Letter to Our Great Grandmother

I’m writing a letter to our grandmother. She is, by blood, Robert’s grandmother, his father’s mother. She is my children’s only great- grandmother. By life, she is my grandmother.

We come from terribly different backgrounds. She is the daughter of a New England Christian minister who came of age more than 80 years ago. She has lost all of her immediate family, her husband, and a son. She believes deeply in her faith, her family, and herself.

I didn’t really know Grandma too well for the first ten years of my marriage. She attended my wedding despite 3,000 miles of travel and three weeks notice. She hosted a family reunion not too long afterwards at Lake Winnepesaukee, and she visited the family regularly. The visits were always cordial and light hearted. They were generally well-attended holiday type affairs with too much pressure to harmonize.

When her son was ill, we asked her to come see him. I was honest with her, in spite of the rampant medical mumbo-jumbo. I subtitled the details with the simple truth that he was dying. She thanked me and spent some of the best days they ever had together before he passed.

At the funeral, Great-grandpa held his great-grandson’s hand. That was my son, who was listening to his father give a eulogy for his daddy’s daddy. While my husband and son cried, I saw Great-grandma pray.

It was when her husband died that I really got to know her. I began calling her regularly. She was alone now, at more than 90 years old and several lifetimes of being coupled. I didn’t know how she would handle such a situation but I needn’t have worried. She handled it with grace and gratitude. My weekly calls were never short on conversation. Rain or shine, she was active in her church, she brought meals to the shut-ins in her neighborhood, and answered thousands of prayer requests.

She misses Great-grandpa terribly. The loss is permanent. Time will not heal the hole he left beside her. But she remains grateful. She’s grateful for all the Mondays he took out the trash, all the light bulbs he changed, and the unwavering companionship. She is grateful that he passed suddenly, without suffering or violence. She is grateful that she has a family that loves her and supports her always. She is grateful for her excellent health and her lifelong faith.

There’s a peaceful feeling that surrounds her voice. She is genuinely glad to hear my voice. She is always content wherever she is. The disasters and bad choices that she holds witness to lead her to prayer over judgment. I rarely hear her talk of the past or the future. She is firmly planted in the present moment, location and circumstance of her being.

We live in a culture that emphasizes youth to the point of exclusion. I’ve personally suffered since the very first sign of womanhood to sculpt my body into one which resembles a little boy. I wonder what more I could give the world if I spent as much energy sculpting my mind to mimic that of an old woman?

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