We’re up in Pennsylvania for the holiday, and we’ve had some sad news. Yesterday the boys’ Grandmother, Ruth Zimbler Stein Tait, passed away. She was 68, and far too young to die.
I’ve never understood the canonization of the deceased, how moments before death someone might have been a real bastard, but as life leaves their body bland perfection is injected into the newly vacated voids. I find this almost disrespectful, and I hope I’m allowed to keep my messy humanness with me in death. Anything else would be an undoing of all I was. That is the spirit of what I’m trying to say here about this woman who was so many things, both wonderful and not so wonderful.
I’m in a strange position. I’m not the current daughter-in-law, I’m not family any more, and so I don’t get to mourn. I’m not even sure what mourning would mean. I didn’t have an easy relationship with Ruth, and anger I thought I’d put aside has resurfaced, mixed with regret and a deep sadness at her death. Why do only those with happy relationships with the deceased get to mourn? It isn’t that simple, don’t we all know that?
Those who Ruth loved, she loved deeply. Michael has lost his Mom, and Jake, Riley and Matt have lost their Grandmother. David has lost his wife, and although my heart aches for them all, it aches most for him. David and Ruth were each other’s whole world, and I can’t imagine the void she’s left. She once told me “Every woman needs a hero,” and she was looking at David when she said it. She gave him her best, she loved him so much.
But Ruth did not love me, and that’s colored my life for a long time. As Mike and I planned our wedding, Ruth expressed doubt that Mike was the father of my unborn baby, and although that baby went on to become the apple of her eye, I was never welcome. That sort of set a tone which continued, and that tone sucked. Mike recently said his Mom probably couldn’t even explain why she always disliked me, and in retrospect I think I increased her contempt of me by misguidedly trying so hard to get her to like me; she was never going to like me. Many, many rough moments in our marriage were centered on Ruth, and the divorce was made much more difficult than necessary by her seeming need to see me hurt, and the way she used her influence and financial support to encourage that end; to encourage legal battles, financial battles, custody battles. During that time the boys felt the repercussions of her passionate, poorly- aimed anger, and that is something I haven’t yet been able to completely put aside.
The boys are confused by my tears, and I am, too. It was a painful, complex, confusing relationship for me. Aren’t many family relationships like this? Family isn’t always easy.
Ruth was important in my life; we were bound to each other, and always will be. The person Ruth was, her likes and dislikes, the food she stocked her house with, her parenting, her faith and her background, her DNA: they are all part of my life and have been for over twenty years. I’ve taught the boys all I can of her, her family and its history. I’ve taught them all I can about Judaism. I’ve been honest with them about my relationship with Ruth, and I’ve been open with them about her many talents and good qualities. I have a son who looks at me with Ruth’s beautiful eyes everyday, and I wish one of the boys had inherited her hair. Ruth had gorgeous hair.
She was intelligent and shrewd, and often smoothly manipulative. She was informed and articulate, at moments blindly biased. She was funny and charming, beautiful and controlling. Many loved her deeply because of her most wonderful facets, and I’m sure others saw the same side of her I did.
I am so sorry she was in pain, so sorry those she loved well are hurting, so sorry her life was cut short when she was so vibrant and full of life less than a year ago. I wish she hadn’t been such a bitch to me, I wish she had stopped smoking years ago, but mostly I wish she was still alive with all her complicated messy humanness so Michael had his Mom back; she was passionately, and sometimes misguidedly, in his corner. I am so very, very sorry he’s lost that.