The day my mom was diagnosed with cancer at age 62, she turned to my dad in tears and said, “I’m not going to get to be the grandma.”
Many women today don’t want to be called that. They think it makes them sound “old.” When I hear this, a little part of me feels like yelling, “Do you know what a privilege it is to grow old?”
Aging — and one day, being able to live to 100 — should be celebrated. To me, “Grandma” is the name of an older person who’s reached the ultimate milestone. It’s something to be grateful for, not hide from. Forget your vanity! Be proud that you made it to a phase of life that many people never got to experience.
My husband lost his father at 13. I lost my mother at 30. Sometimes I worry that we won’t be around to see our young sons grow up. Becoming a grandmother and supporting my children when they become parents has become an ultimate goal.
Late in the summer of 2015, my mother (who’d never smoked) learned she had stage 4 lung cancer. Her oncologist was hopeful he could treat her. Yet hours after their visit, my mother couldn’t catch her breath, despite being on oxygen. My father rushed her to the hospital, where she was admitted to the ICU. My sister and I arrived less than an hour before my mother was put on a ventilator. She had no idea what was happening, and we didn’t either. We couldn’t imagine that her fight with cancer could be ending before it had even begun.
For the next two weeks, we were at my mother’s side, day and night. She remained on the ventilator, unconscious. Then one night, the doctor took us aside and told us there was no longer hope. Eighteen hours after my mother was taken off the ventilator, she passed away.
This was the most horrific month of my life. Just a few weeks earlier, my mother had been at a friend’s wedding, hosting her sister for a visit, celebrating my son’s first birthday…
Even now, it’s hard to believe that she’s gone.
When I was a child, my mother worked from home and was there every afternoon when I came home from school. If I close my eyes, I can picture her standing behind our kitchen counter, doling out an obscene amount of food, eager to hear everything about my day. (She had a lot of opinions.)
Even after I became an adult, my mother would do things for me before I’d even thought to do them myself. If I mentioned to her that I was sick, there’d be a knock at my door with soup from Second Avenue Deli.
Life without her has been an adjustment in so many ways. I miss her wit and wisdom. I miss our daily calls, texts and emails. And from a practical perspective, life has become more challenging.
There’s no substitute to a grandparent when you’re raising a small child. In my first year as a working mom, my husband and I rarely had a tiff, thanks to my mom swooping in when we were both stressed and sleep-deprived to watch our son, bring us a meal, tidy up our living room, send us on a date night or take some responsibility off our plate. (“I thought the baby could use some more pajamas. Here you go!”)
It’s hard to describe the value of a grandmother kvelling over your “perfect, beautiful, gorgeous, brilliant, elite, premium, beyond adorable” babies (to use her words). It’s the confidence boost every parent needs, and one that I hope to provide to my own kids — and even to their kids — if I reach 100.
If I were to live to that age, my fantasy is that I’d be in great health and living with my husband somewhere beautiful — perhaps a lovely little apartment in Chelsea or … Provence! — reading books, drinking wine, looking out at a beautiful view and seeing our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who just happened to have moved there.
I’d be grateful to hold them, share whatever wisdom I have and help them understand our family’s history and values. (Here’s to hoping I’ll also get to see our first female president elected!)
If I live to be 100, I will have lived almost 40 years longer than my mother did. Hearing my son say “Mama” is one of the most beautiful things in the world. I’m pretty sure being called “Grandma” is just as wonderful.
Julia Edelstein is a writer and editor specializing in health journalism. She is currently the senior health editor at Parents Magazine. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two young sons.
This post is paid for by AARP.