I’m taking the opportunity this month to share about women from my family who have had an impact for me. Each of them represents something I strive towards, a richness I want to embody and pass forward.
“…Bye. Um, I love you. Mum.” ~answering machine message’s end, circa 1996(ish)
My mother’s mother was 7th of 8 children, born at the end of the Great Depression. She married and started her own family young. When she found that her husband’s alcoholism and absenteeism created more than she could bear, she did something rare for a woman where she lived: she asked for a divorce. Her father-in-law helped her go submit resumes and attend interviews, as well as set up finances. She was a single mother of 2, who was determined to create the best life possible for her daughters. She worked long hours aside men who made much more than she did because “they have families to care for.” She handmade their clothes in similar fashion to the current designs, double-checked their homework, and also balanced caring for her own mother as she aged.
A highly creative woman, she may be where my mother got the confectioner bug: for holidays like Easter she would purchase trays of chocolates and then she would make frosting of different colors to decorate their surfaces after the girls had gone to bed. My mother thought she’d bought them special that way until she went to get a drink one year and caught her mid-flower.
My grandmother later remarried and moved to a home with large space for gardens, which she transformed into lush glory. She grew much of her own food, canned and preserved many things, and then began to shift some of her focus while she and my mother cared for her husband as he developed Alzheimer’s. She was soon faced with another tough decision that she made with love: she had to let someone else care for her husband, because Alzheimer’s is exceptionally challenging. It became even more challenging as he forgot how to read, for you see, he was deaf, and that had been the best way to communicate with him: write it down. She made sure he knew he was loved – we went to the nursing home daily whenever we stayed with her, she went on her own when we weren’t there.
The answering machine message at the beginning of this came after yet another tough thing. She and my mother had often misunderstood each other, but finally one day they made time to talk about a great many things. My mother asked whether her mother loved her, and my grandmother was shocked. “How was I to know? You never tell me.” My grandmother was someone who DID things, not really someone who SAID things, so she’d done everything she could think of to show love, but had forgotten about simply saying it.
“Would it help if I say it going forward?”
“Yes, actually, it would.”
And so at the end of each message on the answering machine would be the sometimes stilted, sometimes harried, but ALWAYS present “I love you. Mum.”
From my grandmother I learned that with determination and the willingness to ask for (and accept) help when needed, you can accomplish pretty much anything – especially the tough things.