I still remember the last time I saw her – she and my grandfather made the trek from the far-off Pacific Northwest to visit my family where my dad was stationed… in Oklahoma. I vividly recall waiting in our front yard for them to arrive, having chosen that particular evening to try to tackle climbing the tree in our front yard. I remember the sunset, and the headlights of their car, as they pulled into the driveway just after dusk.
I remember the hugs…
I don’t remember the good-bye.
I was seven when I lost my maternal grandmother.
I remember attending her funeral, but distinctly recall not seeing Grandma in the casket, because, in her wisdom, Mom said, “I don’t want you guys to remember Grandma that way.” I didn’t understand at the time, but as an adult, I now know what my mom meant – she didn’t want us to remember Grandma in a way that tried, but failed (as it always does), to capture the essence of a beautiful soul, whose life was taken too soon from us by the ravages of cancer.
A few years later, my grandfather remarried. A strong woman, herself a widow, she provided a spark of joy in my papa’s life. She already had her own family from her first marriage, and both Papa and his second wife settled into world-traveling companionship.
This woman never tried to replace my grandma. Instead, she allowed us to pursue a relationship with her as our surrogate grandmother on our terms. Some of the grandchildren quickly and easily took to calling her Grandma.
I, however, always called her by her first name due to some irrational fear that, by calling her Grandma, I would betray the memory of my filial grandmother.
Recently, my grandpa’s second wife was diagnosed with cancer. Living a country away, all I have in my power to do is pray.
Pray for a miracle.
Pray for comfort.
As I was putting away my children’s laundry, praying the Rosary the other night, the wind was knocked out of me as I realized, in the midst of my prayers, that this woman, loved by my papa, is the only great-grandmother on my side of the family that my children will get a chance to know… or, at least get to have in pictures with them.
Worse, I realized that my reluctance to embrace her as my grandma, regardless of the reason, is robbing me of a beautiful, rewarding relationship with a woman who so quietly, unassumingly accepted the role of step-grandmother to another man’s grandchildren.
I found myself grieving…
for my first grandmother,
for my second grandmother,
and for my grandfather who has watched two loves of his life fight a battle with cancer.
I found myself grieving for my children – who may never know two beautiful souls, who helped shape the fabric of two separate, yet intricately woven tapestries that created a blended family.
The down side to living the nomadic military lifestyle is watching family go through changes without being able to readily be on hand to support them. It’s difficult to acknowledge my daughter has not met her maternal great-grandmother yet… but I remain hopeful that we will be able to facilitate a meeting to afford me an opportunity to capture the love of the multi-generational photo.
I am now feeling a pull – to embrace this woman who has so lovingly accepted the role of grandmother to me, and to my older siblings who no doubt remember our biological grandmother with fond memories as well.
I feel a pull to acknowledge my internal battle – and, to banish the thoughts that one woman had a greater impact than the other.
I feel a pull to recognize I have truly been blessed – with not just the standard two grandmothers, but including my paternal grandmother, with three beautiful, strong role models who have assumed the mantle of love and the title of Grandma to me.
So, dear readers, I ask you to join me in prayer – for my grandmother battling cancer, and for her family and friends, supporting, caring, and loving her through this difficult time.