Gram has grit. And I’d like to think I got it from her. She and I make the tough calls, do what needs to be done, survive what feels unsurvivable. We will let life break us; if necessary, we will tear down what we’ve built and start over.
My grandmother left an abusive husband, worked two jobs as a single mother, took care of a sick child until that child died at the age of 32, and shortly thereafter, fought for custody of me and my brother so that we would avoid foster care. She’s got stories.
I, a survivor of childhood trauma, evolved from a pizza maker to a professor, along the way becoming a first-generation college graduate. For many years, I lived below the poverty line. I have 11 chronic diagnoses. I too, have stories, many of which you may have read.
Through it all, Gram’s rooted for me, prayed for me, listened to me, held me, laughed with me, and taken the brunt of my emotions when life felt like too much to handle. When I was a devastated child trying to run away from home, she remained calm and patient, following the advice of social workers and therapists even when her efforts seemed in vain; she taught me about unwavering, stubborn love. As an adolescent, she made it okay for me to call home no matter what; she taught me about trust and forgiveness. She embraced my high-school sweetheart, even though he was ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’ and almost nobody thought we should be together; she taught me about giving people a chance to beat the odds. She silently welcomed an entire group of teenagers—whom she didn’t know—into her arms, in the middle of a church parking lot, after the funeral for one of my peers who died in a house fire; she taught me that as powerful as words are, they don’t dissipate pain. Sometimes, you just have to exist with people in their grief.
Later in life, she taught me that “this too shall pass”—maybe into something better and maybe into something worse; I can feel all my feelings but I have to show up and give every day a chance to mold and to mesmerize me. She told stories about growing up during the Great Depression and incessantly cleaned the house (and the car, for that matter); through this, she taught me the importance of appreciating, and caring for, what you have—material and otherwise (and turned me into a bit of a ‘neat freak’). When I was earning my doctorate, she often used the pronoun, “we”: “What are we doing this week?” or “I’m glad we got through that.” She watched me get hooded at my doctoral graduation. She burst into tears of joy—and relief—when I got my dream job. She taught me what it means to love someone so much that their joy is your joy and their despair is your despair. When I was in a bad car accident at the age of 29, she came and picked me up from where I was living and took me back to her place until I gained the courage to get behind the wheel again and drive home. A few months later, she rode with me all the way to an out-of-state job interview because I wasn’t healed enough to travel that far on my own. She showed me, yet again, that meeting people where they are emotionally and psychologically can help them move forward. And when I was in my early thirties and suffering from medical issues, she came and slept on my couch; she has awaited many test results over the years and endured both my and her complex cycle of thoughts and emotions that accompany such waiting. She taught me about hope and finding joy amidst chaos.
The first time I made her deviled eggs recipe, she instructed me on how to peel hard boiled eggs easily; she taught me to be humble and to appreciate all types of knowledge. She still does her hair, and wears jewelry and perfume on a regular basis; she taught me to take pride in myself. She can’t go anywhere without talking to a stranger or finding someone who wants to give her a hug; she’s everybody’s “Gram.” She taught me about exuding warmth, grace, empathy, and dignity.
She was there when I said “yes to the dress.” She helped me plan a wedding—and plan it four more times after it got postponed because of COVID-19. She’s guided me and my fiancé on how to love each other better. And she listens intently as I try to conceptualize my identity as a wife and potential mother.
When I face the fact that I might soon become a mother, I think of the massive responsibility and inconvenience of such an endeavor. I think of noise. I think of frustration. I think of exhaustion. I think of lack of freedom to plan my life and to change my plans. I think about having to teach another human being everything that my grandmother has taught me in 35 years. Her influence is everywhere in my life, and I’m indescribably grateful—but, oh my, what a weight that must have been on her. Then, though, I think about the possibility of having a relationship with another human being like the one I have with her. As ineloquently as I could possibly say this, that sounds like the coolest thing ever. Will I become a mom? I don’t know. But I know there are countless ways to touch the lives of others without carrying that particular label. And Gram taught me how.