The Silent Sufferer

Grandma2 (2)Some time ago I wrote a short story about my grandmother, Alfleet Pender McNeill (1932-2002). I wanted to pay homage to the woman who raised me, and often without words taught me everything she knew, to acknowledge the fact that she was not just “Grandma”. She was a woman who had aspirations, yet they went unfulfilled because she was busy serving others. During my time in her household, not one time did I realize the gravity of her sacrifice. It wasn’t until after her death that I saw what she did for me and others as something she didn’t have to do, but she did it so that the rest of us wouldn’t fall apart.

As I’ve matured, I understood the full weight and meaning of my grandmother’s sacrifice, and lamented over how I should have done more to show appreciation. It didn’t occur to me that being at everyone’s beck and call with no days off was something she didn’t have to do. Like many grandmothers I know, her acts of kindness and sustenance  were seen as her reasonable service. If she cussed and fussed about all that she did, it was viewed as just another one of her rants instead of acknowledging they were moments of extreme frustration. She was frustrated as she watched everyone else live their lives while she stood in the background feeling unfulfilled, taken for granted, and maybe even unloved. She was frustrated because breakfast, lunch, and dinner were prepared like clockwork for kids and grown folks alike. She was frustrated because she was always expected to be on post while everyone else got a pass to do what they wanted to do. It wasn’t fair but I don’t think anyone really saw it that way. While she was able to help everyone fix their problems, who fixed hers?

Grandma4There are many of you out there like my grandmother who are selfless. You are always helping someone and never want to see anyone suffer. You will give anyone–even a stranger–the shirt off your back without blinking. You have even been there for people who, when you needed them most, turned you away yet you still came through when they needed you. You are the person everyone can depend on and who people expect to always be “on” and say “yes”, never thinking about what you are giving up or what tight space you may be putting yourself in to be there for them. At times you may even feel discarded, that after people get what they want from you there is no more need for you.

People may be so used to you being the one to fix things that they don’t hear the depth of your pain when you say you are having a bad day, don’t know how to do something, or are afraid. You’re seen as a super human who can do anything, so while others get the full Monty of a listening ear and repeated checks, you just get told you’ll be fine. The fact that you’re strong does not illegitimize your pain. Sometimes you get so tired of telling people the same thing over and over again that you just go silent because no one wants to believe you have limitations just like them. And in the case of my grandmother, instead of me asking her what was wrong during those times she went zero dark thirty,  I just thought she was acting funny. I didn’t know that she had gotten so tired of talking that she had to be put on antidepressants just to get through the day. If I weren’t so busy being offended, I would have read between the lines and realized she was crying out for help. She wanted to go to Red Lobster. She wanted to go shopping. She wanted a visit so that she could feel that she mattered. She wanted someone to talk with about what happened on the Soaps. I was so busy taking that I didn’t occur to me that it was my turn to give.

If there is one thing I would ask God to give me, it would be to have my grandmother GrandparentsMcNeill(and grandfather) back. Even if for a minute, I would spend those 60 seconds telling her the many ways my life has gone right because of her. I would tell her I appreciated all the cooking, cleaning, food shopping, giving me money for no reason at the times I could really use it, stories about the old days, admonitions to do the right thing, and all of wonderful memories she created for me. I would tell her I’m sorry for treating her like a vending machine, and that I wish I was mature enough to see through the loud voice and strong words to realize she was hurt and sometimes didn’t even know why.

I’d like to give a word of caution to those of you, including myself, who have someone in your life who have laid themselves on the line for you; don’t take them for granted. As adults it is no one’s job to make sure we’re okay, fix our problems, or be there for us every time we ask. It is very easy to fall into the trap of seeing a person in terms of  their do and not their who. No one has to pray for us. No one has to do favors for us. No one has to do a random act of kindness just to let us know they’re thinking of us. No one has to say they love us, they’re proud of us, they value us. No one. Yet when we are on the receiving end of that kindness, we think it’s nothing special because, after all, that person is always doing or saying something like that. And when they stop, we have the nerve to take it personal and become offended. STOP. IT. Maybe it’s our turn to sacrifice, to pray, to do something nice without the requirement of an occasion. Maybe we need to take our heads out of the sand and realize it’s not all about us and what we need all the time. Everybody got problems.

Today, right now, ASAP, tell your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your cousin, your friend, maybe even your jefe, THANK YOU! Two small words that are really two big deals.


25 thoughts on “The Silent Sufferer

  1. Your grandmother was a beautiful woman. Before reading this, I was sweeping my kitchen, taking down decorations, and thinking about my friendships over the past 30 years; I reminisced over the steps and the village that it took to get me to Georgia and to help me start off on the right footing. God was with me, and He used many kind hearts and hands to hold me when I couldn’t stand on my own. For that I’m eternally grateful. It’s important that we remember those who have sown and loaned into us; when we’re able, we pay it forward. Where you are and who you are is a tribute to your grandmother, Nikkele.

  2. In reading your grandmother’s story (my aunt), I read my mother’s (her sister’s) and it also makes me think of the countless stories I heard about their mother (our grandmother) and the unrelenting giving spirit she had that often went unrecognized. May the selfless foundation these beautiful women laid inspire us to be our best selves in honor of them and, as you said, remind us to thank those who continue to serve in this capacity in our lives.

  3. “Unrelenting giving spirit”…that really resonates. That’s exactly what they all possessed. It runs in the family. They were just there, no questions asked. I agree that their sacrifice should be our inspiration .

  4. Beautiful picture of your grandparents and especially, your grandmother. I now see where you get your features and your strong will, from your grandmother. You are like her in many of her caring ways.
    This is a true, sad, but beautiful story, I felt like your grandmother many times, and in many ways . Excuse my French, sometimes I had to say ‘to hell with everything, I need a break and some me time.’ However, its sad when much is expected from the giving person, and not much given back. My kids are starting to see and understand that scenario. I thank God for opening their eyes. I am doing now for my mom what was not done for her mom, my grandmother. I have seen my grandmother in that position. No more woulder, shoulder, coulder. Showing, loving, and showering love is what’s important.

  5. This describes so many women and men I know and have been fortunate enough to experience their selfless generosity! I only hope and pray these type of individuals receive an appropriate reward for their sacrifices!

  6. Silent Sufferer
    Great Read
    Great Insight
    Wouldn’t Expect Nothing Less
    Your views and insights really show how great you are.
    You put me there with you and grandma.
    Feel like I was there.

  7. Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today. A quote by James Dean. Many suffer in silent, it only when they are no longer in our presence when many of us realize how much the person (mother, grandmother, father, grandfather, cousin, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, etc. fill in the blink on who that person is) have truly blessed us. Grant you, we must value who we have in our mist.

  8. Hello Carmen. I love that quote. It’s a call to make the most of life, and along the way appreciate those who help us live it. Grant you, that is our reasonable service as Christians.

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