Last Thursday, my grandmother passed away. It was not a shock since she had Alzheimer's disease and contracted pneumonia the week before. But even if it had come as a surprise, it wouldn't have made much difference to me since I felt completely indifferent to the fact that my grandmother was on her deathbed. I didn't care because, in my opinion, my grandmother was not a good person.
I won't get into the details of my mother's childhood since that's unfair to her, but I will say that her family's upbringing has left a legacy of damage, which has permeated down my family tree. Watching how my relatives struggle with their scars fills me with helplessness and anger. Yet despite the treatment my mother received, she never once taught me to hate my grandmother. I was raised to do the complete opposite, so I always treated my grandmother with the respect she deserved as my elder. But my knowledge of her actions remained. I would do anything she needed from me, but ultimately I was indifferent to her. Because of this, I was sure her death would not mean anything to me. And I assumed my mother felt the same way because, in my mind, this woman's death would finally set her free — emancipate her from the pains of the past.
Last Thursday, my mother called to tell me my grandmother had died. And as I listened to her mourn the loss, I found myself surprised. Why was she upset over a woman who had hurt her so many times — a woman who she knows has made her life harder? And then I truly understood that the woman who had died was her mother. Her only mother. The only mother she ever had. The only mother she will ever have. And she loved her.
I tell myself that it was indifference I felt toward my grandmother, but now I have to look back and consider if that's the truth. Although I never thought it explicitly, I wished my grandmother — a woman directly responsible for my existence — dead because in my mind it would benefit my mother.
What kind of a person does this make me? These feelings are completely against my code of morality. Yet because I've justified this feeling of "indifference" for years, I literally did not think about my grandmother as she slowly succumbed to Alzheimer's over the past two years. My true values say that I should have loved and cared for her until the end, regardless of what she had done in the past. But I didn't. I didn't do anything. I didn't kill her. I didn't help her. I had nothing to do with her well-being, not even in my thoughts.
This makes me a hypocrite for all the times I have judged others for hating their fathers or brothers or neighbors. I always felt superior because I didn't use the word "hate" to label my feelings and actions. The same applied to my relationship with my grandmother. But when it comes to family relationships, how different are hate and indifference?
Indifference is what hurt my mother. My grandmother was not an evil woman. I am certain that when she did the things that hurt my mother, it was not out of hate for her daughter, but rather selfishness, self-satisfaction for the present and indifference to her needs. Am I repeating the sins of my ancestors?
If I am indifferent to the suffering of my own flesh and blood, how could I ever show true compassion for the suffering of people across the globe? Desiring the death of another for the benefit of those I care about. Sounds like the justification for war. No wonder I'm not crying over the deaths of so many Iraqi people.
This was an incredibly difficult column to write because I don't know what the lesson is. I don't know what I could have done to ensure my feelings aligned with my morals. As a "rational" person who strives to stand by a moral code, it's scary to think how easy it is to forget what you're feeling and how that applies to what you believe is right. Is it better to hate than feel indifferent toward something? While my actions may have been those of a loyal grandchild and son, my thoughts were not. How do you change that? Because I don't think it's inherent ... or is it?
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