My Mother’s Mother

Today the world stop turning, or at least it felt that way. As my mother informed me of her mother passing away I felt a cry, a bark, a child like screech escaped my throat. A sound not too familiar, but one that had been uttered earlier this week when my dog died. The sudden punch of anguish, the silence from the other end of the phone, the immediate incoherent thoughts and all the memories that did not come to fruition overwhelmed and clouded my vision.
Today my family lost one of the strongest women I have ever met. Petite in figure, mute in expression yet big at heart and strong in character. My mother’s mother, the woman who taught me the importance of keeping family close. Cooking, sewing and ironing; the perfect 1950’s wife. I remember her as a small figure with a big shadow. Daughter of a seamstress and a tabaco farmer, she was humble and strong. She married a man that complimented her self-esteem, her ego and her resilient character. She mothered two daughters under a no-nonsense household that was filled with eternal laughter, good food, and a sturdy matriarchy.
Today I reached for her in my memory trying to find where I placed her last. I traveled to early 1990’s when I barely knew how to write my name or understand how hard math would be for me. There she was, standing in her floral dress, in her kitchen. I heard her offer me my favorite dish, no one could ever do it like her. My memories shifted to my first security blanker, her gift to me. Later she would make sure that I got as many as I needed so as to never feel alone. I remember her passion for roses and how she built her own garden while she cared for me. She never talked about them but rather tended to them as if they were her children, as if those roses were me and my brother. My memories darken to the last time I had a fight with her, her memory started failing her. Agoraphobia took over and I no longer could see that sturdy image of matriarchy.
Today, as I silently sobbed within my state of shock I wondered when was the last time I saw my grandmother walk. As her health declined I recall helping her stand. Her inability to stay awake made her a statue-like figure in my development; always present, never moving, always resting. My grandfather would try to coax her out of her slumber. Sometimes he would compliment her beauty and how sleeping did wonders. Later she would be confined to her bed indefinitely. She would be unable to walk, talk, eat or recognize my face. All the while the world would continue moving around her. She would miss my graduations, my engagement, her husband’s diagnosis and recovery from cancer, and her husband’s decline in health. And while he laid in a similar hospital bed next to her, she would not know how much they both had changed.
Today my mother reminded me that this is what her mother would have wanted. A sturdy woman of barely 5’4 had told her daughters to be strong and to watch for her signals as she was ready to go. My mother reminded me that my grandmother, even though she could not talk, that she was aware and thankful for all that they did to keep her safe. My mother reminded me that my grandmother lived a good life surrounded by good children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Today, as I wave her goodbye (through no desire of my own) I let my mind wonder to the last place I loved her the most. I was 5, maybe, it was summer. I was wearing short purple flower pants and a matching blouse. I was at my grandparents house at Aguadilla. My grandmother was hanging up clothes on the clothe’s line in the backyard. Though the sun was radiant, blinding, she was shaded by the avocado trees. I stood a couple of feet from her submerged in the beauty of her garden. Roses, ferns, orchids and many other tropical flowers swayed with me as I laughed with the wind. I would sit against the house, covered by the flowers, as she completed her chores. I would look at her with love and wonder. How could this woman hold so much grace in her small hands, so much love in her smile, so much command in her eyes? The mother of my mother, what a sight to behold. What a woman to have met.
The mother of my mother, taught me the value of keeping those you love safe. She taught me the importance of planting love. She taught me the secret of grace in silence. And she taught me how to be strong in all the small ways.
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