Dedicating 2021 to My Grandma

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By Mo Edjlali

I’m dedicating this year to my maternal grandmother. She died last Saturday and while the nation, I, and my neighbors here in the DC area were dealing with the frightening attacks on our democracy, my mind was elsewhere. 

My grandmother was the closest thing to a real-life angel that I’ve ever known. She was the real deal. This past weekend we celebrated her life. She was born, lived, and died in Tehran, Iran. I’m here in the USA, the Washington, DC area. Iran is kinda my mother country and the USA is kinda like my father country. For my whole life, due to circumstances out of my control, these two countries have been in conflict. The days after she died leading up to the memorial I found myself full of rage. Feeling like a victim and just plain mad at the world.  

At our online memorial gathering, my sister shared a video that caused a deep shift in me.   She had recorded this video of our grandmother a few years back, a message for her grandkids back in the USA. 

She said to us (with my rough Farsi translation):

This life is hard enough already, no reason to make it harder for others. Be kind to others and take care of one another, no matter what stay united as a family, and there is no challenge you can not overcome together.

She lived through two revolutions and a war, first seeing a democratic movement toppled by a coup d'état and then a revolution partially driven by students against social injustice turned into a repressive religious authoritarian state. Her country was brutally attacked by the madman Sadam Husain which resulted in over half a million people dying and massive destruction. She lived through seeing some of her siblings, children, and grandchild flee and seeing those who can not flee or who choose to stay deal with repression, economic hardship, and drug addiction. She watched her middle age grandson (my cousin) die of cancer and was widowed over 30 years ago. And if that was not enough she watched her family's wealth seized by the government, creating lifelong financial uncertainty.   

As we gathered to remember her what our family members shared over and over again was how kind and generous she was throughout her life. No matter her personal state, she had an almost regal presence and would always think of others first. She was committed to family and faith. She also loved to bake and sew, two hobbies I never picked up but that make me remember her fondly.

RIP Grandma... I’m dedicating 2021 to you. In times when I feel like the world is falling apart may I remember your strength, unwavering commitment to kindness, and commitment to family. May I do my best to live up to the high standard you have set.

If you feel called to do so please share how your grandma has inspired you in the comments below. Although condolences are appreciated, I would ask that you refrain and instead we focus on our mutual love for grandmas and share how they have inspired the best in us.  

33 comments

Marina Fernandez

My grandma was a strong woman, my grandpa had Parkinson's disease and she took care of him until the day he died, although she suffered from an illness that prevented her legs from moving her late years. Even when she could not walk anymore, she learned to knit, participated in plays, and kept being as mentally active as always. She died more than 20 years ago, but she will always be present fot me. Thanks for letting us share our memories too!!

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Thank you for sharing Marina,  what an amazing woman your grandma was.

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My grandmother raised 3 children on her own just after immigrating to Canada.  It was very difficult but I heard she held steady and focused, always acting with integrity and with a wicked sense of humor, despite facing racism let alone being a single mother back in the 1930s.  I could not have lengthy conversations with her as I grew up as I didn't speak Cantonese and she didn't speak much English, but the way she would very mindfully look at me in the eyes, convey her wisdom and slap me on the back with a big laugh, makes me smile and admire her.  I can see the cemetery where she rests from my window and say hello to her every day.  

I'm sorry for your loss, Mo, and this is a lovely way to honor your grandma.

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Thank you Wendy, I can only imagine the hardship your grandmother overcame. I can see the pioneering spirit, integrity, and humor live on in you.  

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Tami Garcia

I was so inspired by your story about your grandmother.  I felt compelled to share. My grandmother (gram) was the most important and influential in my life.  She died over 20 years ago but is my guardian angel and I feel her presence often. We shared a birthday and that is so special to me.  She was the matriarch of our family, she was strong and resilient. Most importantly she told me I was important and showed me unconditional love.  I didn’t get this from a lot of other places.  She gave me courage, strength and taught me to respect all people and lead with kindness.  Finally, she had an amazing sense of humor and I thank her for that.  We must not forget to play and laugh!  I’m sorry for your loss but thank you for sharing your story and letting us know her a little and reminding us about those beautiful souls in our lives. 

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Thanks Tami for sharing the impact of your gram - there is something so special and about a grandmother's love and its abiding presence. 

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My grandmother had a very challenging childhood and later lost her mother, brother and husband in the same year. Yet she remained optimistic throughout her life. She was practical, caring, loyal and while she didn't go to school beyond 9th grade, she was one of the smartest people I knew. She died almost 20 years ago. The impact she made and our mutual love is deeply ingrained. 

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Thank you Avia for sharing, in the face of so much loss your grandmother's resilience  is inspiring

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Deirdre Guthrie

I love this tribute to your Grandma, Mo. What a way to pay it forward, to her strong spirit and its influence on you, and to us. My maternal Irish Catholic grandma was a social worker in the era of Jane Addams in the US. She was deeply motivated by an ethic of volunteerism throughout her life, whether it was teaching English to immigrants, serving food in homeless shelters or wheeling seniors around for some fresh air in the park (when she was herself, quite old). She taught me the art of bartering at garage sales and sent me hand-made Valentines every Winter and homemade lemon bread and crabapple jam from her fruit trees every Summer. She also raised eight children, four of whom would die before she did, including my own mother, causing her great heartbreak. While I struggled to relate to her strong identification with the Church when I was younger, I've come to realize how deeply her ethic of "giving back" impacted both myself and my mother (who dragged me to soup kitchens as a young girl and teen). Even the Shadow side of her life, her inability to speak to the unmentionables also living within our family-- of mental illness, addiction, gender oppression and suicide-- has borne powerful teachings. Finally... my grandma always remembered the kindness of people during the Great U.S. Depression. Despite all the deprivation and insecurity people were experiencing, she would smile at the memories of shared community. Mo, thank you for this opportunity to reflect.  

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Deirdre I am touched by your share, this is nothing I can imagine in this life more difficult in this life than a mother losing a child, let alone four, and continuing a spirit of generosity and optimism. 

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Mary Schumann

My grandmother was an amazing woman.  For most of her life she was affected by rheumatoid arthritis and moved very slowly, with her later years spending a lot of time sedentary or in bed.  She never complained, had a cheerful attitude and found great joy in caring for others in the ways she could.  She was also a woman of faith, and she was devoted to my grandfather and her kids and grandkids.  Mostly, she taught me by her actions, and her steadfastness in enjoying her life.  She would sing sometimes when my grandfather played the piano, she wrote jingles, read mysteries and scary stories, ordered from catalogues like it was going out of style (sending most things to us).  Her smile was beautiful, and her heart was beautiful, and I loved her.  I am sorry for your loss.

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Thank you Mary, I had a big smile reading about your beautiful grandmother. 

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Oxana Holtmann

To my great-grandmother Daria, whose name comes from old Persian and means “she who holds firm the goods”. She lived through the Civil War of 1917- 1922, collectivization when they lost all their possessions, and the second World War. 

She Who Holds Firm the Goods

Daria was feverishly sorting out towels. Not so many to choose from. Only seven. She made sure to put aside the three newer ones. The other four she tucked inside her jacket. The little children were fast asleep, her older daughter was watching them. Daria grabbed a small basket with a loaf of bread and rushed outside.

The September night was cold and dark. Heavy clouds covered the full moon. “That’s good,” she thought. In the house at the end of the street, all windows were lit up. Drunk voices and bursts of loud laughter contrasted with the unusually hushed village. The White Army squadron had arrived late afternoon. The soldiers behaved brazenly, cursed, and snatched young boys to join their army. The civil war has been going on for more than nine months, and all sorts of troops had passed through the village: the Reds, the Whites, partisans - all in need of young fighters.

That morning Daria’s two teenage sons and her husband had gone to cut hay. The field was fifteen kilometers away, and the plan was to stay there overnight, work more the next morning and then return home for lunch. The boys were excited to sleep in the freshly cut grass.

Daria snuck into the stable. Her whole body shook, but her hands moved fast.

The towels were too short, but she managed to fix each one of them firmly. It took her several minutes to carefully open the old gate without it squeaking.

When she rode out of the village, the clouds opened up, and the full moon lit her thin body, leaning low towards the horse’s back and disappearing into the fields.   

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Oxana, I'm pulled into your imagery and hearing more about your great-grandmother.  My daughter Daria is blessed to share this name, and though she's 3 she is already showing a knack for holding the goods pretty firmly.

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I once wrote that my grandma was "soft and warm like a chocolate chip cookie". She was a simple woman with very simple needs. She raised 5 children, got her drivers license in her 60's after my grandfather died and cherished her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  She was the youngest and only American born of her siblings and quietly hid her German heritage except when singing German lullabies to the little ones.  She was generous of spirit and quick to laugh and I miss her gentle spirit.  Thanks for sharing your grandma story.

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Thanks for sharing a little about your gentle  grandma with us L. Sheehan.

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Kathryn Goldman Schuyler

My aunt inspired me greatly. She was a clinical social worker who probably began in the 1940s and was very independent her whole life. What I loved: when asked what she most liked about a group of friends who she visited annually, (and these were women in their 60s and 70s), she said "We love to laugh!" She was always generous with me, with her time and her caring. She seemed to have a sense of balance and perspective about life. She had no children, so I was somewhat like a daughter to her.... I miss her!

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Thanks for sharing about your aunt Kathyrn, it's amazing how much we can learn about balance and perspective from our elders. 

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Rena DeLevie

Mo, you have a beautiful Neshama (hebrew for soul). Your tribute to your Grandmother touched me.

My (american) Grams was incredible. She was one of two people in my huge Jewish family to support me when I broke off my engagement. She said, "It's your life. I want you to be happy." That was the moment I realized I needed to really get to know her. And I did. I visited her every two weeks and we laughed and ate together, "Eat more Rena!" She lived thru so much in her 92 years and was progressive and nonjudgemental of me. I felt safe with her and I feel she's having fun up there.

My other grandmother, Safta in hebrew, lived in Israel and I didn't get to know her at all. She died when I was 5. All these years I only heard stories of her suffering, and suffer she did. But last week I started asking about her life besides the suffering, before the Nazi's took over her beautiful Dresden, before fleeing for safety. And I found photos of her, innocent and in love with my Saba. Laughing and vibrant. I asked my Dad about her and learned joyous and fun stories. She is asking to be seen these days and I see her now. I wish her peace in the beyond and thank her for escaping or I wouldn't be here. I see her suffering and release it from her and from the collective unconscious and from my Self. I pray she feels my love and compassion and is able to move forward and release her pain.

May we all Be at peace.

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Rena thanks for sharing about your Grams and Safta,  I can only imagine the suffering in surviving the holocaust... the strength that was passed on to you, and your wisdom in releasing the suffering.

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Wendy Laine

Thank you for sharing this story about your grandma.  Although I lost my grandma 20 years ago, she came to me again in a dream just two nights ago, gave me a big hug, and told me 'It isn't easy for anyone".    She was a dairy farmer, pall mall smoker, told me she was leaving her farm house feet first, and she did.  Although my other grandma was born in Minnesota she spoke only Finnish her whole life.  When she was 17 she survived not only the 1918 pandemic, but a fire that swept through the area and killed hundreds of people, surviving by running through the fire in a heavy wool coat.  Thank you for the reminder of how our grandmas can still provide us strength and comfort today, what a beautiful way to celebrate your grandma's life!

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Thanks for sharing about your Grandma Wendy, and so wonderful to hear how she continues to give you comfort and strength.

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Irene Peres

Both my grandmas are my heores. They came from poor farmers families of a linguistic minority of France.
My father's mother lost her father early and had to leave school and help her mother with a dozen of siblings.
She waited until her youngest sibling left home before she got married at age 33.
At age 60 she was amputated from her right arm after an accident. She could no longer work in the fields and stayed at home to one-handedly prepare the meals.
She kept educating herself and read the whole newspaper in French every day, and would explain it to the men of the family when they came back from the fields.
My mother's mother lost her father in WWI, lost her mother when her younger sister was born, was widowed by WWII, had her house seized by german soldiers
and had to beg to feed her two daughters. After WWII she became a shool teacher in the village and educated generations of kids.
Both died in their 80s. It's only as an adult that I realized all the hardship they went through.
As a child I only felt their strength and their kindness, and their love for education which they passed to my parents and to myself.

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Thanks Irene for sharing about your Grandmas,  the commitment to education, strength and kindness through all the hardships is inspiring.

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Terre Passero

Dear Mo, Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your grandmother. I didn't know either of my grandmothers -- they'd both passed by the time I was born. Both immigrated to the US from Italy around 1900 and I know they had to be strong to leave their home country and families to come here in hopes of a better life. My maternal grandmother had 16 children, and if that isn't a feat of strength and love, I don't know what is (my mother is #14). As for my paternal grandmother, I'm told that I have some of her qualities and though I never knew her, it gives me comfort to hear that and to know that she lives in me, and I live because of her.  

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Thanks for sharing Terre, I can imagine your maternal grandmother made some find Italian meals too with so many mouths to feed! 

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Valorie Bender

Your story touched me.  I lost my mother a few months ago.  I love the idea of dedicating this year to her.  Similar to your grandmother, my mom overcame hardship (divorce, losing a son to alcohol addiction, raising 3 kids on her own, financial loss) and doing it all with humor, positivity, faith, love and grace.

I too will strive to champion those ideals as I move forward.

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Holding you in my heart Valorie, your mother sounds like quite an inspiration. 

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Laura Santana

Mo: What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. Thanks for sharing. My grandmother was a quiet and keen observer of people--calm & gentle, she would often read to the grandchildren from her chair inspiring a love for reading and learning. While her goal in life was to read every single book in the library :-), she would always set aside her reading or knitting when a grandchild visited.  She always gifted us her presence...a powerful gift to a child: being valued. I am mindful of this practice each time I seek to focus on the person in front of me, instead of being distracted. She modeled the amazing power of showing up for someone else.

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Thanks Laura for sharing about your grandmother,  how wonderful to learn the power of presence so early on. 

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Robin Hamilton

My Nana was a beautiful, feisty, loving, strong woman. She raised her children, most grandchildren, and a couple great grands (including me). She taught me how to cook and the power of prayer. Every Sunday morning at 6am, she would wake the entire house up and we would sing a song, pray, and recite a scripture. It is a tradition that I remember clearly and this pass Sunday I recommitted myself to do. Nana is now an Ancestor and would have been 100 years old this past Sunday. I think it is a powerful thing that I remembered this tradition on her 100th birthday, AND it happened to fall on a Sunday. She was and is my Angel, and I am glad there are others like you, Mo Edjlali, who experienced the same Angel love from your grandmother. We are so blessed to have them in our lives. 

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Thanks Robin for sharing about your Nana, the depth and enduring love of our grandmothers is something special. 

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Grace Tsuyuki

I'm sorry for your loss, Mo. My grandmother was a fierce, strong, Taiwanese American woman. She became my second mother after my mother passed away when I was young. Her husband, my grandfather, left her for another woman and she modeled for me how to be a strong, hard-working and independent woman. She worked from 7am to 12midnight helping to clean rooms at our motel and even at age 70 she kept these hours. One of my favorite memories is her picking up twigs from the back woods behind our motel and making her own homemade broom! It was so much more effective than the store brought brooms for sweeping up the autumn leaves. My grandmother never had the chance to attend school and each day she reminded me how lucky I was that I could get an education. I'm so grateful to her for being such a strong force in my life and teaching me that no matter what life throws at you--you can make the best of it!! 

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