Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Some serious love

Growing up Finnish, mainly in Finland, guaranteed a few things.

1) Someone, at some point of my fragile youth (I'm thinking the big mean high school sports coach, and yes, I too was fragile at one point in my life. Was too!) made sure I learned how to ski. Cross country. Fast. Even if I was wailing like a lunatic while frog-legging it up a steep hill with my increasingly slippery skis on.

But Finns must all know how to ski. Yes they do. And I still hate skiing like the plague. Only worse.

2) I didn't have to learn how to hug, compliment, or express any kind of affection through any other means than slightly raising my left eyebrow and grunting softly. Or by emptying the dishwasher. Or vacuuming my own room without being yelled at. Or making a full pot of coffee instead of just two cups for myself. Or not telling my best friend she looked like crap even if she totally did (Pigtails never look good. No they don't).

I learned to love the Finnish way. Except for skiing. That I learned to hate. Like hundreds of thousands of other Finns before and after me.

Why am I talking about skiing and affection? Together? WHY? Why would I combine possibly the worst memories I have of Finland and being Finnish with love?

Ah well. I'm not completely there. Or here. Yet. The lights are on, but the lady's still under the covers.

This past week saw me return to Finland at a time I normally avoid. I was supposed to be landing in the warmth of Cairo, but instead, at the airport, which incidentally instead of Cairo was in the freezing north also known as Helsinki, around midnight, I was met with -17 degrees celsius and my tired brother. My grandma suddenly passed away and my family needed me. Which was a first, because we Finns don't tend to need other people, or at least we won't say so.

As it turns out, they really did need me. They needed the one person in the family who has learned to hold hands with anyone else than their significant other (mine taught me that!), to hug, to console with words that are in no way masqueraded as grunts, to go beyond household chores as far as displays of affection go, and to laugh through tears and not be terribly embarrassed by it.

But that was only to get the ball rolling.

For the first time in my life I hugged my Grandpa. And he hugged me back. I held his hand. I consoled him. I talked with him about Grandma, about Africa, about traveling, about getting a good fire going, about my childhood, and about the life from now on.

And then I talked with my mother. I held her hand. I hugged her. I consoled her. And she hugged me back.

And we talked.

Last week, I learned the true depth of the love, I had sometimes doubted even really existed, between my Grandpa and my Grandma. I learned about the way my Grandpa would, whenever my Grandma wasn't there, literally count the hours to her return. I learned about his desperation at her open casket. I learned about the completely missing 'I' in everything he's ever done. I learned about how Finns, and by that I mean FINNS because that's what my war-veteran Grandpa is to the core, can love too, really love to a point where it takes your breath away.

I learned that perhaps I'm not so special after all, with my fancy hand-holding, foreign hugging, and the continuous 'I love you's. I learned that underneath that uncomfortable and repressed seeming eyebrow wiggling and vacuuming instead of talking, there are some serious and deep emotions coming out of Finland too.

Some serious love.

With all that enforced skiing, who would have guessed?    


J said...

It's true that some people really are uncomfortable showing affection outwardly, I myself am one of them.

Isn't the effort worth it though when a simple act of ours makes the people we love feel warm and gives them hope in their darkest hour.

Molly said...

Lovely post, good to hear from you. Sorry you've been having such a rough time, but it sounds like lots has come from it. Your Granny would be pleased :)

Tonia said...

Even practitioners of the British stiff-upper-lip need hugs on occasion. Hope the next few days are peaceful and ski-free.

Anonymous said...

It seems like some amazing connections were made in a family that really needed it... Sorry things have been rough but it looks like you have definitely taken some good times out of the bad. Great post, wonderfully written.

Miss Footloose said...

The Dutch aren't quite as outwardly "cool" as the Finns, but when I first went to America it drove me nuts that everybody was hugging and kissing everybody at the drop of a hat (sorry for the cliche).

But I learned to do it a little easier, eventually, although I am still more a hand-shake type of gal.

However, I'm now doing the hugging back in Holland with my family when mostly they're offering cheeks for kisses. They don't mind. They do love me, so it's okay ;)

I find it interesting to see how this type of behavior is different in different countries/cultures.

I loved your story and your insight into your grandparents love for each other.

Heather said...

what a wonderful post! You brought tears to my eyes at the end there, i hope the time at home was as good as it could be under the circumstances.

The Finns aren't so expressive I guess. My SIL told me she couldn't remember her mother ever kissing her ehich I found rather chocking but she now is wonderfuly expressive towards her children - I think it's something that's dying out, this lack of emotion. one of the things i really love about Finland though it the lack of small talk. to the point now where if I'm talking to a Brit I get bored and bit angry listening to them always talking - there seems to be a fear of silence there that i never noticed before.

Esmerelda said...

Beautiful, thank you. The Irish aren't so expressive either, unless they are drunk and usually then it's fighting not hugs.

Megan said...

what an amazing gift at such a hard time. love comes in many forms, not just in words and hugs.

my dad shows his love for me by asking about my car. took me a long time to figure it out, but once i did it has always made me happy to talk about my car with him.

Bored Housewife said...

You are a good daughter.

I dated a Fin once, he was VERY affectionate. Or maybe it wasn't exactly affection...

MissBuckle said...

So sorry about your Grandma. But I'm glad you taught your family how to hug.

Myne Whitman said...

I think each country has their peculiarities bit I thought the skiiing thing was for the Norwegians? LOL. Sorry about your granny.

My name is Erin. said...

You and your family have been on my mind. I even shed a few tears reading this entry, wishing I could be the crazy Finnish/American lending some support at a time when you really could care less about that weird Finnish/American who can't say anything but "crazy monster" in Finnish and even that she says wrong. I miss my Grandmother terribly and my heart is aching for you. And if I could, I would totally give you a big, sqeezy hug, uncomfortable or not. XO

'Drea said...

Well said...

I have an aunt that I was actually scared of when I was younger.

She still talks a tough game but she is one of the sweetest folks that I know.

Sorry about your g'ma.

histreasure said...

such a beautiful gift at such a hard time..i'm sure it made everything easier..
i feel for ur grandpa especially and wonder if it will ever get easier for him..such love

kanishk said...

Lovely post, good to hear from you
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