Usually this time of year is an exciting one for me. My birthday is May 10. I'm turning 33. My birthday usually feels like a big deal, probably because such a big deal was made of it for so long - I'm the only child, the only grandchild, the only niece. I was a spoiled little princess when I was a girl - heck, basically until after I graduated from college and got a lick of sense in me.
I love this time of year also because of Spring. It's my favorite season, the renewal after all the time spent inside in the darkness and chill of winter. Honeysuckle always blossoms around my birthday, and it's one of my favorite smells in the world. I feel blessed to have a birthday in a time of year when friends and family can gather outside, and have had many parties outdoors over the years. I like that my birthday falls on Mother's Day some years - it's nice to be able to celebrate two happy things in one!
This year, my birthday week feels strange. I am caught by that most useless of emotions, guilt. (I'm also sad, but sad feels purposeful somehow.) My grandma lives in middle Tennessee, and her house was badly flooded on Sunday when Drake's Creek, a tributary of Old Hickory Lake, overran it's boundaries. I haven't had a chance to talk to her, or to my uncle, who lives with her. I'm getting information from my mom, when she can get in touch with them. Would you believe in this day and age, they don't have cell phones? As much of a technophobe as I am, I am profoundly thankful for cell phones, and this situation makes it clear how useful they are.
My uncle said that the water came up to the doorknobs in the house, which means that all the furniture, appliances, bookcases, floors, walls, everything waist-down is ruined. Their outdoor cat was swept away. They escaped with just whatever they could grab, the water came up that fast. The creek has never flooded that badly in the 40 years she's lived there.
I have some good memories from my childhood visits there, especially when my grandfather was still alive. He was a sweetheart of a man, gentle and funny and loving. I was 7 when he died, so I didn't have an adult sense of awareness to be able to really know him. But I loved him with my whole heart, and the rest of my family did too. When he died the family really fractured. It had been coming a long time, and that's a REALLY long story, of which I still don't know all the details. But after he died, all the joy started going out of visiting Hendersonville.
I've never felt close to my grandmother, not really. I don't even know why. She can be mean to other people, but she's never been mean to me. My aunt, who I sort of idolize, has a horrible relationship with her, and I'm sure that's influenced my feelings. The physical distance between us, although just 3 and a half hours drive, didn't help either. Mamaw's sort of a cold person. She can be funny, and generous at times, but distant. Now she's sick - she has Alzheimer's disease. She's in the middle stages of it, and we've all hung back, not knowing how to make her see that she needs to make some tough choices about her future.
My uncle's a sweet person, but weak. He has had one bad relationship after another, he's been addicted to drugs and alcohol, he's been in jail. I do not think he's a bad person. I just think he never felt strong enough in himself to make good choices.
There is much sadness in that house. There has been for a very long time. Maybe something good will come out of this flood. It forced the issue that was hanging over everyone's head: what to do about the house now that Mamaw's Alzheimer's is getting worse. It's ironic that all the stuff my Mamaw has hoarded over the years, the stuff we couldn't get her to throw away or go through, is now waterlogged. I am sad that the house where my family used to be able to come together is basically gone. But it's really been gone for a long time anyway - at least in my heart.
I feel guilty for not being there to help, guilty for not really wanting to go over there at all, guilty that I don't have a better relationship with Mamaw. I am prone to guilt, even though I know it's an emotion that doesn't do anyone any good. I am trying to get out of this head-space. I am trying to pray, to grieve, to meditate, and to think of constructive ways I can be of help.
I read something in Julia Cameron's book The Right to Write today that struck me - about owning one's life, and writing as a way to do that. I thought, this is my life. My family's screwed up, relationships are strained or broken, people that I care about are pretty much crazy. But it's the only life I've got. I've managed to make it this far with these crazy people around me! And for all their faults, I've never doubted for one second that they love me.