Mother’s Day is often a challenging time for me, but this year it’s even a little stranger. Not only is it my 17th such holiday without my mom, but it comes on the heels of her mother’s death last month. And when I think about them some of what comes up for me is wishing I could ask why they were so focused on my weight, and if they knew what affect it had on me.
(L-R) My grandmother, me, and my mom at my college graduation
With my mom, I can guess at the answers, although it’s somewhat piecemeal. I know she was truly worried about my health, and from what my dad has said, also my job prospects. I think she knew the weight focus made me angry and rebellious at times, but I don’t think she had any idea of how I internalized it, to the point of being dangerously depressed. I also wish I could ask her about the focus she put on her own weight, and if she ever thought about the stress it likely added to her life.
With my grandmother, it’s more complicated. Up until fairly recently, I could have asked her some of these things, but this is the irony: her focus on my weight and food choices, among other things, made me so bitter and upset that I never had enough of a relationship with her to feel comfortable having that conversation.
Now, although it’s belated, I wonder what in her own life made her that way.
As a teen, it never occurred to me that the adults in my life might have their own issues. I didn’t fully realize that my mom, for instance, had her own struggles with food and weight until I started reading her diaries and talking to my dad, years after her death. It helped me recognize her own imperfect humanity, and to feel compassion for her. It also gave me a better understanding of where she was coming from. Not that this makes it all okay, but it allows me to let it go more easily. And it helps that I always knew she loved me.
This is harder with my grandmother. I felt so judged by her, and she was so stern and imposing and forbidding, that I felt like any affection from her had to be earned, if it was even possible. It didn’t help that I didn’t spend much time around her, and to me she appeared to have no weaknesses; unlike my mom, I never saw my grandmother with her guard down, so I couldn’t show my own weakness to her.
That being said, I know she didn’t have an easy life. At age 3 she saw one of her older sisters die after being hit by a car. I remember my mom saying that my grandmother was plump as a kid until she got really sick and lost weight. She kept it off even after she recovered, but maybe she had some bad weight-related experiences before that. She also lost an infant son, raised nine children to adulthood, only to then lose my mom.
I don’t know what any of those things are like, but it makes me wonder if my great-grandmother had her own weight and food issues that she passed on to my grandmother, and so on down the line. Did my grandmother, like my mom, act as she did out of concern for me, or because of her own experiences? What did her losses do to her and how she approached the world and relationships?
I will never know. It’s possible she wouldn’t have told me even if I’d asked. But the simple act of considering the questions now helps me move on, so today, I can let go those old wounds.
Instead, I can be grateful to my mom, and her mother, and all the mothers who came before. Without them, I not only wouldn’t be here, but I wouldn’t be the person I am. For those gifts, I thank them.