Losing My Mother’s Mother

by flowers on September 23, 2011 · 22 comments

My mom, me and my grandmother at my wedding shower -- 2003

 

In the most basic of physical essence she is gone. Her voice. Her hands. Her body.

She’s gone.

I could see that she was gone. I watched them close the casket.

I was at the cemetery, but that does little to convince me. A body, without the spirit is a startling reality. You see just how much of ourselves is made up of spirit, emotions and essence. It seems almost impossible for her to be truly gone.

I lost my grandmother and it is truly a heartbreaking loss. I miss her. The memories draw deep from the well of sweet nostalgia and the past seems so good it hurts.

But really I am lucky. I am thirty-one years old. For thirty-one years I had the love and support of my grandmother. She was a straight-shooter, no frills, laugh-out-loud kind of lady. She was better than great.

I’ve never spent a Christmas without her. Or a First Communion, graduation or any every-day celebration. She was there in the room when Solshine was born.

There’s this memory I have of her at my wedding. Stone and I were dancing to Etta James’ At Last and I looked over and saw my Grandfather and Grandmother come onto the dance floor and begin to slow dance. I started to weep, tumbling into the present moment of generation building upon generation. We slow danced our way over and hugged, the four us, while I cried and I remember she kept saying, “I understand.”

She understood. I was crying because time doesn’t stop and there we were–living out the moments of our lives. There would be photo albums to look back on, but in that moment we were alive and awake and together in our fancy dresses and shiny shoes. And it was pure bliss.

I loved that moment.

After I got the phone call I sat in my car and cried and it was all about me and my little girl life and feelings; memories of Easter egg hunts, summer cook-outs and a no bull-shit pep talk as I headed off to college.

Thirty-six hours later my family arrived at my parents house and everything changed, because yes, I lost my grandmother, but my mother……

My mother lost her mother.

(Pause out of respect.)

This thing we call Mother. This enormous tidal wave of life and experience tied up in emotions that run to the deepest of our core: Mother. My mother. Your mother. My children’s Mother. The Eternal Mother. She is vast; integral to our existence and wrapped up in home, religion, politics and more importantly–matters of the heart.

And the little girl in me, sobbing for my grandmother, grew up very quickly watching my own mother mourn for her mother. Her mother: the person who grew her, birthed her, bathed her, and cared for her. She lost the ever present foundation of love and support in her life.

It was suddenly not about me. I mourned with my husband, his family (who knew and loved her) and my cousins, but I couldn’t even begin to touch what my mother was experiencing. She didn’t want me to. In some ways, it was impossible. For almost a week, I lost my mother. She reverted to sometime in her youth before I knew her. She retreated to her seven siblings in a way I had never witnessed.

Our usual cadence disappeared and she became a stranger to me. I was left stunned. I wished I could have been inside that mourning with her; that maybe that would mean we were close; that it was me she wanted to cry and talk to.

It was within this process that I realized that my mother is more than just my mother. She had been a child. She was a person. And I can’t even begin to know the depth of her being because I am blinded to her person by my love for my mother.

And I thought about how one day I will lose her. And my children will lose me. And in the same way that I celebrate the lineage of my baby girl being born with the very eggs that may one day be my grandchildren; that the very egg that was to be me lived in my mother while she lived in her mother; in the same way that I am humbled by the way life unfolds and moves: I mourn in somber celebration of a life lived full circle.

A few days after the funeral I took my family up to Camp for a few days and when I returned, I, unlike my mom, got my mother back. Mom, I am terribly sorry for your loss. There is no one in the whole wide world who can take the place of Mother. And these words seem to pale in the face of your loss.


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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

jen September 23, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Hillary, this is so beautiful in a totally heartbreaking way. So sorry for your loss, and especially your mother’s.

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flowers September 23, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Thank you Jen.

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"Aunty" Pam September 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Aw, Honey– you are an amazing young woman. This was a beautiful testament to you, your Mom and your Grandmother. I know the pain of losing my Mom and I am different for my loss of her… and for the sadness I see Jess endure as well. At first, nothing seems real — except for the deep emptiness she feels with every breath she takes. It eases over time, days to weeks to months to years — but here I am, more than five years without my Mom — and there are days I still cry in my car as you did in yours.

Beautifully insightful, Sweetheart. What a gift you are! Your Mom is a wonderful friend to me. Your Grandmother was the salt of the earth. I will never forget her laugh, her kindness, and her joy for life.

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flowers September 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I love that, “salt of the earth”. Thanks for your kind words.

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sister-in-love September 23, 2011 at 11:48 pm

you are full of grace. Your words draw me right into the essence of life, which is the blessing of experiencing love from another’s heart into your own. Thanks for your insights. lots of love

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Vick September 24, 2011 at 8:09 am

Just beautiful. Thanks for sharing your heart…and for moving my heart in such a deep way.

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Paula Alliette September 24, 2011 at 8:58 am

Hillary, I really enjoyed your article. It really hit home for me since I lost my mom this past May. It was really nice to read your perspective. I’m sorry for your loss and especially for your mom’s loss.

Paula Alliette
(Christina Silva’s mom)

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flowers September 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I’m sorry to hear about your loss.

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Julie September 24, 2011 at 9:33 am

Thank you for your beautiful words, Hillary.

Today is (would have been?) my grandmother’s 97th birthday. She died 4 days ago, in a moment of solitude amidst days of company. Perhaps she did not want to leave while her children, now all in their 70s, sat at her bedside and loved her. Perhaps she could not.

The ties that bind.

Like her dining room table at which she sat, hands folded gracefully, talking out loud yet so intimately to God as she thanked Him for all the Blessings on and around the table.

Like the clip on earrings I made for her in college which she wore and wore and wore and wore. The first time I have seen her without them was my last visit to her two weeks ago.

Like the memory of the time we sat together about 10 years ago when I asked her, “will you still love me when you are dead?” I still can see her face draw near mine, feel her hands gentle encircle my head and her nose touch my nose, and hear her voice answering with certitude, “even more.”

Most of all, the tie that does not come undone: the soul connection, in which I now take solace, trusting that some day, some how, I will be with her again. And perhaps even sooner, when my grieving heart grows quiet and peaceful again, I will feel her love coming to me, strong and sure, from the other side.

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flowers September 27, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Julie it was so good to see you on Sunday and talk to you about our Grandma’s and grieving. love and light to you.

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Michelle September 24, 2011 at 9:38 am

I’m so sorry for your loss and for your mother’s. Having lost my grandmother in 1998 and my mother in 2010, I can completely understand the little girl life and feelings. As I read this, it reminded me of my own little girl life. And when I mourn their passing, as I still do, I do feel so little. I hope the days get easier for you and your family.

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flowers September 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Thanks you so much for your kind words. I can barely grasp what it must be like to lose your mother and hope you have found healing from your loss.

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Alison @ Bluebirdmama September 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Wow. Amazing post. I don’t even have any words.

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Tatiana September 24, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Beautiful tribute.

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Rachael September 25, 2011 at 11:03 am

Blessings

xox

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mb September 26, 2011 at 11:43 am

i love the way you are able to see what it might be like for someone else, from outside of yourself. you have such a gift of empathy, and it is so very rare. i think it is probably even more rare to be able to have this kind of seeing/empathy with one’s parents than it is with one’s children, and we both know people having empathy with children are rare indeed. you are one of a kind, hillary.

i was just reflecting on my own nana’s life and death and over the weekend, somehow it came up when i was talking to quinn, and he was curious about my nana. he wanted to see her, and i showed him my favorite picture of nana and poppy. it was pretty incredible, he went through the full range of emotions, and took a long long while processing just who this person had been to me, and who she had been to my mama, and who that would have made her to him, and then he mourned that he could not see her because she was dead, and we talked about her spirit a lot. he seemed very tuned in to the fact that my nana had died when i was four, himself being currently four. he told me he didn’t want to die and he wanted to stay being four and not die. wow, so very many emotions for one little guy in one sitting. grandmothers have some powerful energy.

the moment at your wedding… incredible, and profound. a very big hug to you today.

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flowers September 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Thanks Mary Beth. It’s been really interesting for the kids–especially my six year old. He was very aware and very emotional about it though I feel like it was more about his initiation into the idea of death than actual mourning for a specific person if that makes any sense. He was very invested in the entire experience. It was just scary and overwhelming for my 3.5 year old. And the baby only met her twice :-(

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kate September 27, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Hil-
What a great post. Thank you for sharing. I remember sitting at my grandmother’s funeral, sighing (and sobbing) that she had finally passed after 10 years of having late-stage Alzheimers. I sighed because she was finally at peace- finally able to move onto her next step. Then I saw my dad giving her eulogy and thought- Wow- no matter what a blessing it might have been- he lost his mother that day. He wasn’t my dad, he was her son. Her son without his mother. I was struck, like you were, at how we are babies, children, teens, adults, parents, grandparents all in one body.
I see my grandma everywhere. In a sneeze that has a sweet song trailing it, in my daughter (her namesake), in her son, in the color red.
Just think- your kids get to see your mom in that special light. And my kids too.

XO

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flowers September 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Thanks Kate. I like what you said, “we are babies, children, teens, adults, parents, grandparents all in one body”.

I remember your Grandmother passing. I do feel like it helps to have community in mourning. So many people have shared their own stories with me and each one of the grandma’s that I meet feels so alive and vibrant in their grandchild’s stories.
xoxo

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kyndale October 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm

What a beautiful tribute to your grandma. It’s good to write this all down and feel it deeply. I’m sorry for your loss.

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Shawntae November 9, 2011 at 11:41 am

Wow, I bawled reading your article. I’m very sorry for the loss of your grandmother. I know how it feels, I lost mine 5 years ago. Holidays are still difficult, but the birth of my son 4 years ago has helped us keep the joy alive. Things just aren’t the same without her. She was truly the rock that held our family together.

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