Once I was a Grandmother


WordPress provides me with these “stats,” daily, weekly and monthly, that give me some idea of how many people are reading this blog, who they might possibly be, how they get here, etc., etc. . . . It also tells me what I write that people tend to read most, and although I suppose this is a “Sufi blog,” I post some personal observations here as well, and the most popular one is the one I wrote when I became a grandmother.  Clearly there are lots of people out there who have become grandmothers and want to hear how it is for other grandmothers.  I remember it well, although currently, I suppose I’m not a grandmother.

I wrote two posts here called “Always Endings” (https://eklutna.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/always-endings/) and “Living Forgiveness” (https://eklutna.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/living-forgiveness/) and I imagine it was fairly obvious that the persons they were about were my oldest daughter and my first grandchild.  Recently someone read them and commented to me that they had the tones of a “Greek tragedy,” and I suppose that could be a valid statement, but to me they were terribly important, because they were about the most profound and painful spiritual lesson I’ve ever had to learn, the one called “accepting the unacceptable.”  It happens to most of us sooner or later:  someone dies unexpectedly and possibly violently, someone terribly important to us leaves us, we are traumatized in some way…any or all of the above.  And there is nothing we can do about it.  Nothing.  If you read the definition of “posttraumatic stress disorder” in the DSM-IV-TR of the American Psychiatric Association, you will note that the most prominent features of such an event are their unexpectedness and the fact they are completely uncontrollable.  We like to believe, in this world, that we have control over what happens to us:  if I get enough exercise, eat enough flaxseed, meditate daily, save enough money, etc., etc., etc. . . . all will be well.  But it isn’t always, is it?  Sometimes things happen that are so unexpected, so uncontrollable, so utterly unacceptable. . . and they just are.  We are backed into the corner.  Don’t have a leg to stand on.  Can’t do nuthin’ about it.  All we can do is to try to make something of the pain.  To make friends with it.  To let it stand for something.  Hopefully, to let it make us great.

Well, that’s what happened when I “broke up” with my oldest daughter and my first grandchild.  After 33 years of trying to rain on the desert . . . I stopped.  I truly believed it was my only choice, and I still believe that.  When I made the decision, I’m sure my daughter will never understand this, but I made it because I felt that she would never be able to become the person she really wants to become as long as she continued to hold me in a death grip, alternately tearing away piece by piece of my heart and clutching me to her in overwhelming waves of rage and love-hatred.  The first book I read about what have been called borderline personalities was that classic “I Hate You:  Don’t Leave me!” by Kreisman.  The first time I saw it, I sensed that the title said it all, and after those years with my daughter, I still think so.  I was a sitting duck for the experience I had:  I was raised by two personality-disordered parents, and my first husband–the father of this girl–had the same diagnosis she eventually did, so I was probably the worst possible parent she could have had.  I was the classic codependent.  And she never forgave me for it, nor let me forget it for a moment.  I’m sure she feels the same about me.  And I’m sure that, on some deep level, because we bonded like a real mother and child when she was young, neither of us will ever get over it.  Yet finally, it was time to leave, and so I did.  I had this granddaughter by then, too, and our whole family loved her dearly, for which her mother could not forgive us, because she continued all the years I knew her to believe that none of us loved her, because none of us could ever give her what she thought she wanted, something that I’m not sure she ever figured out.

Breaking up didn’t solve much, of course, although I continue to hope and pray that it will help her draw herself together and love her child well.  As for us, her “family of origin,” I don’t think any of us expects ever to truly resolve this, although I am grateful for the first time I’ve ever had to myself to live and grow and heal:  the first time in my life, really.  I had, during the “terrible years,” married a wonderful man, and we had a second lovely, wonderful daughter who was kind enough to show me that I could love and be loved normally and wholey, and who, to this day, is my best friend.  The break-up affected my husband and that daughter profoundly too, of course:  my second daughter has had time to find herself as a person without the constant message of “Mom loves you best, you’re the one who caused all these problems by being born, etc., etc., etc.,” the messages she needed to send her little sister’s way in order to bear herself during those years.  None of it was my daughter’s fault, truly:  she simply isn’t “wired” in what is considered to be a normal fashion, and her pain is much worse than any of ours; I truly believe that.  This is what I mean by “accepting the unacceptable.”  It is what it is, and it was what it was.  My good husband ran interference, and my second daughter and I did our best to survive.  I’m pretty sure that daughter will survive:  she has largely recovered, although it took her some time to learn to trust others; and she goes from strength to strength.  As for me, well, I too will and have survived, in the way that I can:  I have used these lessons I have learned, and my body bears the marks of the ongoing stress and trauma of raining 24 hours a day on the desert:  my immune system is compromised, and I have rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.  Nothing new there.

And. . . I’ve used this tragedy.  I won’t say what I said above, that I’ve “let it make me great.”  The results aren’t in on that one.  But there is much to be said for having one’s heart broken repeatedly and thoroughly.  There is much to be said for having no choice but to accept the unacceptable.  In this case, what that means is not only walking away from an adult daughter, but walking away from an innocent child who loved me and her aunt and her grandpa.  I didn’t know whether her mother would be able to care for her adequately.  Her marriage had already broken up, and I didn’t have much respect for the father, either.  And they, in turn, had demonized me quite thoroughly.  It is all my fault.

Accepting the unacceptable.  Accepting being misunderstood, over and over again.  Accepting being hated by someone who was my first experience of the Divine Child, when I held her in my arms at birth and got up with her at night and walked her to school and mothered her endlessly, to no avail.  Living with having to walk away from a child I adored, not knowing whether she would survive her upbringing at the hands of someone with such profound problems.

Saying goodbye.

It’s been over a year now, and yesterday I was in her old neighborhood for the first time in those months.  We had avoided all the places that bore such poignant memories for us, but yesterday we drove by the house.  We didn’t know if she still lived there.  The father had sent us a blank email with the subject line “she’s moved,” because for awhile we tried to send cards and little gifts to our grandchild, and I guess they couldn’t allow us even that small pleasure.  I knew that there would come a time when we would run into them, and I knew it would be unbearable, but I hoped it wouldn’t happen before I could bear it.

But yesterday, when we drove by, the yard was neat.  Everything looked pleasant and lived-in, instead of that certain disarray that always illustrated the only atmosphere this young woman could seem to live in.

Except for one thing:  in the backyard, I could see my grandchild’s little “turtle sandbox.”  You’ve seen them.  In fact, I had bought one just like it for her mother when her mother was little.

So I have been suffering quietly since then, and suffering is good.  It is possible that good may eventually come from this tragedy.  It is possible that this little girl will grow up happy and whole.  It is possible that some day her mother will find herself.  And I can use this experience:

Out of the shell of the broken heart emerges the new-born soul.  –Inayat Khan

Once I was a grandmother.


The heart which is not struck by the sweet smiles of an infant is still asleep.  –Inayat Khan

There must be a lot of new grandmothers out there, because when I first wrote a post called “Becoming a Grandmother,” it quickly became the most popular post I’ve written here.  It makes sense, because other than pretty little photo albums and “grandmother’s brag books,” I don’t suppose there are many people out there exploring what it means to be a grandma.  Yet, it really is a whole new category of mothering, spiritually speaking.

The little darling whose picture is here as an infant is now nearly three years old, and I find my relationship with her to become deeper and yet lighter every day.  I worry about her almost as much as I did my own daughters, I find, yet the “Mommy dynamics,” so omnipresent in the mother-daughter relationship, seem to be missing.  She’s a toddler, of course, and as much a pain in the ass as other toddlers, yet I have a sense of friendship with her, which I imagine is different than the feelings her mother has; she must worry and fret and discipline and clean up vomit and pick up toys and do all the things mothers do ad nauseum.  I remember all that with her and her sister, and I remember that some days it was hard to find the sense of wonder that Grandma can access rather easily these days.

Such a little person!  I often wonder whence the soul comes who comes to earth with the unique purpose that all of us do.  In the case of this one, she already shows evidence of being a healer:  a few weeks ago, she discovered my knees.  If you have waded through all my posts here, you know that I had both knees replaced in the last year, and suffered from repeated infections that necessitated repeated surgeries and even the removal of one knee for some weeks.  When Lily saw my rather horrible-looking healing knees, she was shocked.  She quickly collected several pieces of equipment to assist her, and she set about healing my knees:  she shined a flashlight on them, she made “drilling” sounds with something else, and all in all, seemed to be intent on making Grandma’s knees better.  My daughter tells me that at the playground last week, Lily met a little boy who had some mnor health problem, and became very concerned.  She offered to kiss his wound, and told him he must go to the doctor.  Little episodes such as these are occurring with increasing frequency.

My daughter has some problems with living, as most of us do;  and she told me that one morning, Lily took her face in her little hands and asked her, very concernedly, “Mom, are you happy?”  When she was answered, “Yes, I am happy,” the baby cheered, very excited for Mom.  Toddlehood is the age of healthy narcissism, and it seems rather extraordinary to me that this little girl is so capable of being concerned for others.

Who knows where such behaviors come from?  Whatever one’s conception of the soul’s journey to and from incarnation, we are all different, and seem to arrive with different talents and gifts and, sometimes, deficits.  It is so easy for us, as parents, to both congratulate and blame ourselves for what our children become, yet my impression is that they bring most of who they are with them.  That lets us, as parents, off the hook, but it also means we have the responsibility to see our children as unique human beings, not carbon copies of ourselves.

It is such a blessing to be part of this little soul’s blossoming.  It is a privilege that we, as her family, are her tribe, the ones who have her back.  She is her very own miracle, and we love sharing the unfoldment of that with her.