At the opening of our July GaGa Sisterhood meeting, I told everyone I hoped I could “keep it together” when I spoke. Lately, I’ve been getting teary a lot as I’ve watched my husband’s health decline so rapidly over the past month. Immediately, everyone responded, “You don’t have to keep it together, Donne. We’re your sisters and we’re here for you!”
Hearing their reassuring words brought me such comfort and of course, also opened a well of tears. I explained that my husband and I have made four trips to the ER since June 16. Watching him suffer breaks my heart and makes me feel helpless and vulnerable — a state I’m not used to experiencing. I’m a person who likes to be in control of my life — I am organized, I have my “to-do” list and I go about getting things accomplished.
I’ve never experienced such deep suffering in my life. It’s weakened my very core and at the same time opened me to the suffering of others.
By sharing my vulnerability at the opening of our meeting, I believe something shifted. This meeting was our annual member mixer and when we broke up into small groups to answer questions about ourselves, I witnessed a depth of sharing among our members that I’ve not witnessed in previous meetings.
If you’ve lived long enough to become a grandma, odds are you’ve experienced suffering in your life. Being part of a close group of kindred spirits who empathize when you share your pain is a gift I wish for all grandmas.
Our annual member mixer is a favorite among the GaGas. Instead of listening to a speaker, we listen to each other share answers to some thought provoking questions that allow us to reflect on our lives. We break up into groups of four and each member has six minutes to answer the following questions:
- What would you and others say are 3 of your personality pluses?
- Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
- What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are today?
- What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a grandma?
One grandma said her 10-year old granddaughter has been the biggest influence in her life. Her granddaughter has had a lot of instability in her short life. So this grandma keeps a pillow on the little girl’s bed with the inscription: “At grandma’s you’re always home.” This grandma tries to nurture that concept by telling her granddaughter she can always talk to her no matter what. By being one of the most important people in her granddaughter’s life, the girl has brought her full circle to feeling good about herself.
Another grandma shared that the biggest lesson she’s learned is never correct your adult children on how they’re raising their kids. When she’s with her grandchildren and their parents let the 4-year old twins eat with their hands, the grandma doesn’t say anything. But when they come to her house, she gives them utensils to use.
Another grandma has learned to find ways to be one-on-one with each of her 8 grandchildren so she can find out what’s going on with them. Since they live next door to her and visit daily, she keeps a first aid station upstairs and downstairs in her home for the inevitable accidents that happen.
After two rounds of talking in small groups to different women, we came back to the big circle and shared some impressions about our experience. There is something magical that happens in these 90 minutes we spend together — a realization that despite our different backgrounds, we have all experienced similar challenges in life.
In different ways, each GaGa expressed a common theme: we don’t have many opportunities in our lives where we feel safe opening up, where we can share a deep part of ourselves and where we know we’ll find empathy and understanding.
In our Sisterhood we know that the deep love we feel for our grandchildren also gives us the ability to love and care for each other. What unites us is the shared understanding that being a grandma means so much to each one of us. And being a member of the GaGa Sisterhood means that we are not alone. Knowing I am part of such a caring group of women brings me great comfort, especially during this difficult time in my life. I wish that for all grandmas.