Monday, May 17, 2010

Dear Grandma

This is a letter to my grandmother:

Dear Dede,

Wherever you are, I hope you will "hear" my apology and my new understanding about our relationship.

I don't even know if my memories are accurate. Of course they aren't! Nevertheless, my operating belief about you and me is shaken today by a single blog post about how a mother questions the wisdom of showing love to her son by baking him cookies (here).

Until now, I always thought of living with you and Grandpa those two years after Daddy died (age 5-7), as being the start of my compulsive overeating. I blamed you for two things. First, and most significant, I blamed you for not allowing me to cry, especially for telling me, "Don't cry, dear. Your daddy is in heaven and he will hear you crying. It will make him so sad. You don't want to make him sad, do you?" I blamed you that I hide grief and dispair in anger and food. Secondly, I blamed you for feeding me sugar as a pacifier and as a reward.

I thought you were selfish. I thought you were silencing me because I was a bother or a nuisance to you. I thought you didn't like me. I thought you wanted me to disappear. My mother reinforced those beliefs. Mother didn't think you liked her or me.

Today, reading the thought-provoking words of a mother searching for wisdom about baking cookies for her son, about showing her love through giving him sweets, makes me look at you in a different way.

Perhaps I've wronged you all these years. Perhaps you told me not to cry because you loved me and didn't want me to suffer. Perhaps you gave me sweets as a way of showing your love for me.

In his book, The 5 Languages of Love: The Secret of Love to Last, Dr. Gary Chapman tells us we each have one primary language of love, the language by which we can fully understand and receive love from another person. The five languages are: 1. words of affirmation, 2. acts of service, 3. receiving gifts, 4. physical touch and 5. quality time.

Perhaps you thought making waffles, pancakes, cookies and cakes for us (and your husband) was how you could show your love for us... an act of service. Perhaps what I interpreted as selfishness was (is?!) actually love.

My primary language of love is physical touch. You weren't big on that and neither was grandpa. From looking at pictures of your son, my daddy, I'm guessing that he was very comfortable showing love through physical touch and that as a very young child I understood that I was loved. After he died and I came to live with you, that changed. Perhaps you sensed my longing for love. Perhaps you wanted, with all your heart, to replace the love your son had given me. Perhaps you just did it the only way you knew how.

I know I wronged you. I blamed you for my food compulsions and did not forgive you in your lifetime. Even if your intentions were selfish and not about love, I forgive you. My compulsive overeating is my responsibility, not yours. But now that I understand your actions may have come from love, I am even more sorry and my wrong is even greater.

Dede, I ask your forgiveness. I made a big mistake, one that came between us for our entire life together. From this day on, I shall remember the good things about you... the way you used to let us come in the bed with you and tell us made-up stories, the way you took us many fun places, the way you assumed the care of us when you, yourself, were grieving for the loss of your only son. I shall remember how often you wrote to me, how you traveled all the way across the country to see me graduate and how you never forgot my birthday. Thank you.

Hugs (the most natural way for me to show love),
your granddaughter


  1. This is beautiful, but sad and haunting as well. And I want to hug the you who lost her father at such a young age and who felt so affected by it and unloved. I think you could be very much on track with your new way of looking at how your grandmother was with you back then. And one more piece of it... maybe she was finding her own comfort in telling you not to cry. Trying to keep from doing so herself. In the natural order of things mothers don't lose their children.

    I am amazed at the power of words. That my words could touch you in such a way. That your words could have so much meaning to you... and that I could also be so touched by them. Thank you for sharing this letter.

  2. To Karen ~ Yes, and even greater than the power of words is the power of listening. That is what we do for each other. We listen. We hear. We witness. Yes, I agree that Dede may have been "finding her own comfort in telling me not to cry." I've always thought that was selfish of her. But now I see it as a natural yet sad outcome of the circumstances we were in at the time and probably as an integral component of her personality and upbringing. Thanks, always, for listening!

  3. I can follow my eating roots to my grandma and my mom. Overweight Grandma overfed; Skinny Mom criticized, bribed, and begged me to lose weight. Ping-ponged between the two of them because we all lived in the same house. Many, many issues.

    Bad behaviors, but they didn't know better. No Dr. Phil in those days. No one knew what an eating disorder was.

    Nothing left to do but forgive them. Can't change what happened....

    Nice letter. Very poignant. Glad you arrived there.

  4. PeacefulBird, these thoughts to your grandmother are so moving. Sometimes it's a long journey before we are able to fully recognize another's efforts for what they truly were - for THEM - to US. You have encouraged me to think more about that...

    And to Karen ~ yes, the power of words...most appreciated.

  5. Wow Robin, This is a powerful letter. I am so glad to head off to bed thinking about Dede in a different way than I have ever thought of her before. It feels like you just took a giant step towards peace & joy in your life. I love you so and I feel like the work you are doing on yourself, is helping me.


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