Of Grandmothers

It was a sunny summer day after a wedding in the family and a few of us were invited to have lunch at the house of the groom’s grandparents in the countryside. A short drive later we stopped in front of a pretty building and as I got out I saw a smiling old lady with an unmistakably regal posture, despite the cane she was leaning on, waiting in the courtyard. Something jingled at the back of my mind, either a memory or a sense of vague recognition, I couldn’t be sure.

She first embraced the newly married couple, and proudly kissed her grandson, then turned to each of us as we patiently approached her one by one. When my turn came, I looked down from my height into a lined, kind face which was still beautiful. She laughed and asked me to bend down a little, then placed her hands on my cheeks, studying me up close.

As soon as she did that, my heart trembled with the memory of my own beloved grandmother’s hands, and in the space of seconds the residual sadness I had carried with me after she had passed away some two years before disappeared. It was the first time that beyond talking to my mother, my grandmother’s daughter, anyone else had tapped in some way into what I had felt about her. I knew exactly who this woman was, and I remembered my grandmother clearly, but I was somehow reassured of my connection to someone I had loved dearly through the lady in front of me.

We saw each other again several years later for another family event, and I sent a thank you card afterwards for the hospitality I had experienced. In a few weeks I retrieved an envelope from my mailbox with handwriting that was both new and seemed familiar. I opened it, read the first few lines of the message inside and began to cry. It was a thank you card responding to my thank you card, and both the handwriting and the content reminded me of the cards my grandmother used to send me when her eyesight was failing, writing in green and red ink so she could see better, doodling pictures of the potted flowers on her balcony.

I’ve never talked to this other grandmother about my feelings. They are enough for me by themselves, and I am grateful for this gift of sorts that she has given me simply through meeting her. She has her own grandchildren, and for some time now she has been a great-grandmother as well.

My own parents became grandparents, and as a first-time aunt I’ve experienced a particular kind of joy from watching them, because in essence I was getting a peek at what they were like with my siblings and I at that very age before we were able to remember, but already knew we were cared about deeply. It is a bit like going back in time but moving forward in the same moment. And I find it incredibly humbling and inspiring.

In the first months after my grandmother had passed away the loss part of what happened naturally gripped me harder, perhaps because the feeling that she was still close hadn’t left me either, nor has it today. My mind knew what had happened, but all the things that had previously reminded me of her on a daily basis still did, just the same, and they were real. And then I saw other people, both in my family and outside of it, being what she had been to me. They were doing it on their own terms, of their own free will, not asking anything in return.

Of course it’s important and comforting that there are enough people I can ask, on any given day, “Do you remember how Granny…” But I am thankful for those sometimes unexpected moments of connection, reassurance, maybe peace, and I think that my grandmother would have understood.