MEETING THE MATRIARCH
This past December, my family and I took a road trip to East London in the Eastern Cape. I met my husband’s grandmother, and now my grandmother.
In the ten days I lived in her home, I saw and experienced raw strength.
She is the matriarch and a true one at that. Mama is my husband’s 81-year-old paternal grandmother. She is also as fierce and feisty as they come. For you to understand my admiration for Mama, you need to understand a bit of her life and her history.
Mama, as she is so affectionately known, lost both her husband and only daughter of five children, who was also the youngest sibling, within the space of 6 months more than 15 years ago. She ended up having to take care of her late daughter’s son, who was two years old at the time. He is now a well raised young man.
Through conversations I had with Mama during our stay at her home in Buffalo Flats, I was in awe of how she relayed stories of when her husband, Dada, died and then how she lost her daughter only six months later. When I listened to her speak, I could hear pain, sadness, loss but also acceptance. She made me realize that acceptance like that only comes from a very deep-rooted strength.
I also realized that she didn’t have a choice but to be strong. She took on the responsibility of raising her grandson like he was her own. I cannot fathom the sheer determination and willpower it had to take for her to get out of bed every morning and be there for her grandson, the rest of her children as well as other family members.
SHAPED BY EXPERIENCE
I watched her as she sat on her red lumpy but very comfortable sofa in her home, hunched over with all the experiences from her past trying to weigh her down but she gets up every day, determined to live her life and do her daily chores.
It was at one of these moments when it hit me; she wasn’t sitting on a couch but a throne.
Mama also very much reminded me of my mother who died in 2020. Both women have seen and have been through some of the worst pain you can imagine, both refusing to be dictated to by bad and negative circumstances and both set in their daily way of life.
During the time I spent with Mama, I learned that yes, we are shaped by our experiences but we can choose how to live out those experiences. We choose how to live, we choose whether we give up or go on. We choose to forgive.
There was a point where Mama said to me that she didn’t know if she could ever accept or get through what had happened to her but God had gotten her through it and she did manage to accept her fate.
She could have chosen to be angry and to turn away from God, which I’m sure there were many of those moments when those bad feelings overwhelmed her. She could have chosen to become a lifeless vessel of her former self but I can assure you, that woman still has a lot of life left in her.
Her relationship with God is so secure and I truly believe that that is her source of strength. Every morning she wakes up and reads devotionals and her Bible. I’ve decided to put that in practice as well.
LIVING WITH INTENTION
Every time Mama would tell a story and explain the difficult parts, she would say, “but it doesn’t really matter“
For me, that didn’t mean she gave up or lost hope or didn’t accept things. For me it meant that in the bigger picture, the grand plan of God for her life, her focusing on the past was not the point. It was what she got out of all her pain and loss. The wisdom and understanding that her loss and pain was not for nothing. The way in which she imparted her wisdom and what she learned, to others around her. It was peace beyond all human understanding. It was knowing that love is sacrifice and that understanding comes from compassion.
Mama showed me that life demands of you to be intentional; intentional about your actions, your energy, your focus, your thoughts and emotions.
I learned patience and I saw accepting the things one cannot change, in action.
I loved sitting in her company, I loved watching the movie of her life play out as she told me stories and showed me old polaroid photographs.
In ten days, I lived a life of 40+ years through the eyes of a woman who lost everything, was forced down on her knees and found herself in the perfect position to pray for the strength and will to live to tell the tale.