When Your Family Doesn’t Look Like You Imagined
by Lauren Flake
“I’ve got grandmas all over the place,” my, then three-year-old, youngest daughter remarked to my stepmother’s daughter last year. I chuckled, because, well, it’s true. My daughters really do have grandmothers all over the place.
My mother, their biological grandmother, passed away four years ago, after slowly fading away in front of my eyes for over a decade with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, and my oldest daughter was just a toddler, not even two years old, when she died.
My mother-in-law, my former next-door neighbor, and my mother’s best friend quickly came to my aid and filled in the gaps left by my late mom. They brought meals, helped care for my babies and gave loving advice (mostly solicited, ha!). It wasn’t the same, of course, but I accepted it as my new reality and trudged onward as a young, mostly grateful, but also very sleep deprived, mother.
Meanwhile, my father remarried immediately after my mom died, only to lose his new wife a year and a half later to cancer. After my first stepmom died, a new one swooped in to the rescue. I just didn’t realize it at first.
In fact, I despised my new stepmother and refused to meet her for an entire year, until my dad’s brother died suddenly, and I realized how awkward the family reunion was going to be without meeting her first. I thought my heart couldn’t handle any more grief and pain after my first stepmom died, so I had shut out my dad, and I had shut out his new wife too.
Yet, as soon as I met her, despite her and my dad’s impulsive relationship and mistakes, I loved her. And more importantly, my girls loved her.
It wasn’t until both of my girls reached preschool age that I realized how big of a void my mother’s absence had left in our lives. Not having her around has been my norm for awhile, but now my heart aches because she is not here to be their “Grandma Dixie” and my mother and confidant.
She’s missing their school plays and dance recitals, our family holiday celebrations, and my oldest daughter starting kindergarten and learning to read and tie her shoes. She’s missing her granddaughters growing up, she’s missing my younger brother and me becoming adults with careers, she’s missing the final stages of her parents’ lives, and we’re all missing her love, encouragement and instruction.
How fortunate we are that my girls have “grandmas all over the place.”
My wonderful mother-in-law is “Grandma,” of course. My stepmother is “Neena,” a name previously given to her by her biological grandchildren. My former next-door neighbor is “Oma,” in honor of our shared German heritage. My mom’s best friend is “Grammy Cheryl,” because her own granddaughters call her “Grammy.” My daughters also have three living great-grandmothers who are in their 90s.
Their lives are filled with grandmas, even though my mother is gone.
I believe this was God’s plan and provision all along, to surround them and me with mothers and mentors who would pour into our lives His love, nurture, truth and guidance. They are my Titus women, who love their families and ours fiercely. They may not have it all figured out, but they have a lot more experience than I do in marriage, parenting and life in general:
“Older women likewise are to . . . teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5, ESV).
Through my grief, God is teaching me to listen and learn from and embrace the people He has placed in my life, amidst the pain of profound loss. I’m finding gratitude for and joy in the family that doesn’t look like I imagined.
Lauren Flake lives near her native Austin, Texas with her husband, their two young daughters, and two rowdy Labs. Her award-winning children’s book, Where Did My Sweet Grandma Go?: A Preschooler’s Guide to Losing a Loved One, and its companion, Where Did My Sweet Grandpa Go?—featuring watercolor paintings by Lauren and original artwork by her late mom—are available at LaurenFlake.com.
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