You guys, I’m struggling to put into words how I feel right now. Last week at this time, I was in Texas, sitting by my grandmother’s bed, rubbing the creases out of her forehead with my hand, and watching as her breathing became slower and slower. This week she’s gone.
I have been thinking a lot lately about grandmothers, as my maternal one, who we all called Grandmommy, passed away and my paternal one becomes more and more lost in her dementia. I am so thankful to have had two wonderful, wise women in my life who helped shaped me in ways both known and yet unknown. I think half of my drive to become a teacher comes from my maternal grandmother’s love of literacy and books, which she shared with each of her grandchildren. I remember her coming up to Minnesota to visit us when I was in early elementary school, and bringing me a copy of The Rats of Nimh. Together we sat on the couch in my living room and read through the entire book the week she was there. I remember how special it was to have someone sitting by my side for hours, wanting to hear me read and wanting to read to me. The individualized attention and patience she showed toward me is something I want to show to each of my students as they learn how to read. I like to think my stubborn temperament and interest in world events and social justice also stem from her. The last president she voted for was Obama, which was pretty progressive given her strong Texan roots. She cared about what was going on in places as far as India and Ethiopia, and tuned in every Friday to watch Bill Moyers on PBS. Her passion for the world’s needs ran deep.
My paternal grandmother, known as Far Mor (which means father’s mother in Norwegian), I wasn’t able to see so much growing up. I saw my maternal one about once every year or so, but my paternal one I only saw a handful of times growing up as she lived all the way in Washington State. I remember writing her letters though when I was in third or fourth grade, and how she always wrote back, sending me pictures from her house and get-togethers with family, and once sending me pictures of my great-grandfather, who died when she was young, and her autograph book with friends’ signatures from middle school. My love for family history, my Norwegian heritage, baking, nature, and living honestly I would say all stem from her. Even with her dementia and confusion, she still smiles a lot and cracks jokes. I am so happy she has been able to spend the last few years in the state where she grew up, near my parents’ home.
However, it’s not just these two strong beautiful women who make me admire grandmothers so much. You know the Beyoncé song about how girls run the world?
I think in many ways it’s not just girls, but grandmothers, who make this world run. It was grandmothers who lifted the heavy bowls of salad at the soup kitchen in Hyde Park this past summer, grandmothers who signed their grandkids up for the afterschool program at the library this past week, and, in many parts of Africa, grandmothers who raise children as parents die of AIDS. I think we, as a society, have a tendency to write off women in general, even more so when they have children, but most of all, when they’re growing old. It’s like being part of two “vulnerable” populations (women with children and the elderly) somehow makes grandmothers superlatively vulnerable. And sure, both of my grandmothers have needed help towards the end due to their declining health, but before then, they were incredibly active, volunteering in the community, participating in civic organizations, traveling, and reading books on current events.
I hope I have as much poise, tenacity, and strength as my grandmothers when I too am old, and that, before then, I try to have the same admiration for others’ grandmothers that I have for my own.
Love you, Grandmommy. Rest in peace.