My dad told us a fascinating story last night about my grandmother (his mother), and the power of one bad choice to affect many people for a long long long time.
My grandmother died around 1999; when Abigail was 5 or 6 months old. For years previous her health had been deteriorating; mostly her mind. She lost the capability to form coherent words, and her moods and emotions rapidly fluctuated between sadness and rage. At the time Sonya and I were not around Delaware/Pennsylvania area to observe (we were in Colorado for a few years and then in Cincinnati). Being removed from watching; we didn’t really give much thought to what specifically she suffered from. I mostly thought it was emotional trauma and old age.
I was never completely close to Grandmom. She was kind and gentle, soft spoken and proper, but never seemed overtly wanting the attention of kids. She loved me and I loved her, but never went out of her way to play with me, or identity with me as a child (or my sister, Jean). So, there was never a close of strong bond formed. When she got older, and her health failed, I heard about it from mom and dad, and never thought much past it.
Last night dad said he had to tell us all something — which never seems to be a good thing; fears of mom’s cancer coming back always creep into my head, or some other illness that is affecting one or another of them — essentially forcibly making me grapple with the mortality of my parents. Instead he said (as I can recall it):
“Your grandmother did not die from dementia or Alzheimers disease. She died from syphilis.” When I was traveling around Switzerland, somewhere in the fall of 1996, I was staying at a palatial hotel and I got a call from mom. She said, ‘Are you sitting down?’, to which I remember being on this large bed, somewhat apathetically. She said that the doctor has just called and that grandmom had syphilis. Immediately I remember a conversation my father had with me right before I entered the Army Reserves, somewhere in 1965 or so. He said, ‘You’re gonna run into all kinds of temptations, be sure at least that you wear a rubber.’ To which, then, I was just like — what? I’m not gonna do anything like that! But when mom told me that, it just all clicked and made sense. And remember what my father died from – a ‘brain tumor’. So, not to worry you, but I was tested too, to make sure that I don’t have it. And I don’t. If I did, it likely means that you and Jean would, and Sonya and the kids would too. The wages of sin are death, and one wrong choice, obviously affects others, even generations after. We didn’t tell Grandmom, her mind was already going and she wouldn’t really understand. From that point on I saw her in a different light; no longer was I frustrated or angry, but compassionate and sorrowful.”
Sobering. There is no cure for syphilis, and basically your mind is eaten away. Grandmom was innocent, but died of it. Dad could have easily had it as well (and his 2 sisters). Which meant mom would have it, Jean would have it; I would have it, and I would give it to Sonya, and she would carry it on to the kids … on and on.
One bad decision…