When I reached middle age I began to imagine myself as a grandmother. I often wondered whether my grandchildren would love me as much as they would love their other grandmother. I imagined this unknown rival for my grandchildren's affection as a petite, sweet woman. Surely she would be all smiles and hugs and chocolate chip cookies, typical grandmother material. How would I ever compete? Me - towering over them with my pragmatism, sarcasm and biting wit.
My own life experience should have made me realize these thoughts were ridiculous. I was fortunate enough to get to know both my grandmothers. I never compared the love I had for each of them. I loved them equally but in different ways.
My paternal grandmother was very involved in my life. I saw her regularly until her death when I was 30 years old. I knew her strengths and her weaknesses and loved her dearly. She was an intelligent, beautiful woman who always managed to make me feel special. My maternal grandmother lived in Germany. I saw her rarely. When I did see her I needed a translator because she didn't speak English and I didn't speak German. Even so, I was captivated by her quiet, calm demeanor. Her personal stories of WWII Germany were told in the most matter of fact way despite the horror she faced. She was a strong, sensible woman who didn't let her difficult life diminish the joy she took in living.
Choosing which one I loved more would be preposterous. They were both a part of me and me of them. It wasn't a contest.
I met my daughter's mother-in-law at the wedding in October 2009. She was sweet and kind and loving and tiny. A strong contender for the affection of our future grandchildren. But instead of confirming my worst fears I suddenly realized that any thoughts of rivalry were complete and utter nonsense. She and her husband seemed like family from the minute we met. Such wonderful people. My daughter couldn't have picked a better family to become a part of. How lucky my grandkids would be to have one big, loving family. I began to imagine the joy she and I would share, both being grandmothers to the same wonderful grandchildren.
Sadly, this wonderful woman passed away last May. I think about her often. She was a special woman. I feel ashamed now of my petty worries about who would be favorite. I am overcome with sadness when I think about the loss her husband and sons must bear every day. I am also deeply sad for the grandchildren who will never know her gentle kindness, her genuine warmth and her loving hugs. They will have to rely on their father to tell them what a special person she was. I would gladly play second fiddle to her if only it would bring her back. All I'll be able to do though is give those grandkids an extra little squeeze from her every time I hug them, and I will.