As a family with two dads, Mother’s Day can be challenging. It brings up questions from our son and can at times make him — and us — feel like an outsider. Yet even though he doesn’t have a mom, our son has inherited so much compassion, wisdom, and love from generations of great women.
One of these women was my maternal grandmother, Louise McCullough.
The photo above is of my grandmother, my mom, me and Jon from November 2010. Grandma Louise (or, more informally, Grandma Mac) had been in poor health, having undergone multiple stomach surgeries. She was in her mid 80’s and increasingly feeble, but continued to remain the strong, caring, opinionated matriarch she’d always been.
My parents, my brothers, and our families had converged in my grandmother’s Arkansas town for Thanksgiving, and I was excited to introduce Jon to those who hadn’t met him yet. Prior to a big dinner at the church fellowship hall, a bunch of us had gone to visit Grandma at the assisted living facility where she’d lived the last few years. My brother and his kids were also there, which made for a rather chaotic visit, so I knew I wanted to take Jon to see her once more before we headed home.
The next day Jon and I stopped by. Grandma’s apartment was small — kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom — yet tiny, ambitious hands seemed to have me sitting down for very little of our visit. After an hour of exploring while the adults attempted small talk, Jon started to get cranky, signaling our time to exit. As I intermittently stuffed things into the diaper bag and pulled Jon away from the last few things he hadn’t touched, I began to dread this goodbye. With everything stowed and my son scooped up, I told Grandma it was good to see her and glad that Jon had finally gotten to meet her.
“Well, I reckon this will be the last time I see you…” she replied, simultaneously matter-of-fact and unsure.
For a second I considered diffusing her comment with an “Oh, don’t be ridiculous” or “I’m sure we’ll see you again real soon,” — yet she was right and we both knew it. It would have been insulting to pretend otherwise.
Our family isn’t known for wearing hearts on sleeves, so short goodbyes and unaddressed emotions are the norm. But I was determined to break that cycle of polite repression, and I spoke from the heart.
“Grandma, I want you to know how much I appreciate you and how you raised Mom. Everything I’ve learned about being a parent I learned from her and Dad; they wouldn’t have been such good parents if you hadn’t been. I hope to do my best with Jon — just know that you’ll have a hand in the person Jon becomes.”
She paused, then said something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t know about all that.” But I knew she’d heard me.
We hugged and then Jon hugged her neck and gave her an open-mouth kiss on the cheek, and we made our way down the quiet hallway. She died eight months later.
On behalf of my now six-year-old, I’d like to wish a heartfelt Happy Mother’s Day to Grandma and Nonna, Zia Rosella and Zia Dana, Tia Lisa, Aunt Amy, Aunt Brenda, Teri and Tanya, Aunt Vickie, Zia Phyllis, Zia Maria, Zia Vickie, and Zia Jo, Rosemarie, Beth and Granny Franny, Kat, and all of the other wonderful, wise, and loving women who’ve had such a positive, powerful impact on our family.
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