Lise Hamilton’s “My Grandmother Died Last Night” is a moving piece about how a bond or lack of bond with family can be painful and irreparable. To be accepted, as a person with a right to a bond with a bigoted person in Hamilton’s family was forever shattered in her mother’s words; “she did not tell me that my grandmother died. She told me that her mother died”.
Although the pain is still there for both women for different reasons, it was made worse by the very fact that Lise’s mother did not acknowledge even in death that this women was Lise’s grandmother. Lise believed that if her grandmother was dead and could no longer be ashamed or unwilling to accept Lise, then at the time of her passing, it was possible. After all, the bigoted woman was no longer “there to oppose it“.Lise admits that her father was more willing to confront his family in their unwillingness to accept her. He comes across in this piece as a bitter man with the wrong intentions of even marrying a white woman in the first place. His anger is both directed at his own race and at whites, as well.
Lise admits anger, but it is in a more reserved and revered manner. She admits to forgiving her mother for not being more persistent in helping Lise’s grandmother accept her. It seems clear that Lise’s grandmother would have never changed her mind about Lise and her father had sewn the ideas of this possibility in her early childhood.
The bond with her mother, though, is what is most reflected upon in this piece is the overall tone of acceptance versus rejection and it is put in such a way to make racism understandable, even to a person, who has not experienced it. But, the undertone of the piece is the mystery of the mother/daughter bond and it is something that Lise tries to grasp in her pain of this moment.Lise says, “I ask myself if I am being unreasonable. Am I reading more into the moment that there is? My mother was upset. She was not thinking clearly”. There does seem to be more going on in that moment than can be written or explained, that is of the mystery of the bond one has with family and, in this case, mother.
If I was Lise’s mother I probably would have said the same thing. For the same reason that Lise’s mother tried to help her daughter in the relationship with her grandmother, it seems like she was protecting both her daughter and her mother in both life and death. Lise’s mother wanted a bond with both of these family members and was very confused as to how to do it. By saying that “her mother had died” was a way to both disconnect her daughter from a woman, who had never connected with her daughter in the first place and to keep the bond alive in her death by owning her as her mother.These mysterious bonds that are woven or never made are an important facet or invisible divide of many families. Though, Hamilton’s harrowing and heart-breaking tale is written, it seems, in the midst of her pain. It is hard for people to think or communicate clearly in times like these. What appears is the very basest of instincts.
For Lise’s mother it was to disconnect her daughter from a woman, who never accepted her and to own and connect with the same woman, as her mother forever. In Lise’s pain, she is strong, but still vulnerable. Her concern is that of failure in ever creating a tie with the woman, who is now deceased. Her sense of failure is one that has accumulated over many years and is probably highly exaggerated.
But, Hamilton shows potential and pride in herself and her bond with her own mother. This is all very promising.