My great-grandmother passed away recently at the age of 97. Although we were so blessed to have so much time with her, it was still a tremendous loss for our family. I feel absurdly lucky to have been part of her life for so long, to have had her as what felt like a permanent fixture in my life. Of course, nothing is permanent, but I treasured my relationship with her. How many people get to be this close with their GREAT-grandmother?
She would be mortified to know I was writing about her, that the wide world of the internet was reading about her. But what can I say? She was something special.
When my first son was born in 2017, he became the last link in a chain of five generations, and my great-grandmother became a great-great grandmother. It was an absolute honor to watch her interact with my son. There were almost 93 years between them, but that didn’t matter one bit. Maw Maw lived for babies, and holding one always brought out an incredible spark of new life in her. Babies transformed her, a vibrancy emerging from her aged hands as our matriarch slipped into a familiar role: caretaker.
We’re all familiar with the saying “it takes a village” when it comes to raising our children. When I think about my village, I always tend to think laterally. I think about my friends my age who also have children, who are stuck in the trenches with me and can commiserate. I think about my immediate family: my kids’ grandparents, my sister, sister-in-law, those who are a quick phone call away and can help in a pinch. My village is spread out all around me, to my left and right, and I’m grateful for each member.
But upon reflecting on the five generations spanning between my Maw Maw and my son, I saw a “vertical” village that has helped to raise my son in a way I hadn’t considered before. Stretching from my son, to myself, to my mother, to my grandmother, to my Maw Maw, is a ladder of strong parents who have poured themselves into raising their families. There is a similar ladder on my dad’s side of the family, and aunts and uncles branching off as well. The person who I am has been formed by this long line of people– not so much in that they have an immediate impact on my day to day parenting, but in the way that I am a collection of all of them, through decades upon decades of their love. I am sure I have been formed by relatives I’ve never even met, who have raised those who came before me. It makes me wonder how my own parenting methods will affect my future grandchildren, great-grandchildren, even the ones I may never meet.
So thank you, of course, to my horizontal village, who surrounds me always, to whom I can reach out at a moment’s notice. But thank you as well to my vertical village, to family members who have shaped other family members who have in turn shaped me. Thank you to my Maw Maw, who dedicated her life to her family, right down to her great-great-grandsons. It has been such a blessing to be part of this chain and watch the first and last links interact with each other, and moreover, to know this chain will continue to stretch on.