How My Kids Will Know the Grandmother They’ll Never Meet

“Mama, it’s not fair that I won’t ever get to meet Grandma Kate.”

This comment from my second grader punctures me right in the heart. My mother passed away several years before my children were born, but I can still picture exactly the type of grandmother she would be: doting, playful, and fond of sharing silly jokes.

My mom totally rocked the sunglasses on the head look.

For a while, I didn’t know how to respond when my kids wanted to talk about my mom. But I’ve since realized that I can still help my daughters to know their grandmother, even though they’ll never meet her. Here’s how:

Through Storytelling
When my oldest daughter was five, she started collecting stories about her grandmother. It all began when I showed her some pictures of my mom. The more I shared with my daughter, the more she wanted to know. Soon it became part of our usual bedtime routine: after a book, I’d turn off the lights and wait quietly for her question: “Mama, can I have a Grandma Kate story?” 

We’ve talked about how my parents first met: my mom struck up a conversation with my dad at a party because she thought he looked lonely. I’ve shared stories from my mom’s childhood, like how she loved to fall asleep on the couch and how she always worried that her older brother was going to erase her homework. There have been tales of dramatic injuries, like the day my sister was in a scary sledding accident and my mom handled the situation so calmly, the doctors mistakenly assumed she was a nurse. My mother had a great sense of humor, so I’ve also made sure to share some of the funny things she did over the years, like making us kids a silly breakfast on April Fool’s Day. 

Through Artifacts
Several possessions that originated with my mother now reside with me, and each has its own story. At first, I kept these artifacts hidden away in my closet, but slowly, they’ve found a new place in my daughters’ lives. The striped blue purse my mom carried at my wedding is now one of my oldest daughter’s favorite places to stash treasures, and an ancient stuffed purple bear—something my mom gave to me long ago—now sleeps faithfully in my youngest daughter’s room. I like the way these physical items provide a connection to my mom. They serve as a reminder that, although she isn’t here now, she will always be a part of our family’s evolving story.

Through Me
As the years pass, it’s becoming more apparent that I’ve adopted plenty of my mom’s mannerisms and habits. I remember the way my mom used to wake us up: she’d hover over our beds and sing in a grating voice, “Wake up, wake up, you sleepyhead! When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, a-LONG!” Now I do the same thing when I’m trying to rouse my reluctant kids from bed, and they’re as irritated by my horrible rendition of Bing Crosby as I know I was by my mom’s. I think my mom would also approve of my daily coffee habit, as I can scarcely recall a time during my childhood when she didn’t have a mug of freshly brewed Folger’s in her hand.

My mom loved all animals, so pets were a major part of my childhood; we had so many furry, scaly and feathery inhabitants that our house often felt like a mini zoo! For now, our family just has two guinea pigs and some low maintenance fish, but I’ve definitely inherited my mom’s enthusiasm for pets, so I’m betting more cute critters are in our future.

Even though they can’t see her, hold her hand or hear her voice, I know my daughters are starting to form their own picture of my mother in their minds. I will continue to share everything I can about her. And I know that someday, my kids will understand the important role their grandmother played in the family that loves them so much.

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