You always kinda’ expect it. But until your family publicly erases your existence from the family tree, well, you can’t quite anticipate how that will feel and all the subtle meanings and implications.
Last Friday, my grandmother about whom I’ve written so much, passed away. She was ninety-two years old and had enjoyed all the blessings of a good life — love, family, husband, children, four granddaughters, six great-grandsons. (What are the odds!) She never lacked for a warm roof over her head and plenty of food on the table. But she had recently suffered two falls and was in poor health, so her death was a blessed release and I know how much she wanted to see Grandpa, her parents and all her siblings again. But it’s still very sad for the large extended family she left behind.
Grandma wasn’t the type to leave anything to chance. I guess it must be genetic. We Germans like to plan ahead and her obituary had obviously been wordsmithed, polished and must’ve been ready for a long time as her residence at time of death was out-of-date. Well, regardless of who wrote it, sometimes what is not included in an obituary is more interesting than what is actually said.
I was omitted in the list of survivors. So was Grandma’s half-sister.
I anticipated the omission and yet, it’s always a small shock when your dysfunctional family fulfills your lowest expectations.
Oh, I could maybe understand omitting a survivor who was an embarrassment to the family. Maybe a career criminal or..or…I dunno. But I’m none of those things. I’m Sunday School to the point of being boring. I spent time with Grandma just to be with her. My mistake was being the only person who loved Grandma enough to tell her the truth about herself, possibly in her entire life. I thought maybe she’d like the opportunity to change and to stop hurting her nearest and dearest, especially my mother and my husband.
Grandma responded by playing the victim and Mom responded by calling me “spoiled.” That mindset cherry picks only the survivors who kiss their ass, lie to their face and gossip behind their back as worthy of being included in the obituary. I have not embarrassed the family. They embarrassed themselves. I merely talked about it…breaking the First Commandment of Abusive Families:
Thou Shalt Not Talk.
No amount of editing can change the fact that we were born (or adopted) into a specific lineage.
Nothing can change who our biological parents are.
Nothing can change who our extended family are.
To erase us is, to quote Michael, to “Take away our birthday.”
No family tree.
No surname on asset titles.
No place in society.
No lineage for our children.
No data on our future obituary.
Those are the unspoken implications of the (futile) attempt to erase our existence. We may as well be hatched.
Luckily, it doesn’t work that way. Identity and existence cannot be erased. They are so precious that even in a hurricane, the Sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier refuse to abandon their post. His name is unknown, yet they honor him, while our own family tries to remove our known name and blot out our existence to CYA. It doesn’t get much lower than that.
This is not the first time my family has tried to erase me. Oh no! As a young woman, I was never allowed to use my surname in any social situations “in case you’re stalked,” except when absolutely necessary such as in employment…and even that was looked upon with a jaundiced eye. I obeyed their rule so strictly that Michael didn’t even know my surname until after he proposed. How crazy is that!?!
This “No Surname” thing came around again in 2016 when my parents’ lawyer tried to forbid my use of my maiden name, as if it was in their gift to give or take away my legal name on a whim.
Erase, erase, erase.
I made the mistake of trying respectfully to meet this demand halfway. My bad. Never negotiate with crazy. They mistook my good nature for weakness and double-downed on their demands, insisting I must remove myself from any and all sites where my name could possibly be linked to theirs, such as Family Tree websites.
This time the crazy was so obvious, I simply ignored them.
Being excluded from the list of survivors in an obituary may be a simple, quick decision made out of spite and CYAing but it’s actually profound.
But you know that already. Many of you were also omitted. You know how it feels.
Well, since finding my voice in 2013, I’m not the type to go silently into the night with my tail tucked between my legs. So while setting up the FindAGrave page for my grandmother, I made sure that all her granddaughters are included and so is her half-sister, Stella, finally and publicly acknowledged in cyberspace by the father who abandoned her in the 1920s and all her half-siblings.
My family may hate me if they want, but I’d like to think Stella is looking down and smiling. Turns out, it’s better on the outside.