Embraced: A Grandmother’s Perspective

by Julie on May 11, 2013 · 3 comments

This post is for my friend, Tara Mohr’s Grandmother Power blogging campaign

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I began my journey to grandmotherhood when I became a mother at 17, and had my second daughter at 21.

I became a grandmother at 45 when I witnessed my older daughter’s incredible strength and resilience through labor and birth, and what was (unbeknownst to us) to come. I was there, alongside my son-in-law, as my grandson emerged. I was there, alongside the three of them, as my grandson faced numerous surgeries in the first few weeks of life. He was at Children’s Hospital where there were many beautiful newborns in the ICU whose parents were equally as strong and resilient. Many of those babies died. All of the parents (and grandparents) I met within those walls grieved something so deep and profound.

During my first few days of Grandmotherhood, my relationship to life, and death, deepened. For months, my grandson was critical. Tubes and bandages covered most of his tiny body. The first time my daughter was able to hold him, more than three weeks after his birth, it took the nurses over one and a half hours to move him from the bed he was on into her lap, even though she sat just a foot from the bed.

It was new to me, this being so closely tethered to this baby, yet not his parent. I wasn’t his mother, yet was intricately intertwined. I would have given anything to change things, but I couldn’t. From my vantage point, I could see how much my grandson was suffering, how much my daughter and son-in-law were suffering.

I watched my daughter and son-in-law try to be with the terror that was happening. I felt completely helpless. There was nothing I could ‘do’ to fix things. Nothing. I remember how hard it was to just witness and to be with.

And then I came to understand how powerful it is to just witness and be with…and to hold it all in love. I didn’t become saintly; I just stopped fighting what was so, and instead began to respond.

My grandson faced trauma after trauma, yet he finally came home. He is a gorgeous boy, now…all of twelve.

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The day we buried my mother, my younger daughter was very pregnant with her first child. I stood there, aware of the shift in my matriline. My mother was gone and now I was the elder woman in my lineage. For a moment in time, I saw back through the matriline, back to my mother, her mother and her mother, and so on. I saw forward to my daughters, my grandson, and the baby not yet born that would come to be my granddaughter. I stood there aware of both life and death, birth and burial, very aware that there can be no life without death, and no death without life.

When my daughter gave birth to her daughter, on my mother’s birthday just eight weeks after mom’s death, I was there during labor and delivery. I was so blessed…so, so blessed, to be there to witness, once again, how life follows death, just as death follows life, and to witness the profound strength of my daughter and the profound power of birth and motherhood.

To witness birth and the sacred as it moves through this process is intense in the way it can wake us up out of our dream that life is mundane, even if just for a moment - a priceless window into the sacred.

Again, with my granddaughter’s birth, I was taken deeper into the sense of what being a grandmother holds. No longer was I the immediate parent; at least not in the same way. My place in the world shifted, and I now saw myself from a different perspective. I was the mother of a mother. And, with the birth of my granddaughter, just weeks after my mother died, I became the oldest woman in my living matriline. When this happened, I could feel it. I not only knew it as a fact, I could feel it in my bones.

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I now have four beautiful grandchildren. I love them fiercely. It is a powerful love, one that doesn’t have the day-to-day responsibilities and disctractions that are so much a part of parenting.

I am now closer to my death than I am to my birth. Instead of seeing my life stretched out ahead of me with the endpoint so far off it doesn’t seem to exist, I am well aware of the fact that I have much less life (in years) to live than I have lived. As I see the timeline of my life in my mind’s eye, where I am along it has radically changed, and as I look out toward death, I see the continuation of life that came through me, but continues on after I am gone.

It’s a strange thing to see. And for me, from my vantage point, the grandmother power in me has to do with all of this…it has to do with my relationship to birth and death, and to the life in between. It has to do with my relationship to grief, to joy, to gratitude. It has to do with my relationship to flesh and blood. It has to do with my relationship to the sacred. And, it has to do with the beauty of humanity.

It is true that I am so much more than simply a mother and grandmother. Yet, the richness and beauty of who I am in my life, in all the areas of my life, come out of the lush, full, pregnant knowing that is at the heart and soul of womanhood.

The experience of birth, both with myself and with my daughters, and death (of my husband and mother) have been powerful, powerful teachers.  The ultimate lesson? That the beauty, power, and ultimately the mystery of life is sacred, and that everything that is given is a gift.

I know how profoundly important this awareness of life’s sacredness is to the continuation of humanity on this planet. The mystery of creation as it comes into being as a human being, can only  grow in a woman’s body.

When I take in the bone-chilling treatment of women and women’s bodies (this vessel of creation) across our planet, my heart breaks open, over and over and over. I see it as the same bone-chilling degradation and devastation being enacted to our beautiful planet earth.

There is a force in our world that seems to want to harm the very vessel that brought each of us into being. What is this force? And how do we come to face this force?

Why do we fear this mystery and power with so much determination that we are willing to destroy ourselves?

What will turn us to see the sacredness within it, opening our hearts to a different relationship with life?

The power of a woman’s body is the same power that is at the heart of the mystery of life. As women, can we come to see that the lies we have been told about our worth are just that – lies to try to quiet and shame and ultimately control something that cannot be controlled?

Can we come to peace with the power that lies within our bodies, knowing that to live this power will not be like the power that’s been used over us?

We women see the connections. We see the relationships. We come to know how intricately connected life is, how everything relies on everything else for health and well-being, and when we don’t – we find ourselves unhealthy and not so well. Women know this. This is grandmother power. It’s about the web of life…about the fact that everything we do to life we do to ourselves. And the web has been vastly damaged.

This isn’t about quarterly earnings or market share or GNP. 

NO. This is about the continuation of life here on earth, and about helping to ensure that every being has the best quality of life they can.

That’s how important women’s voices are.

That’s how important it is that each and every woman comes to know how intricately connected she is to life and how much her singular life matters.

That’s how important it is that she finds and sings her song.

That’s how important it is for woman to get in touch with her deep, deep desire to remember something she knows way down within.

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What is Grandmother Power?

Grandmother power is not only in women who are grandmothers physically. All women hold grandmother power. And, Grandmother power isn’t just in women, although some aspects are available to us through the female body. The heart of Grandmother power is part of life, and as such it is in all of life.

Grandmother power is the power of the broken-open heart. It is the power of feeling how deeply and intricately we are all connected to each other. And how when one part of this big beautiful web becomes sick, the whole becomes sick. It’s the power of being able to feel what is happening for the whole, to witness the pain of the world, and then to speak and act from this broken-open-heartedness.

Motherhood is so close to the child, but Grandmother power holds the larger family. It’s the whole family that is in your lineage, both individually and collectively.  With Grandmother power, we see ourselves as part of a the global family – not just humans, but all of life. There is a sense of sovereignty that comes from Grandmother power. There is a reason the Iroquois nation would not go to war unless the wise older women decided it to be so. Grandmothers hold a wider view.

From the grandmother’s seat, we know how powerful we are held within the matriline of all women. When a mother is pregnant with her daughter, the baby already holds the eggs that will become her children, should she decide to have them. There is strength and the power of the continuation of life in this line.

When we see life from the eyes of Grandmother, we know that the cycle of life, death and rebirth are an integral part of what Life is. There cannot be life without death. There cannot be death without life. We honor the wholeness and live the cycles.

Grandmother power isn’t something we do, it is what we are. It is our nature. It doesn’t move from a place of martyrdom, but rather from love. It moves from being deep in our female body. When we know Grandmother power, we do what we do with the great love that we are.

Grandmother power knows the sacredness of the flesh and bones, of  the soil and water, of the moon and sun. It’s a power that is rooted in the earth, not distant in some transcendent place. It holds the sanctity of life and honors it by way of choices made.

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

These things I have listed as qualities of power are not seen by many in our world as powerful things. That’s how out of  balance we are. When we come to know power in these ways, our world will be a different place. The time for that is now.

 

I’d love to know what qualities you see that Grandmother power holds. I invite you to share them with us in the comments.

 

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Wilhelm Buckley May 11, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Julie. Your stories touched my heart. The gentle insistent power of grandmothers stands for generative life for generations to come.

You asked a key question for each of us: “Can we come to peace with the power that lies within our bodies, knowing that to live this power will not be like the power that’s been used over us?”

As we own the power in our feminine wisdom. Our daily lives change and the ripples spread far and wide.

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rachael maddox May 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm

the strength and centeredness it takes… to dip so deeply into our internal well of self-worth and self-love…. to remember ourselves… to see ourselves in our holy wild magnificent gorgeous existence…. i feel thankful for my life, the way it’s designed. that i can take lots of naps. that i can be slow and intentional. that there are people like you, and so many amazing others, who help deflect all the insanity that we’re constantly being bombarded with as women. i often feel tired and overwhelmed and hopeful and lost and found. what happens with a problem so pervasive. thank god for breathing, for solidarity, for stories, for water.

thank you for this, julie. for being so awake. i love you.

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rachael maddox May 11, 2013 at 3:15 pm

and my heart cracks over and over, for all the ways entire groups–not only women–are “othered” in our current structures. the agony of disempowerment, oppression.

what can we do, beyond find truth in our tenderest parts?
what can we be, beyond open to whatever love is beyond our surrender?
what are we meant for, if not evolution, emancipation, togetherness that is radically more loving?

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