I’m not good at forgiving people; surprising yet true. I still have a grudge against the person who stole my favorite pen in 6th grade twenty-five years ago. Yet there have been times in my life when I had to forgive people to move on.
When my grandfather died thirteen years ago, I was so angry at his second wife that it took everything I could not to scream at the top of my lungs at her. Granddad hadn’t been well for a while, and we begged his wife to take him to the doctor, let us help her, but she no, they were fine. It was pretty clear we weren’t getting along at the time of the funeral; she sat there with her son and his wife, we sat in the second pew. We never spoke to her again after the funeral.
After his death I left school. I just couldn’t concentrate. I drifted for a long time. I went to work and I wrote every day. Although there were times I felt okay I felt angry and sad. It was all her fault. It was her fault that Granddad was gone; it was her fault that for whatever reason, my grandfather left everything to her in the will. It was her fault I couldn’t finish school, it was her fault that we had to move from our townhouse, okay she didn’t infest the place with termites, but it was still HER FAULT. What made it worse was that she still lived two blocks away from me. There were times I would see her at Safeway, and I would have to run out, not even wanting to talk to her or see her. She once sent a Christmas card. I ripped it up and tossed it in the trash.
Five years after Granddad died, I got a call from her son, Jimmy. I hadn’t heard from him in years. He told me he just moved his mother in a nursing home in Phoenix, and he was selling her house. There were things of my grandfather’s that his mother knew my family would want. I gave him my current address, asked him to let me know when for me to come for his things, and when I hung up I felt relief. I never again had to worry about seeing her in the neighborhood. The relief soon turned to sadness—I knew she hated nursing homes. She always made a point of visiting friends who were in nursing homes. To be placed in one must’ve been the last resort.
I let my family know. It was decided my cousin Sericea and I would be the ones to sort out Granddad’s stuff, because my uncle was recovering from a stroke, and I knew it might be too much for Mom. Around this time, I started thinking about going back to school, mostly browsing college catalogs, nothing serious.
Two months later, I got another phone call from Jimmy’s wife Kate. We had to go pick up her things that night. I had no time to call Sericea. Mom and I went to the house where her son was waiting along with his wife.
The living room was bare. Jimmy and Kate were there, wearing shorts, their legs deeply tanned. Jimmy gave me a hug first. I hugged back, stunned. It was like we hadn’t seen them in two weeks rather than five years. Kate hugged me as well. “You have Granddad’s things?” I asked, trying to keep my cool.
“We do,” Jimmy said, “the box is in Mother’s room.”
“I’ll go get it,” I said, heading towards her room.
“No, no no!” Jimmy said, stopping me. “I’ll go get it for you. Just wait here.”
Mom and I looked at each other. Something was up. Kate started talking, about the new downtown, how Pleasant Hill had changed in the past couple of years.
Jimmy came with a big box. “I’ll carry it to your car,” he said, leaving the house. Kate wished us good-bye, and we took this as a cue to leave.
We watched Jimmy put the box in the car, and then he hugged my mother, then me. “She asked to keep two pictures of you and Sericea. I hope this is okay.”
“Um, sure,” I said, stunned. “It’s okay.”
I got in the car. Mom sat there for a minute. “She was in her room, wasn’t she?” she asked me. There was no question who she was.
“I think so,” I whispered.
In the box was a photo album of all the places they traveled: Russia, Holland, Austria. When they got married in Reno. Pictures of Sericea when she was in the Blue Devils as a baton twirler. My high school graduation program. She saved everything. Every event, every family function, every party, she saved it all.
“The time to make up your mind about someone is never,” Katharine Hepburn told Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story. It’s one of my favorite quotes, and something I try to practice. However, I made up my mind about my grandfather’s second wife that she was the bad guy, the person who took him away from all of us. However, the thing was he wanted to die. He was done. His knees were hurting him that he could barely walk, he had macular degeneration, and he couldn’t hear very well—he was done. I remembered the words he said to me the last time I saw him Jen I want to go home, please help me go home. He was ready to go, ready to see my grandmother again in Heaven or Whatever Is up There.
Although she made poor choices, it wasn’t entirely her fault.
A year later, Jimmy called again. She died in the nursing home in Phoenix. I asked when the funeral would be. It was three months ago. Along with her grandchildren’s photos near her deathbed, there were pictures of Sericea and me. When I hung up, I sat there, numb.
Later that night, I was watching ER. It was the one when Dr. Greene died. I started sobbing, and I thought what was the matter with me that I could cry for a fictional character yet I couldn’t cry for a woman who had my picture by her deathbed? I didn’t know.
Two weeks later on Memorial Day Mom and I went to the cemetery. After visiting Grandma and Granddad, we visited her grave. She was buried near her first husband. I stood there for a long time, looking at it. I then prayed: God, I don’t want to be angry anymore at her. Let me have the grace to forgive her, and I’ll move on.
Two months later, I enrolled in classes at my community college. Four years almost to the day when Jimmy called me about her death, I graduated from Mills.
I wish that my grandfather could’ve seen his granddaughters graduate from college and he could’ve met his great-grandson. The anger is gone now though. What lasts are memories, and they are mostly good.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries