A Different Kind of Grief

A Different Kind of Grief July 27, 2022


On Sunday Michael, Adrienne and I went to Pittsburgh. We didn’t have much money but we had half a tank of gas and our museum memberships, and I needed a day out. So we packed a bag of string cheese and bottled water, and we went. Michael wanted to go to the conservatory, but I couldn’t stand the thought of the conservatory in all this heat. We split up, and I took Adrienne to the art museum. We stayed until it closed.

As we left the museum, I noticed I had a text message.

We were going to meet at the Cathedral for the six o’clock Mass, so I herded Adrienne three blocks into the great big front doors, and sat her down to play on her tablet in the Saint Joan of Arc chapel before I read the message.

It was from a relative I don’t want to embarrass, someone I love. It was about Adrienne– you may recall she goes by Adrienne now, but she used to go by her middle name, Rose.

“Dear Mary, we are getting close to our annual pilgrimage to Watoga, four generations now, I say where God dwells and no one can get us! Mary I saw your blog about Rosie growing up! Then I realized she hasn’t been given the education that you and Michael promised at your wedding to raise your children in the church of Jesus Christ Our Lord! Mary I am begging you to swallow your pride and see that your gift from God is brought into the church! I can’t imagine the darkness that’s come over you! Especially denigrating the church’s teaching on human sexuality! Please this is written out of deep love for my multi-talented [name of the relation redacted], Rosie needs to learn about the intense love Jesus loves for her! This will be a great help! Come and stay with me and I will find a priest!”

Watoga is the name of the most beautiful place in the world, a state park where my family has annual reunions. It’s the place I rescued the mud puppy and became human.

I don’t blame this relation for miss-naming my daughter. She is very old. She hasn’t seen Adrienne since Adrienne was three; she always avoids Steubenville on her annual trips to Ohio to see relatives. I send her photos and chat with her online whenever I get the chance. She has never mentioned the spiritual abuse I grew up under except to say “let’s move on” or “learn to forgive!” She just hints that Adrienne isn’t being raised Catholic.

This isn’t true. Adrienne is being raised Catholic. We’re learning the Bible and she’s memorized the Nicene Creed, with little catechism lessons on every line of it. She knows the Orthodox version that leaves out the Filioque and the version we say at Mass. She helps me pack bags for the homeless and stock the free pantry downtown. Her favorite saint is Saint Francis because she loves animals. But I’ve had to put off her First Holy Communion, first due to the COVID pandemic and us not having a car, and now due to our not having a steady parish to go to.

As for my being queer, well, I’ve made no secret about that. I can’t not be queer. I’m married to a man and I follow the rules of the Church, but that doesn’t make it go away.

I wrote back saying that we’re working on getting Adrienne her First Holy Communion and that she loves Jesus very much.

At Mass I had the funniest accident. I’d asked ahead of time for a low-gluten Host because of my allergy. When I came up to receive, the priest had a low-gluten Host in a pyx in one hand, and the regular ciborium in the other. He couldn’t very well set down the ciborium so he could open the pyx, so he handed the pyx to me. I fumbled with the clasp for a comically long time before it fell open, and Christ tumbled out into my hand.

“Amen,” I said to myself, because I was the one who had administered Communion to myself. And then I received the Living God, and everything felt all right for a moment.

Today, while I was shopping with Adrienne, I got a note from my aunt. This aunt is blocked on Facebook because she likes to send me poisonous messages now and then, so she messaged my blog’s facebook page. Apparently I’d angered the family by not accepting the other relative’s invitation to visit for a First Holy Communion.

“Hey Mare, this next check from gran will be the last.”

Gran is my grandmother, who had been sending us gifts to help with the rent. Grandmother lives with my aunt.

“Mare” is not my name. Mare is what my aunts have all called me since I was a baby. I explained to them from the time I was eight or nine that I hate being called “Mare.” A mare is a horse, and a horse is a large animal. I am a large person due to PCOS, and I was emotionally tortured for being large by their sister, my mother. But that just made them think it was funnier to call me Mare. I’ve been Mare, to them, for decades. It’s their way of asserting their dominance.

This aunt’s children are the “bad cousins” I’ve written about, the ones I used to play with who hated me when I got older.

I texted my grandmother to thank her for her past help, and she wrote back that she was now sending the money to my estranged parents. Only by talking to my parents could I access the help.

I realized that since I couldn’t be brought to heel and made to get Adrienne her First Holy Communion in the way the family wanted, the family decided I would be brought to heel by being forced to talk to my parents.

I can’t talk to my parents. I would like to but there’s no relationship there. My mother voluntarily walked out of her own free will when Adrienne was a baby, after Michael inadvertently insulted my mother’s spiritual director. I want to talk to my dad more than anything in the world, but he does what my mother does.

That’s the end of that.

I took Adrienne and the groceries home, and then I went to the garden alone.

There’s a second sunflower,  not a giant Mammoth Gray Stripe but a delicate Lemon Queen, blooming today. I planted a whole row of Lemon Queens and a few Red Velvet sunflowers as well.  By next week they’ll all be popping out together, a giant living wall of color. I always wanted to plant a wall of sunflowers.

It was my grandfather who taught me to love gardening. He had the most beautiful garden in the world, a glorious garden on a triple lot, with an orchard and a grape alley. He wouldn’t have cared about First Holy Communion; he was a lapsed Catholic for most of his life. He might have been the only relative who actually liked me. I could have shown him the sunflower and boasted about the squash and the eggplant, and he would have been proud. I could have pointed to the tomatoes that are growing well and the one odd tomato vine with the flowers dropping off, and asked him what was wrong.

He has been dead for seven years. Just then in the garden, though, I grieved him as if he’d only died today.

I grieved my hope of ever having a family again, as if it only died today, even though it’s been gone for a very long time.

I talked to the God Who fell into my hand when nobody would open the door for me.

That’s where I am, for now.




Image via pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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