I started an essay years ago with this sentence:

I am grandmotherless.

I lost my grandmothers in 1997 and 2001.  I know: I am profoundly fortunate to have had four grandparents at my college graduation (see above, and please be kind about the swollen sunburned beer face I am sporting).   All four of my grandparents were a big part of my life for a long time (and one grandfather still is!) My grandmothers, Priscilla and Janet, were very different but they shared energy and intelligence; they were both tremendously important to me.  I’ve written about their influence on and example to me before.

Julie Daley writes compelling, gorgeous prose about the sacred feminine.  Months ago she urged us to name our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, positing that in naming our matrilineage we can restore – or at least remind ourselves of – its innate power that has been dismissed in so many ways.  And so I did: Susan, Priscilla, Janet, Marion, Marion.

Last week Julie shared a video that is nothing short of stunning of a poet, Mayda del Valle, speaking her words – her truth – at the White House.  I urge you to watch it.  Del Valle speaks about grandmothers, about the wisdom that exists in womens’ bodies, about reclaiming the sacred feminine and creative power that has been taken away from us.  Hers is an incredible performance, one that made me cry and stunned me into contemplative silence.

abuela how did you pray before someone told you who your god should be?
how did you hold the earth in your hands and thank her for its fecundity
did the sea wash away your sadness
how did you humble yourself before your architect
did your lower yourself to your knees
or rock to the rhythm of ocean waves like I do
grandma how did you pray ?

Del Valle evokes the cords that ripple between generations of women and the truth that beats deep in our bodies.  This truth is “…a knowledge that is on the flip side of reason, beyond logic … a place where all there is is belief. Something soaked in blood, in tears, in milk. Something that might – maybe? – be showing me the way towards faith, towards meaning, towards the things, both maddeningly abstract and all-important, that I ache for most powerfully.”

Speaking directly to her grandmother, del Valle shows us that women “have always raised our hands to the sky wanting to touch the invisible force that holds these cells together into a fragile mass.”  She reminds me of my own grandmothers, whose lives I sometimes feel throbbing in my own bloodstream, whose faces float near me from time to time, whose words recur in my head.  We are all a part of something larger than ourselves, something that of course encompasses men too but that somehow exists deeply in the fertile soil of the female body.  We are linked through the generations – through generation, in its basic sense – and to lose sight of that connection is to rupture our access to the source of humanity itself.

The moon, like a conductors’ baton, sweeps the ocean back and forth.  These tides operate in the female body too, which resonates, like the sea, with the moon.  This was true for our grandmothers’ bodies, and for their mothers’ bodies, and for as far back as we can see.  We have all been simultaneously buffetted and held by currents beyond our understanding and control.  We must remember and honor where we came from, the place of dark, tidal passion and sacred knowledge, a place that inspires both fear and wonder, a place that began in the women that came before us.  May we not forget it, or them.

8 thoughts on “Grandmotherless”

  1. Both of my grandmothers are still alive. Unfortunately for long and complicated reasons I have estranged from one. The other lives close and you remind me here that I don’t see her enough. With both I’ve had difficult relationships. I’ve failed to have a truly meaningful an deep relationship with them. For that I am sad. What you have written is beautiful and important, but for me also so difficult.

  2. This is a beautiful piece — made me think of my grandmothers, Marion and Rose, this morning and I’m grateful for that!
    Love that puffy sunburned face. Love it. Obv, I’m probably 10 feet away from you sporting the same.

  3. Oh this post makes me very sad. I am grandmotherless, but what’s worse, so are my children. My husband and I lost our mothers less than a year apart almost nine years ago. And the pain of my mother’s death is compounded by the knowledge that my children will never know her. And being so young when she died, there are few memories, if any, that they know on their own. I know from the death of my mother’s mother that children cannot truly appreciate a grandmother without personally experiencing her. So very sad.

  4. Lindsey, what a great post but more important, what a great picture! I love love love the game of looking for a person’s influences, passed down from generation to generation, in a nose, a hairline, a chin. Love the fierceness, beauty and dignity of all your grandparents in this pic. So clear from the pose how much they have supported you, and as you say here, still do.

  5. What a beautiful post, and a great reminder of the important and unsung heroes (heroines) in our lives. This is something that has become more obvious to me since I’ve become a mother, because I better understand the enormous generosity of spirit, time, and affection that the women in my family offered throughout their lives. And I still reap the benefits of this generosity, even though my grandmother have passed away.

  6. I find that your words are simultaneously soothing yet achingly. They bring up tides of memory, tears and joy. This might be one of my favorite posts of yours, ever. The last paragraph is divine.

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