Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sliding Doors

Do you have anyone in your life that looms large, even in their absence? This is my grandmother, a woman whom I never met. My mother was very close to her; she considered her mother her best friend, and she was just torn apart when her mom died of cancer. It was one of those situations when the cancer was diagnosed very late, and she was gone within a couple of months.

From all reports, everyone loved my grandmother, and she was the glue that held the family together, and to a certain extent, the glue that held my mother together. When she died, the family came apart; my mother came apart. Both held themselves together reasonably well, but like the bowl you drop and try to repair, only to find that you are missing a small yet crucial piece that you just can't find anywhere, neither were ever quite whole again.

My mother came apart right away, but the family took much longer. My mom has said that she never had anything bad happen to her before her mother died, and it was a serious shock to the system. She said that she slept with the hallway light on for two years. I was born a few years after my grandmother died, and my sister within two years after my birth, and this was also very traumatizing for my mother; although the birth of children was very joyous for her, she was very upset and angry because she had always imagined her mother there helping her, and instead, she was all alone. Although she had a sister, a sister-in-law, and an aunt who were all nearby and alive when my sister and I were little, for several reasons, these were not trusted sources of support. My mother eventually developed agoraphobia. I didn't realize this at the time; all I knew was that every time we were supposed to go do something fun (go shopping, etc.), mom got sick, and we couldn't go after all. Yet she was never incapacitated when we had to do boring, decidedly un-fun things, like cleaning. My mother eventually got treatment for this when I was about 12, and it completely changed everyone's lives.

Sometimes, I imagine what my life would be like if my grandmother had not died at the untimely age of 52. I imagine my life just like the movie Sliding Doors, where you see how Gwyneth Paltrow's character's life unfolds when she misses the subway train, and also how it would unfold if she made the train. What if my grandmother was still alive today? It would be theoretically possible, if not for the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She would be 84 today. Not young, but still young enough to possibly be around. My grandfather (her widower) only died 2 years ago, at the age of 99.

Here are the main things that I think would have been different:

  • My mother would have been more relaxed. Although my dad helped out a lot at home, and did his best to give my mother breaks when he could (especially on weekends), having her mom around to help would would have really given my mom some time for herself that was hard to get.
  • My parents might have had a stronger marriage. My mom refused to leave us with a babysitter, and she didn't depend on her other family for help. For sure, my grandmother would have pitched in and taken care of us so my mom and dad could have had some alone adult time together.
  • My mom probably would not have been agoraphobic. Although our childhoods were pretty good, anxiety is no fun for anyone. The plus side of the agoraphobia is that I have a lot of good memories of doing things with my dad, who pitched in and picked up the slack when it came to grocery shopping and errands, and I remember doing a lot of these things with him. So maybe the flip side of the "my mom wouldn't have been agoraphobic" would have been a less-close day-to-day relationship with my dad when I was growing up. Maybe not, though.
  • For sure, my sister and I would have spoken Armenian. Or at least understood it.
  • I think, that had my grandmother been alive, I may have made the same choice that many of the young people in my church have made when it came to college. I bet I would have gone to school much closer to home. This isn't for sure, but I could see it happening for a variety of reasons, because some of the reasons that I went away to school might not have been there, and other reasons might have been around to hold me closer to home. Probably not in my hometown, but maybe I would have gone to school in one of the schools in my region, much like my best friend, who went to a decent private university six hours from home. This is the biggest change in my imaginary Sliding Doors life, and perhaps the most intellectually interesting, because staying closer to home, rather than going far away like I did, would probably have had much different consequences in what I studied, where I lived, whom I ended up marrying, etc.

I don't think that all these changes would have been for the better (some would have been for sure), but like all imaginary lives, we will never know for sure what would happen.

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