Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘love’

Remembering My Gama*

Admit it, you cried too. You found yourself in front of the TV for whatever reason at noon on April 21, 2018 and watched the Bush family say goodbye to their matriarch. My Mom turned 81 on April 21st, and quite frankly I am not ready to think of her being gone. Not even a little bit. So I watched the grandchildren. Rather than putting myself in the minds of Mrs. Bush’s children I channeled her grandchildren. Listening to Jeb Bush describe “Ganny” sent me back in time to the days when I was the best-loved grandson in the history of all mankind.

My birthday is January 7th, 1960. Gama was “born” about a year later–I couldn’t get my one year old tongue around the word “grandma” and it came out “Gahmmah”. Now, the White family is really big on precedent, and since grandchild number 1 called Mom’s mother Gama, Gama it was for everybody. Subsequent grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, neighbors, heck a few Romans who lent an ear for all I know, called Jane Knopf “Gama”. (This precedent thing turned out to be not so good in the next generation when my nephew, grandchild number three, called my parents “Bam” and “Bamp” and it wasn’t allowed to stick, but that’s another story.)

As the first grandchild in my Mom’s family I had the perfect set-up, and the fact that I was the first male in a generation didn’t hurt one bit. My brother was born 17 months after I was, and with the two of us so close together it was apparently a burden for my folks. Turned out to be quite a break for me, though, because my brother was born in May; at the end of June I was shipped out to stay with Gamma and Gramp at the Jersey Shore, the first of countless solo visits with my grandparents. Thus began a most privileged relationship with my maternal grandparents, especially with my beloved Gama.

It’s hard to describe, especially in these days of ultra mobility where extended families live apart, how critical it was to be loved by a family member without condition. Accepted and supported with no strings attached. Time spent with Gama was time spent in a guilt-free bubble. You behaved because it just felt so good to be in that bubble, and if you misbehaved forgiveness came in waves a very brief instant after any punishment. I visited my grandparents for weeks at a time, especially in the summer. My aunt Barbie, 16 years my senior, made it OK for the rugrat to be around even though I was clearly messing up her “only child” status in the house. Those were good times. I had a very special and unique relationship with Gama and Gramp. If I close my eyes and it’s very quiet I can still hear them…”Dar”.

Apparently everyone in my family saw what a special relationship I had with them and sought to preserve and protect it. It does no good to share any family secrets, but every family has some, eh? I was the last to discover any of the family’s darker secrets, long after my siblings, long after the cousins 10 and 12 years my junior. I was 30 when my aunts visited us in New York at the end of my residency years when I became aware of how much I’d been “protected” over the years, protection so effective that any present day revelations cannot dim or diminish the memories of my life with Gama and Gramp.

We lost Gramp when I was around 17  when he succumbed to his nth heart attack. That whole time is really just a blur, from the phone call I took in Rhode Island with the news from my uncle to the memorial service in Miami where I stood next to Barbie as she tried to read her farewells. What I remember–indeed all I really remember clearly–is Gama saying over and over, “I didn’t get to say ‘goodbye’.” I didn’t get to say ‘goodbye’ either. Maybe that’s why I can still hear Gramp every now and again…”Dar.”

Gama stayed in Florida at King’s Creek for a couple more years, living in the same apartment I’d visited so many times. I even made one last solo visit when I brought my new college buddy “Kid” for a week of spring break fun during freshman year. Every family seems to have one adult who’s cool, don’t they? Yours does. Admit it. There’s a parent or an uncle or a grandmother who’s just cooler than all of the other adults, right? Well, in our family it was Gama. My Gama was cool! As the years went by as more and more of our friends got to know her it seemed she just got cooler. Just ask Kid.

It turns our that Gama was ALWAYS cool. She entered college as a pre-med student in the days when women did not become doctors. Almost got away with it, too, until her mother found out and transferred her into education. She dated the gay boys when she was younger because they took her to the best clubs and they were the best dancers (and she didn’t have to worry about getting pawed on the train home from New York).  Yup, Gamma was cool.

After a few solo years in Miami Gama moved in with my folks in Rhode Island, spending several months each year with my aunts and their kids in Florida. She never called us just by name, it was alway “MY Dar”, my Ran, my Tracey, my Kerstin. My Jenny, Rick, Mike or Ed. All eight grandchildren now clearly had a unique and special relationship with Gama since she was now living with all of us. She was still my biggest fan, my brother Randy’s defender (Ran was the “black sheep” by choice when we were younger), Tracey’s cheerleader and Kerstin’s confidant. Even though I can’t describe them as well I know that each of my Florida cousins had some version of that same specialness.

Some time ago, I was in my early thirties, Gama fell and broke her hip. Word came from the hospital that she was failing–a broken hip is often the end for older women. Beth called me on the way to the OR to do cataract surgeries. Numb, stunned, I couldn’t think. I did what we have always done in my family, I went to work. It was Beth who knew better, who cancelled my patients and put me on a plane to Miami. Beth who let everyone know that I was on the way, alerting everyone in Florida when I was delayed in Greensborogh so that Barbie knew where to to leave the message. I sat sobbing in the airport after the  gate attendant told me Gama had died. I wouldn’t get to say goodbye.

My Mom and I spoke at the memorial service representing the children and grandchildren, Mom all icy control, me crashing, burning and choking my way through. I told one of my favorite stories, the one about the little girl who was standing in front of her grandfather’s casket, stomping her feet, clearly angry. “He can’t be dead. I wasn’t done with him yet!” That’s how I felt when Gramp died. I think if we’d had the chance to ask him Gramp would have told us that he wasn’t really all that done with US when he died, either. I definitely wasn’t done with Gama, either, but Gama was done with us. She was ready to go, so long after Gramp left, so long living alone among all of her special grandkids. I said then, and I still wish to this very day, that she hadn’t been in so much of a hurry. I would very much have liked to say goodbye.

Maybe that’s why even now, when it’s very quiet, if I close my eyes, I can still hear her…”Dar.”

 

*In our family there is some question about the proper spelling. Since she signed all of her cards and gifts “Gama” I’m going with that.

Resolution 2014: Love

Will you make any New Year’s resolutions this week? I probably will. Each year my list becomes smaller, but I am more successful in hitting the mark. Why? Probably because the list is small and therefore better thought out for one.

The other reason is “resolve”, the characteristic most necessary to achieving success in your resolutions. It’s a fancy word for commitment, or more precisely the conscious act of making and following through on that commitment. It’s infinitely easier to find  the resolve necessary to follow through on my resolutions if there are fewer of them for sure, but having taken a bit more time in coming up with them in the first place it also seems that my resolutions of late have been a bit more meaningful, too. Investing the time in the search for a meaningful resolution seems to reduce the time and effort it takes me to muster up the resolve necessary to see one through.

If you celebrate Christmas (or Hanukah for that matter) you probably did a bit of gift giving recently. Sure, some of it probably felt kinda like an obligation, but at least a bit of that gift giving was really more about the expression of love behind the gift. That’s the easy part, at least for me, expressing love. Whether on the gifting side or the giving side, once I gave myself permission to freely express love it really became pretty easy. Took a while to learn how to do it for sure, but with practice it became a natural thing, almost a default setting.  It was fun, too!

The receiving end of the gift thing is a lot of fun, too, of course. I mean–come on–who doesn’t like opening up gifts?! Lots of funny stuff around getting a gift, too. Think of all the funny “re-gifting” stories you have, or the last “White Elephant” party you attended. In the White house the philosophy of “it’s OK to say you probably won’t use that gift” became “REJECT THAT GIFT”! That got to be quite funny as we all tried to one-up each other in the outlandish ways we declined the gifts. Beth is still scarred from her first encounter, and she’s never had a single gift rejected!

Accepting a gift is really rather easy, it’s accepting the love behind the gift, accepting another’s love that’s a little more complex. Maybe you didn’t know how much they loved you. Maybe you are worried it’s conditional, the love, with strings attached. More often, though, the problem is that you aren’t really sure HOW to accept the love, or even if you are deserving of such a thing. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s really what you’re thinking. “They can’t possibly love me, love me that much. If they only knew the truth.” Or something like that.

Here’s the truth: they really DO know. And because of that they really, actually, truly DO love you. Most importantly there’s not even a little bit of a mistake here, and more than likely there’s not even the tiniest thread of a string attached. Not only are you loved, not only has someone in some way told you that, you deserve every little bit of that love. Really and truly. Resolve this year to believe that. Make your 2014 New Year’s Resolution to be openly thankful for that love, just like you are for that beautifully gift-wrapped present under the tree at Christmas, the one you would never reject.

Resolve to let yourself  be loved this year.

Happy New Year!