In Praise of Grandmothers

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?