My step-grandfather, Howard Major, died last night. He was the only grandfather (on my mother’s side of the family) that I ever knew. My grandmother, Leah, and he were married before I was born. I am the oldest of the grandchildren, so I knew him the best, although we had not seen each other in over ten years, and, truth to tell, I had only seen him a handful of times since my grandmother’s death in 1972.
He was (and is, as his death won’t change much) a divisive figure in the family. Two of his five step-children kept in touch with him; my mother (the eldest) wasn’t one of them. She tells many tales of his temper and drunkenness, all of which I believe to be true. I only have fleeting glimpses of him from my childhood, and they are by and large positive. I remember most getting rides in his semi-truck (he worked for a long defunct company called “Penn Yan Express”). He and my grandmother would often take me with them to the Moose Club in Hammondsport where there was a sliding-puck bowling game I liked, and free sardines for me at the bar (I know, yuck, but I’m told I loved them then).
When my grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1970, we began to see less and less of him. He more or less abandoned her as she was dying. I spent many times over more time with her than he did in that last year. He remarried within months of her death. My mother broke relationship with him and I more or less went along with that. I adored my grandmother and was angry with him for disappearing. For most of my adult life we did exchange Christmas cards. About five or six years ago, I sent him our annual Christmas letter instead of a card just from me. I never heard from him again. It’s possible that he had no idea I was gay and the letter was how he found out.
I find myself sad today mostly at the memory of my grandmother. I admit to a significant level of indifference toward him, although I let go of the anger a long time ago.
In an ideal world I would have reached out to him and tried to work through what had happened. As a Christian person it feels like something I should have done and failed at miserably. I don’t, however, feel anything like guilt today.
I am just wondering at unresolved relationships. I know very few people who do not have any. Forgiveness does not come easily to any of us, I don’t think, and it is certainly easier to push a relationship away rather than attempt to repair it. If I do feel guilt today it is that here I am a priest, with relationships, including with my grandfather, that are unresolved. I have counseled countless numbers of people to repair the breech when I myself have never been very good at it. Truth to tell, neither were they because my experience is that very few people actually attempt the repair.
I can’t say I was estranged from my grandfather, or that I harbored hatred and really any ill will toward him. I have just been indifferent. Sometimes, I think, that is all we can accomplish (even if it does not seem like much of an accomplishment). My faith tells me I have eternity to repair the relationship breeches in my life, and I have to believe it is easier on the other side, but I also have this nagging suspicion that it is those people who will meet me at the gate. I hope I have the courage then that I have not had now.
I do wish, as I do for all, that he rest in peace, and rise in glory. He died a sinner of God’s own redeeming as we all do. If my relationship has to wait for resolution, I know that his with God does not, and I find comfort and hope in that grace.