In remembrance of my Grandmother who died earlier this year, I wanted to reflect during this Women's History Month on just how much impact a seemingly ordinary woman can have.
She could be easy to overlook given her humble lifestyle, and although she never earned fame or notoriety, she was certainly well-known and deeply respected within her communities. She had an impressive capacity for care, kindness, compassion, and endurance. She was one of 12 siblings, 8 of whom fought in WWII, and she grew up in rural Pennsylvania fighting her own way out of a sometimes stifling small town. She imagined more for herself - a life with a far greater reach.
She had many wonderful years as a student and a missionary, starting her own family on international missions. She had an amazing faith and ability to go with the swing of things. I think she was truly shocked and devastated when she found herself abandoned as a single mother of 6 children, at a time when her youngest was just barely starting school and they had all moved to a new city. Despite the many challenges that came with raising children alone, she managed to find a way to put herself through nursing school while working three jobs, and somehow maintained closeness and connection to her kids.
It has always struck me that despite how hard she worked, she always seemed so emotionally available and generous with her time. She prioritized her family, and showed up in times of need. I'm sure I also learned some questionable things from her including how to evade student loan debt (it doesn't really work), but it never seemed to keep her down and she was able to keep her relational priorities straight. I think she was truly happier for that, and for the risks she took.
This is not an uncommon story, many women and mothers rise to their maternal duties. She lived her life as a member of the working poor and ultimately devoted herself to work with the church of the Salvation Army. This is not exactly a 'pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps' success story, but celebration for her comes from the fact that she carried on working diligently while never surrendering her values or losing her sense of humor, humility, or self. She managed to continually lift-up others and was an inspiration for the many women in our family to own their sense of independence, hold on to their opinions, and speak-up against those trying to keep them down.
My Grandma certainly faced hardships that I will never know, and I can only hope that some fraction of her enormous strength has been passed down to me. To some she may seem like just another lady who slipped through life unnoticed, but to me and to my family we know just how many lives she touched. She was an inspired role model of determination, sturdiness, and above all - love.
Erika Mitchell, MA, is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #109385, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT 50732. Erika specializes in helping her clients bring mindful, attuned awareness to their sensations and emotions.