Last Friday, I received a message that my grandmother, who had a stroke last year, wasn’t doing well, and that she wasn’t expected to make it through the day. Hours later, I got the phone call. She had passed.
In a way, from a grandson’s perspective, this is the natural order of things. When Fate comes to take payment, our grandparents are the first to be returned to the soil. It is expected. Yet, when a grandmother is lost to the ether, even when the anticipation softens the blow, I realize that we reserve a special form of mourning for grandmothers. When I think of my Mammaw, I think of the quintessential grandmother. The matriarch.
Few of us get the opportunity to truly know our great-grandparents. Mostly, if we are lucky enough to have met them, we do so at such a young age that our memories of them are not quite fully formed. So, as we grow, our grandparents occupy the highest existent rung of our known lineage. As a child, this symbol is especially poignant- and it was especially true of Mammaw, from my point of view. Grandparents are the living, breathing reason your parents are here, and so are the reason you are here, too. There is a certain form of awe that kicks in when you realize that they raised your parents as your parents are raising you. They brought the image you hold now of your mother and father into being, seemingly from nothing. They demand as much respect as your tiny heart can extend. Somehow, they even have the ability to tell your mom and dad what to do. I’ll never forget the first time I saw this in person. I must’ve been four, maybe five. I don’t recall the argument, but I vividly remember that my dad was trying to make a point when my Mammaw told him that she’d heard enough. From my position in the corner of the room, I gasped a bit, and held my breath. Of course, no one was able to get away with telling Dad what to do -there are ramifications for such things. Didn’t she know who he was? Then it happened. He got quiet. And that was it- the conversation was over. What kind of awesome power did this woman have? She obviously demanded more respect than anyone I’d ever encountered.
My young mind may have overextended the awe factor a bit, but I held that image in my mind, permanently. It never weakened. It may have matured a bit with age, but the amount of respect never waned, because she deserved it. She was the Matriarch, and she cared for her family as if it was her only purpose. And it was. There’s something so noble about the simplicity of a life seemingly devoted to strengthening the bonds of one’s family. How ignorant are we, then, to ignore this pattern among our elders? Most every grandparent (every person*** even) comes nearer to the virtue of family as they age, increasingly condemning the rest of the world in favor of the flesh and blood people comprised of their flesh and blood. And what does this tendency consist of if not the accumulated wisdom of so many years of life experience? If most of our elders eschew the world at large in favor of their family, why, then, do we continue to place so much importance in the very things they shy away from?
Mammaw wouldn’t care how big my house is, or how expensive is the car I drive. She wouldn’t care about the movie I saw last night, or how great my garage looks after I cleaned it out. She certainly wouldn’t care what a great deal I got on that coffeemaker at Target, or how envious I am of my neighbor and that new sport boat in his backyard. She would care about her grandchildren’s laughter, about the bonds that tie us together with an invisible thread- a thread that’s more delicate than we sometimes realize. Writing, designing, acting make you happy? Wonderful, she would say. Do that. Then call your father.