(I wrote a version of this post more than three years ago. In the intervening time, I have started to record some of the conversations I have with my maternal grandmother when I visit her, and I’ve posted some of them on Facebook. I plan to post them here now, along with photos, memories, and anything else that seems pertinent. Because this is where it all started. This is my mother’s mother and I have an opportunity to learn something. I learn best when I write, so get ready.)

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“She doesn’t like to be rushed in the morning.”

“She likes a lot of individual attention and doesn’t do well in groups unless she’s the center of attention.”

“She’s hilarious and has a lot of spunk.”

“She likes to be acknowledged.”

“She likes to be alone. She appreciates visitors, but only for a few minutes.”

“She’s stubborn.”

“She says the funniest things.”

“She wants what she wants when she wants it.”

“She tends to resist certain activities, but once she gets going, she seems to enjoy herself.”

These are comments made to me by those who care for my Grandmother. Each time I hear such a statement I have one of three reactions:

1. Wow, that sounds just like me.

2. Wow, that sounds just like me, but I wish it didn’t.

3. Wow, I hope that sounds like me.

In my family, “being like Grandma” was not something to which to aspire. In fact, “You sound just like Grandma,” was not a compliment…it was a barb. And yes, I’ve said it too.

In the past three years I’ve had the opportunity to see my Grandmother through the eyes of people who didn’t know her very well, but who got to know her because they take care of her every day. I am getting to know her better, too. I’ve spent more time with her (and her stuff) in the past nearly four years, than I did in all the years prior.

For a while it was an uncomfortable experience because I was so invested in seeing her only one way, to the point that even when someone said something nice about her, my first reaction was to want to refute it. And boy did that feel ugly.

As I get to know her better, on a different level (and as the person responsible for her), without family filters, and having extended some grace both to her and to myself , I am seeing that yes, she has some positive traits and there are ways I am like her, both positive and negative. I have figured out how to be okay with that.

For example, back when I went through her things (in order to sell her house) I found diaries and journals, going back years and years. She liked to make notes and observations. She loved inspirational quotes. She spent time wondering about the meaning of life. I am sure that if Facebook and blogs has existed in her day, she’d be right there, sharing her thoughts with anyone who’d care to read.

Her way of sharing was to clip articles and send them to people with a note. I know that I and other family members found it annoying…as if she were trying to fix us. Hmmmmm…

And then there’s her anxiety, which used to take the form of resistance, anger, manipulation, and other annoying behaviors (sometimes even physical violence). Now that she knows she’s safe, she’s rarely anxious. But before (and for pretty much my whole life) my Grandmother wasn’t very Grandmotherly. I used to think it was because she didn’t like kids, and the noise and chaos that comes with them. But perhaps she was overwhelmed and didn’t know how to handle it.

I used to have anxiety, as well. I used to think I had gotten it from my father, who tended to be passive and to avoid conflict and any and all situations that might make it worse. But he was also eminently likeable. And great with kids.

And so here I am: a woman who used to identify herself as anxious, resistant, angry, manipulative, and annoying. And sometimes passive and avoiding. Sometimes likeable. Okay with kids, but also overwhelmed by them from time to time because I didn’t know how to make the connection between my thoughts and emotions. 

But most of all, I am grateful to be seeing my grandmother through different eyes. Eyes that can relate.

Can you relate? What generational patterns are you aware of?