dad died. I stood there crushed, feeling like I disappointed her for existing, and somehow was causing her suffering, like her death was my fault, her pain was my fault.

I can see the parts of her that were fantastic, that were amazing, I can see her strength, her passion, her weird witch impression, her love of music and politics (I would love her baking recipes). But I can also see her fearfully running from her own pain and taking all of it out on her family. I can see that she passed down her own abuse instead of dealing with it herself. I can see that she was the most manipulative person I’ve ever met, I can see that she somehow looked a four year old in the eye and critially called her fat, and threatened to kick out a fiveish year old (that says a lot about a person). Her two-faced self who would charm and devour at the blink of an eye. I don’t know, really, if I love her. I did at one point, but I don’t know that I hate her anymore either, not the way I did. So, grandma, on the day you died, I will not be speaking sweet words of you, like I did all of the other years, I wont say I miss you. I instead am going to instead say: thank you, and fuck you. Thank you for teaching me what a strong woman can look like, and inspiring me to see all people as equals, thank you for the unfathomable amount of pain you caused me because it made me the person I am today. But fuck you, for all the reasons I’ve listed and a few more. Fuck you for raising a young girl to hate herself, for gas-lighting her and manipulate her into thinking she was crazy, a disappointment, shouldn’t exist and not enough. Fuck you for not dealing with your own shit and passing them onto your daughter, who then passed it down to me too. Fuck you, and goodbye.

2 thoughts on “To Speak Ill of the Dead

  1. I love your openness. I love watching you process all the awfulness and dropping it behind you like a napkin you don’t need anymore.
    Self love suits you Billie .

    1. Thank you very much, thats kind of you. Thank you for reading. Its definitely been a tough journey, but I am starting to have moments where I can see how far I come, which is a difficult but nice feeling. <3

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