Strength in Tragedy, Suffering with Grace
Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about my maternal grandmother. Perhaps it’s the fact that the anniversary of her death is coming up. I don’t know. All I know is it’s been a couple of years now and I guess I’m still trying to integrate her story and come to peace with it all.
How to describe my grandmother? Well, she was the picture of elegance. Her slight figure never had an extra ounce on it. Her hair was always done just so. She always wore a smart dress and nylons. She was a lady.
Yet, she was also extremely strong willed. In fact, I’m convinced the dictionary has her picture under the word stubborn. At 100 years old, she refused to wear a diaper and was often reprimanded for “forgetting” her panic alarm.
Surviving Tough Times
Like many of her generation, her life had been extremely hard. She lost her mother at age thirteen, suffered the loss of several of her own children, tried to keep a farm running during the “dirty thirties”, became a single parent, and the went on to raise a blended family. Her health (especially her nerves) was poor for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, my mother has early memories of making Grandma tea in an effort to make her feel better.
Truth is, despite her inner strength, I think that Grandma was haunted by the past. She never complained about her lot in life yet it was obvious that there were past events she couldn’t process, let go of, or forgive. So she spent her whole life reliving and rehashing those things in her mind.
Her inner struggle was easily perceived as coldness. She rarely smiled. She never showed affection. It was almost like if she let in any sort of sunshine or joy that she’d crumble into dust.
Grace and Elegance
Although my maternal grandmother lived long enough for me to become a grandmother myself, I can’t say I really knew her. I never had a one on one conversation with her. In fact, even though we lived with her for the first four years of my life, I’m not completely sure she even knew my name. A year before she passed, I was in town and I didn’t even bother to stop by and visit her.
Nonetheless, I think I learned a lot from this strong woman. Throughout the dramas, traumas, and tragedies in my own life I’ve always followed Grandma’s old adage of putting one foot in front of the other. I’m actually pretty good at doing what has to be done because someone has to do so. I believe, I have her to thank for that ability.
Moreover, while I don’t think we necessarily have to live in the past, I think there is something to be said about suffering gracefully. Life happens. Everyone experiences dramas, traumas, and tragedies. Perhaps if we focused less at what happened to us and more on how we coped with/survived/worked through the situation, we’d see the past very differently. Just imagine the empowering lessons we’d leave to our grandchildren.