As we celebrate Mother’s Day, many will pause also to remember their grandmothers. I’m aware there is now a Grandparents’ Day in September, I believe. But Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate mothers everywhere and many of those mothers also happen to be Grandmas.
In the past, when I would present workshops, in a guided imagery I would ask participants to picture someone who loved them unconditionally. Many would share that the person they saw was their grandmother. The image of their grandmothers would often bring tears.
Sadly, I have also known some grandmothers who were put in a position of raising their grandchildren. Not babysitting them but raising them. They would have to take on all the parental duties to include discipline. Many of those women grieved that they would not have the chance to be a doting Grandma.
I never knew either of my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother Ellen McDonald died in the flu epidemic of 1919. My paternal grandmother Catherine Patterson died in the early 1940s before I was born. But I did have an aunt. Whether she did so consciously or not, she served as my surrogate grandmother.
My aunt Margaret Walsh was in her teens when my grandmother died. Her older sister Mary was mentally ill and so Aunt Peg stepped in, helping to raise her siblings. My grandfather referred to her as “My Sparkplug” because she was full of energy and would get things done. As time passed and her siblings married, she became for many of us our surrogate grandmother. She would do grandmotherly things like sending me a birthday card with a dollar in it. She did this well into her 90s. She would bake the greatest peanut butter cookies I ever had or would have. When I would visit her back in Pennsylvania, she would have a bag of cookies for me. One poignant memory was when she apologized to me for not making the cookies, saying simply that she now had arthritis in her hands.
I never heard her speak a critical word to me but instead she seemed to take a grandmother’s pride. The last time I saw her she was in a nursing home. She had some memory issues by then. She asked me several times how old I was. Each time I would say “47, Aunt Peg” and she would clasp her hands together, saying with a slight Irish brogue “Oh saints preserve us!” We were in a large social room with other residents. As I was leaving, I heard that rich voice saying “That’s my nephew. He’s from Texas. He’s a psychologist.” Praise indeed!
I was also able to witness the joy my children brought to my mother. Her love was unconditional. My mother hated beards. On one visit my son Matt showed up with a beard. I asked my Mom “What do you think of your grandson’s beard?” “Whatever he wants” she said. Incredulous, I said “You’re kidding!” but, stubborn woman that she was, she simply nodded and said again “Whatever he wants.” Such was her attitude with all four of her grandchildren.
As with mothers, not all of us have had a good experience with grandmothers. For those of you in that category, I can only hope that, like me, you were able to find or will find a surrogate Grandma to meet that need.
So, hoping that you had a positive experience with a grandmother, I encourage you to celebrate them as well this Mother’s Day.
REFLECTION: Did you have or are you having a positive experience of a grandmother’s love?
The grandmother question strikes a deep chord with me because one of the greatest sorrows of my life was that my own mother did not enjoy being a grandmother. In all fairness, she did not have the experience of a positive grandmother relationship herself. Her own grandmother was distant, cold, and critical. But, like everything else, my mother’s grandmother role was complicated. Although my mother initiated only one visit to her grandson and usually “forgot” his birthday, she was instrumental in his arrival here on Earth, working diligently behind the scenes to ensure that top El Paso OB/GYN doctors and pharmacists were coordinating closely with Honolulu providers on my extremely high risk pregnancy. It was dicey and she helped the dice roll the right way.
When my son was five years old, his Kindergarten teacher deemed him to be “devious”. His grandmother flew into full Public Relations mode and essentially ran a political campaign for him at the school. Within weeks, his public image had been restored. A five year old had a master Spin master working for him. This was important because labels can harm children.
And his Chinese-American Grandmother is another whole story. The role of the Chinese Grandmother (Popo) is one which has been developed over thousands of years. It is quite culturally embedded. I had to adjust because I did not know the role and my relationship to it. The Grandmother thing has been quite an experience.
For some of us, the experience of a grandmother has been different from the one described in the post. Popo was not pleased that my son grew a beard but she has always encouraged and supported his goals and dreams.
I only knew my mother’s mother, who adopted Mom when she was 8. I knew her to be loving and caring, always busy with needlework. She had suffered greatly with her health. She had scarlet fever as a toddler and lost her hearing until she went deaf in her late 80’s. She had breast cancer and her mastectomy was horrible–so my mother once told me. Because of her deafness, the last couple of times I saw her were uncomfortable. She kept asking me how old I was (Like with you, Rich.) and her hearing loss caused Mom to yell at her so loud, the neighbors though they were fighting. I’m sorry for that. We were living in Bolivia when she died in Nebraska and I felt guilty because I didn’t mourn. I saw Mom and Dad grieving and I felt guilty.
I am lucky to have watched my mother-in-law dote on my sons and my grandchildren. They love her deeply, and I do too.