Matrilineage – Where I Come From

by Dian Reid-Jancic· Follow Dian on

Sometimes I get so focused on the present that I forget to honor the past. I had such a moment while reading Lindsey Mead‘s recent post, Matrilineage. She speaks eloquently about the women she comes from and the moments with them she cherishes, now that they’re gone. And then, a question: Where do you come from?

Where I come from

Unlike Lindsey, I didn’t get the chance to know my lineage beyond my grandparents. The women I do remember, however, were each amazing in their own right. Which isn’t to say they didn’t each have their flaws—we all do. But what I want to share about these women I came from is neither their amazingness nor their flaws; it’s some sort of combination of the two, wherein I learned everything I would need to become my own woman.

Nana

I don’t remember much about my Nana Helen, but I do remember that she was the sweetest woman I have ever met in my life. I was twenty-two when she passed away from breast cancer, and am sad that her death is more imprinted on my memory than her life.

My dad called me so I could see her in the hospital. She’d taken a turn for the worse and they didn’t expect her to last much longer. When I turned the corner from the hallway into her hospital room, I was … ill-prepared for the sight of the woman in my nana’s bed. No hair on her head. No breasts on her chest. All kinds of tubes and wires connected to her to help her eat and breathe.

At her funeral she lay as the dead do in a casket, except someone had set a hat on her crown, likely to hide her hairless head. At the sight of the hat I felt cheated at not being able to see her whole self. Upon seeing the rest of her, I felt sick because that didn’t look like my Nana Helen at all.

I’m ever grateful that last look at her is no longer the memory I hold of her sweet, kind face—it’s her sweet, kind soul.

Mom

My mom and I didn’t always see eye to eye in life, so of course it wouldn’t be that way in death, either. I struggled with being angry with her for her choices in life, and the role those choices played in her death. I struggled because there were always two sides to every story, and she wasn’t around to tell hers or defend herself against mine.

For many years I felt like I was the product of my mother’s death. It tainted every aspect of my life because she wasn’t around to be a part of all the things in her daughter’s life a mother ought to be around for. I used her death as a crutch, long after I’d pretended to heal from my wounds.

But I did heal from my wounds, despite her absence. The strangest part of learning how I much am my mother’s daughter is also learning how much I’ve grown from her mistakes. I firmly believe mothers should be not strive to be perfect, but to strive to be honest about the mistakes they’ve made, and how to navigate through them.

Grandma

My grandmother always said, “When it’s my time to go, I just wanna go.” And so she did. Heart attack, just hours after my grandfather had left for what would have been a 9-week-long trip to Europe. After my mom died, Grandma took on that mom role in my life. When I Grandma died, it was like losing my mother all over again.

My mom was cremated and her ashes put in a double niche. At the time, I wanted to be cremated and put in the niche next to my mom’s, certain I would die an untimely death. After eight years had passed, Grandma asked me if I’d mind if she took the spot next to my mom. To this day I feel like my grandmother being in the niche next to my mother is the greatest gift I could have given either of them, dead or alive.

Remembering the ladies of my matrilineage

My Nana Helen had a knack for finding her smile, no matter what she was going through. She had the kind of smile you couldn’t help but catch, if only to see if you could smile bigger than she—you never could.

Grandma was a redheaded fireball, through and through. I brought her outside to see my new 4×4 truck when she was seventy-eight and she promptly exclaimed, “That’s a big fuckin’ truck, Dian!” When I came out to her a few years later, she wondered aloud if she might’ve been a lesbian if she’d been born fifty years later.

I still can’t seem to sum up my mom in a sentence or two, but I’m finally to the point where I remember more about her than the impact of her death on me. I can still hear her voice, her laugh, her sneeze in my own every now and then, and for that I’m grateful.

Helen. Margy. Jayme.

When I think about these wonderful women, I don’t see amazing and I don’t see flaws. I see what I learned from each of them, in no particular order: kindness, authenticity, and strength. These are the women I come from.

Who do you come from?

  • I love this, Dian. What a marvelous testament to where you’re from. Your Grandma in particular sounds like a force of nature. I do love redheads! 🙂 xoxo

  • Who do I come from?

    Irene, my mother…hmmm. That’s a complicated story. But now that you’ve asked the question of who I come from, I realize that my relationship with my mother isn’t as complicated as I thought. From the time I was ten, I only saw my mother a few months out of each year, so our story is that we really never spent time together to get to know one another. But if I had to choose words to describe her, I’d pick: strong, intelligent, and hard working. She taught me how to protect myself. Some of her teachings were good; some, not so good.

    Lucy, my mother’s mother. I didn’t really know her at all. She became very sick when I was young and died when I was twelve. I just remember that she was feisty. You didn’t mess with Sally Lucille. That strength was evident in the last years of her life. She died from cancer, after having survived a total of twelve heartaches/strokes.

    Velda, my father’s mother. This lady I knew a bit better. A few random facts about my grandmother. She got up every morning at 4:30 am, and played Solitaire until my grandfather got up at 7:00. She liked World Federation Wrestling — Hulk Hogan was her man — and don’t you dare tell her that wrestling is fake…that would just piss her off. Every summer I’d spend a week with her and my grandfather and she’d bake me a blackberry cobbler, after I picked the berries fresh from the bush in their backyard. Somehow her blackberry cobbler was always so sweet, never bitter or tart (I’ve never had a cobbler like hers). But the thing I remember most about her is that she talked WITH me. She didn’t talk down to me, as adults often do to children, not even when I was very young. We’d sit and she’d ask me what I thought about this or that, always genuinely listening to my opinion on whatever the topic was, and then she’d comment on what I’d had to say. She treated me with respect, like I was a grownup with thoughts and ideas that had merit. I always felt comfortable asking her about any topic. I never feared whether or not she would accept or love me. Her love was always there.

    Velda died suddenly from cancer on May 24th, 1987. On my mother’s birthday and the day before her own birthday. She was buried on the 26th, the day of my high school graduation practice. I didn’t attend her funeral. I couldn’t say goodbye.

    I haven’t thought of my father’s mother in a long while. I’m glad I stumbled across this blog post. It gave me the opportunity to visit with her in my memories for a little while.

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