A Mother’s Love: My Tribute To Gram

I have often heard it said that there is no instruction manual on how to be a parent. Not even the once famous Dr. Spock could provide true and accurate guidance to new parents when it came to raising and disciplining children. Wisdom from family and friends who became parents ahead of me are also laden with well-intentioned advice and suggestions on how to raise a family of two autistic sons and an Asperger’s husband, even though none of them have had this experience themselves. All their advice comes with how to “do” certain things, but there was only one way that truly showed me how to “be” that kind of parent I wanted to become. That one way was through living examples – the way a person treated me from my youth. One of the best examples I received on how to be a mother and overall parent-figure was through my paternal grandmother, a woman I affectionately have always called Gram.

Screenshot_2017-06-08-13-28-52-1Two weeks ago, on Friday, June 16, 2017, I laid to rest, my last living grandparent: Mrs. Dolores Abenojar Viernes (a.k.a., Gram to my brother and I, but Nanay to everyone else in the family). She was 95-years old, and had been in and out of hospitals over the past 10 years. She was the epitome of your traditional, Filipino, educated grandmother and family elder. If I could sum up this woman in one word, it really would be Nanay. For those who do not speak any dialect from the Philippines, the word Nanay means “mother,” but over the years many younger generations have used it to also refer to their moms, grandmothers, godmothers, aunts, or any older woman in general who is seen as a mother-figure (for more info and videos on the cultural significance of similar words, visit https://owlcation.com/humanities/Filipino-Culture-Showing-Respect-To-Elders). While I call my own mother “Ma” or “Mom,” the entire family (including my own mother) refer to my grandmother as “Nanay.” My brother and I called her “Gram” because she was the first grandmother we knew and would ever really know, since our maternal grandmother died when my mom was only 7-years old. Gram was our special nickname for her and will always be.

Why call her Nanay, you might ask? Gram was a living example of love in action and in word. She may have scolded you for doing something foolish or dangerous, but she did it because she cared (sound familiar parents?). It may have even seemed like she was nagging you when she kept asking you if you ate, but she nagged you about eating because she did not want you to go hungry and be without nourishment. There may have even been times when she poked fun at you for something you considered a habit, but it was a sign that she remembered you in a happy way and didn’t want you to take yourself so seriously. All these are acts of love, and conversations to be remembered.

One of my fondest memories of Gram was the first night she taught me how to pray. Don’t get me wrong… my parents took us to church every Sunday, and my brother and I would sit in the pews being, well, kids. We were squirrely, impatient, loud, and curious just like any kid who has to sit still in a building full of grown-ups on uncomfortable wooden benches. We went to church, but we didn’t really learn why we did it or to whom we were praying. It wasn’t until that one night my Gram sat at my bedside and asked if I knew how to pray. When I told her that I did not know how, she pulled out a small prayer book and showed me two simple prayers that she said every child should know: The Lord’s Prayer, and the Hail Mary. Gram told me the Our Father was special because God’s Son taught it to us, and then she said the Hail Mary was important because it was to our Blessed Mother, who is Jesus’ mother. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it was my introduction to our faith, and the stepping stone into my relationship with God. I attribute my faith journey’s beginning at my bedside that night with my Gram. She gave me a loving gift that no one else had at that point. She introduced me to God, and it has been a lasting relationship ever since.

Being the second oldest of all Gram’s grandchildren, I often felt the pressure of needing to be perfect. I feared criticism from the family. I dreaded ridicule from relatives. I especially did not want to disappoint my parents. However, whenever I went to Gram’s house, I always felt cared for and loved. The first thing she’d do was to embrace me, hold my face in her hands, and squeeze my face (as if it was going to shrink or something). She’d then give me a kiss on the cheek. That act was later followed by the same two questions: How are you? and Did you eat yet? Those who have seen my pictures (full-bodied) know that I am a short and fluffy woman, so you know that I’ve eaten. My Gram’s questions were never about the superficial though. When she asked me how I was, she was really asking about my overall being – mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Was I really okay? That was what she wanted to know. When she asked me if I had eaten yet, it was really an invitation to come sit with her and talk for a while so we could catch up.Screenshot_2017-06-08-13-28-49-1

Sadly, I hadn’t realized all this until I was living far far away from her, and living a very busy life with my own family. My dad, who was living with my Gram before she passed, would often tell me that Gram asked about me, and how my family was doing, and that the only information she really got was through him and his brief interactions with me. The last time I had seen and spoken to my grandmother was her last bout at the hospital just a few months before her 95th birthday. She had pneumonia, and the doctors told the family that she might not make it. Well, she proved them wrong by not only going back home after two weeks, but celebrating her 95th birthday surrounded by a full-house of family from all across the state and even some from overseas. She was happy that day and even joked with my uncles who had not seen her in a few months. No matter how frail and weak she was in her bed, her smile and loving presence never faded. Not even as she laid in her casket two weeks ago.

Gram taught me how to be a mother. She taught me how to be loving in a not-so-obvious way through my concern and care for others. She taught me how to pray and to have a relationship with my God. She unknowingly showed me the importance of staying connected to your family, despite differences and distance. Whether she told me so or not, I knew she loved me. Even if she wasn’t fully able to see my face when I visited her, she knew my presence was there and that I loved her. I pay homage to the woman who taught me to be who I am as a woman of faith, a mother and caregiver to so many (not just my own children and husband, but to my students), and to stand strong for the people I love. Gram taught me how to someday be Nanay in my own right. For that, I am indebted to Gram and miss her dearly.

Who has helped you become the person you are today? To whom do you pay tribute/homage to for this gift? Comment in the space provided.

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