May 2017: Grandma’s Legacy
Today is Mother’s Day. And I am reflecting upon the life of my (step)grandmother (my stepmother’s mother passed away at age 99 on 5 May 2017). While it ties in with the promised entry on the Heroine’s Journey, I will postpone delving deeply into that concept to another time.
Reading my grandmother’s obituary (or life summary presented by the family) saddened me. And not out of a sense of personal loss. A sadness that my grandmother did not get to go on a Heroine’s Journey for herself. She lived by the rules of the patriarchal culture in which she was raised (and perpetuated).
It was a very glowing account of a remarkable woman’s self-denial and self-sacrifice—her dedication to her faith and her family. But I did not get a sense of who she really was. Her True Essence burned low in the grate—nearly snuffed out by cultural conditioning. She was not afforded the opportunity of self-discovery. Which is another layer of patriarchy that saddens me: women are taught self-denial long before they ever get a chance to discover who they are and what they are sacrificing! Hence the Heroine’s Journey for those who choose to embark on it.
My grandma would have balked at going on such a journey. It would have seemed antithetical to her faith and upbringing. So indoctrinated was she, that fanning into flame her True Essence would be heretical. Jesus’ hard work at women’s liberation would have been lost on her—in fact confusing. She knew how to function, and function well, in the patriarchal society. According to the obituary, she flourished in that environment. But did she? She followed the rules well, but where was she in all the rules?
If using the plant/flower analogy, she was a well-maintained (and contained) garden that produced beautifully; but I wonder about the wild flowers planted deep within. Did she ever want more out of life? Did she ever want to escape the boundaries and flourish in other ways?
She likely was fairly content with her life—up until the end when her vision and hearing deteriorated; and she lost the will to live. Given how she lived her life for others, when she could no longer do that, it likely did kill her spirit. She had no sense of self to fall back on. She relied on the dynamic of self-sacrifice to give her life meaning.
I was also raised in that environment. And I am on a Heroine’s Journey of self-discovery so that I can better live out my True Essence. It is a totally different experience to give of yourself from self-knowledge rather than a sense of existence. It is rather empowering to embrace your True Self. When we live by a culture’s rules, we never get to be “real” with each other. We are always playing a role, saying our lines, doing our part. I much prefer realness. And when we honour the realness in others, it changes how we interact in the world.
Reading my grandmother’s obituary, I was struck by how contained her world really was. While she had a great impact on that world of family, she didn’t engage with the larger world in any significant way (other than supporting others who claimed to do so, like missionaries). If grandma could have lived out her True Self, I wonder what impact she would have had on the global community. Where would her heart have drawn her? What would she have been passionate about? What change would she have worked towards? How would she have attempted to better the world?
There is so much of her personal story that I don’t know—and she didn’t want to talk about (like surviving the depression of the 1930’s and being raised in an exceptionally large family by a father who married three times). So many untold stories that shaped who she became.
My (step)grandmother was not a storyteller. And she didn’t talk about herself much. That would have been prideful. How I wish I had more role models of strong women who owned their own presence in the world; lived out their True Essence. Instead, I learned how to hide and self-deny. And internalized that I wasn’t worthy. Not uncommon.
It’s also why it’s so important to read about, reflect upon, and embark on the Heroine’s Journey of self-discovery. After living for everyone else and by society or family rules, it’s time to figure out who we were born to be as women and as fellow human beings.
Because of its starkness, my grandmother’s story inspires me to pursue colouring outside the lines, growing wild in the weeds, not conforming. I am choosing to sacrifice connection to family and friends (who will not understand my Heroine’s Journey) instead of sacrificing my Self for family, religion, culture, career (all intertwined). And in a surprising twist, it is because of the strong women in my family story that I am able to do so—even though their strength lay in survival and hopes for future generations rather than personal accomplishment or “the greater good.”
And today, on Mother’s Day, I am grateful to the Divine Feminine for her Mothering Presence in my life. Without that significant shift in my thinking, I would not be able to pursue the Heroine’s Journey. And God/Universe/Transcendent Being’s Mothering Love has kept me safe and been constant when human love (maternal or paternal) has been lacking—even when I was unaware of it.
Today is a day to honour feminine attributes in general—that either gender lives out. May you feel mothered by those around you today—whomever they may be.