She sat quietly in her recliner at the far end of the living room where she had positioned herself shortly after we arrived. I know she loves my children dearly, but the sheer presence of their chaotic little bodies makes her nervous. She managed to slowly creep from her spot at the kitchen table into the living room where she turned on an old western and sat by herself. This happens every time we visit, but I understand. Her hearing is diminished, so sitting around a table full of loved ones having a conversation on mute is painful. She greets us with a smile as we barrel through the door and then quietly secludes herself in the other room.
When it’s time to leave, we entertain the same ritual. As the kids and I walked in to say our goodbyes, I found her staring at a picture of her son that had recently passed away. A blanket covered her frail tired body. At a glance she is merely a shadow, but this depiction of her physical state is a far cry from the strong independent woman she once was.
I smiled as I neared her and then leaned in to give her my love with my children clinging to my legs. Both of us savor our farewells, silently acknowledging that it could be our last.
“Sorry we were so crazy today, Granny! I love you. We will see you next time we’re in town!”
As I went to step away her cold, wrinkly hand grasped for mine. I pushed her walker to the side to kneel next to her as her icy fingers encompassed mine.
Her voice shook, “I just wanted to tell you that you are a wonderful mother to those two kids.”
I bit my lip, attempting to fight back the tears as I squeezed her hand in acknowledgement. The kids had been a complete mess all day, and I was clearly worn out and dreading a long car ride home. I needed those words. From the most courageous woman I know…..I needed those words.
As a child she was orphaned by a divorce. She married young and later started a family of her own. Her 4’11 frame gave birth to five healthy children, the youngest being a set of twins born breech. She gracefully endured motherhood without amenities. She bleached and hung to dry every diaper that covered her baby’s bums without complaint. She cooked from the garden that she grew and heated water on the stove in order to bathe her children in the washtub on the floor. She tirelessly cared for her children in ways that I can’t even comprehend. Then the unthinkable happened. Just after the twin’s sixth birthday, she lost her husband to cancer. During those incredibly difficult times she was left to raise five children on her own. On the day the boys became men the draft called for the twins. She valiantly stood by as their older brother stepped on the bus with them.
In the wake of motherhood when my world feels as though it is crumbling beneath me, I reach for her unwavering strength. The first night home with our newborn, and I am scared to death….but I can do this. The doctor placed two babies in her arms when she was only expecting one. I barely have an ounce of energy left for bath time…but I can do this. She had to heat water on the stove to bathe her children. I am dreading this week with my husband gone for work…..but I can do this. She raised five kids on her own with such grace. On the days where the kids are screaming and I feel as though I am failing, I reach for her words.
I am a wonderful mother to these two kids.