In my Aging Studies program, one of my very first reads was about the value of old people, their purpose. Think about that: purpose.
What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save The World is the title, and it’s a delightful read. I’ll devour it again. I highly recommend you do, too.
As a class, we were soon thinking about grandmothers and older aunts. For some of us, an older mother or father. It’s been awhile since I read the book, but a key message remained:
For a very long time and in various societies, grandmothers contributed to overall survival when mothers worked away from the home. They stayed in the immediate home site and fed the children, cared for ill children, cooked, washed clothing, did whatever was needed, enabling mothers to work. Aside from emotional support and wisdom, the presence of a grandmother often ensured survival not only to the family but the larger society as well. The larger society. Hold that thought.
It happened during the Bacon Eye Opener, sort of hit me upside the head.
I was having lunch with friends, one I hadn’t seen for a while. What I saw was so powerful I wanted to drop the bacon croissant and run for my keyboard. What started as a simple lunch ended with a lump in my throat and tears flowing freely.
First, let me take you back a bit.
The lady at left here, Barbara, passed away last month. She was my mother’s best friend, and a best friend’s mother. Mom is at back, and we’d just returned from one of our mother-daughter lunches in April.
This particular day was one of our more enjoyable visits.
When we said goodbye in the parking lot, when her delicate hand slipped out of mine, something told me it would be the last time I saw Barbara. It was.
It was the daughter you see here, my mother, Barbara’s older daughter, and myself who met up this week. It was the first time older daughter had seen our family since her mother passed away. The tears flowed, and not just big sister’s. What I realized over lunch had me in tears.
We met when we were seven. It was 1966, and we were in second grade. I sat at the back of row one, she at the front of row two. We were kindred souls from the very first face contortion. Making silly faces in class evolved into doing anything and everything to make each other laugh. Certain shenanigans worked better than others, but face-making, especially certain ones, is a sure fire way to get a laugh (and to this day. But, that’s another post). We became fast friends.
Laughter and time. It started with laughter, two silly kids in class, and time shared over many, many years. It seems timeless. Not only are the younger daughters friends, but both older daughters are friends, our mothers became friends, and our fathers were friends. Playtime as kids, family dinners together, sleep overs, New Year’s Eve card games, and camping trips marked our childhoods. Later, through two generations, there were weddings and births, all shared together. The result is two closely-tied families, and here we are, 50 years later.
There isn’t much we haven’t shared. When I am with them, I feel at peace, but it’s more than that. There is a knowing, a certainty, that you can be you. It’s an acceptance, a genuine love and acceptance. There is trust. If there is something on your mind, if you need a shoulder, you know they will be there, and they are.
It’s a friendship longer than any other, deeper than most, and one I find hard to describe. When my father passed in 2006, it was Barbara who first addressed the void when visits no longer felt right. She said, “Someone is missing.” I know the feeling.
We’d barely started eating when I saw what was happening. Oldest sister was hurting. She’d lost her mother and it’s still raw. She leaned into mom and let the tears flow, because she could. She trusted, and knew it would be well worth it: mom has enough love to share with all the children in her flock. These sisters have been in mom’s flock for 50 years. Remember the larger society? Grandmothers don’t just tend to their “own,” they give what is needed when and where it is needed.
This was no “You’ll be fine, dear” pat on the back. It wasn’t a pat for good measure. This was a true shedding of tears, a long-held hug; it was comfort given, because someone was hurting. It was a genuine giving and receiving, no need to explain, based on years of trust and love.
Grandma is tending her flock, fulfilling her purpose.
It was powerful, and I can’t tell you when I’ve seen anything more beautiful.